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Maria Barbella Trials: 1895-96 - Premeditation At Issue, Death Sentence Sparks Protests

woman cataldo electric york

Defendant: Maria Barbella
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyers: First trial: Amos Evans, Henry Sedgewick; Second trial: Frederick B. House, Emanuel Friend
Chief Prosecutors: John F. McIntyre, Alfred Lauterbach
Judges: First trial: John W. Goff; Second trial: H.A. Gildersleeve
Place: New York, New York
Dates of Trials: First trial: July 11-15, 1895; Second trial: November 17-December 10, 1896
Verdict: First trial: Guilty; Second trial: Not guilty
Sentence: First trial: Death by electrocution

SIGNIFICANCE: Maria Barbella was the first woman in the United States condemned to die in the electric chair.

On July 18, 1895, Maria Barbella became the first woman in the United States sentenced to be executed in a new invention called the electric chair. Efforts to save the young Italian immigrant from the deadly, unreliable contraption focused on whether or not she deserved to have been convicted in the first place.

Three months earlier on New York City's lower east side, Barbella had tried to reason with the man she loved and with whom she lived, Domenico Cataldo. Cataldo had forcibly taken the young woman's virginity, but despite assurances that he planned to marry her, he showed no intention of honoring his promises. On April 26, he was more interested in playing cards than in discussing matrimony when Barbella stood behind him in a saloon, pleading quietly. Before the astonished patrons, Cataldo suddenly lurched toward the door, his neck bleeding from a mortal wound inflicted by a straight razor in Barbella's hand.

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