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A Presentation by Averil Lerman: The Last Hangings in Alaska: Vengeance or Justice?

November 2015

Juneau Courthouse, c.1940, courtesy of Averil Lerman.

Two African-American men were hanged in Juneau after separate criminal trials, one in 1948, and one in 1950. They were the last men hanged in Alaska. Each was hanged for the same 1946 murder of a Juneau shop-keeper. A close look at the ways in which those convictions were obtained raises troubling questions about whether both of those men were really guilty. Interviews of participants in the events, and review of records kept by the courts, the police, the jail, and the FBI, suggest that neither trial was fair, and that vital information was never heard by either jury. Discussion of these cases illustrates some of the ways in which the criminal justice system can fail. Averil Lerman is an Anchorage attorney who spent 20 years litigating the validity of criminal convictions in state and federal court, and now trains other lawyers in post-conviction practice. She has conducted an extensive investigation into events relating to the two Juneau trials, and is writing a book on the topic.

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