Legal executions have existed a long time in Kentucky with the preferred method for much of that time being hanging. In 1911, the first legal electrocution was introduced at the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville, Lyon County. The following article from the Crittenden Record-Press of 13 July 1911 gives the details:
“ Eddyville, Ky., July 8 - Calmly without the support of anyone, Jim Buckner, the 18 year old murderer of Policeman John Roby of Lebanon, Ky., walked into the death chamber at the branch penitentiary at sunrise this morning and sixteen minutes later his lifeless body was prepared for burial. The first execution of a condemned prisoner by electrocution in Kentucky was a pronounced success, in speed, painless and the absence of the horrible features attendant upon public hanging.”
The first white man hanged in Kentucky in a generation was William DeBoe, 21, of Paducah and formerly of Livingston County. He was accused of criminally assaulting a storekeeper’s wife. At that time, Kentucky law dictated that rape was punishable by hanging and electrocution was reserved for other capitol offenses.
DeBoe denied the attack on the woman, but admitted he had committed three robberies. The man was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging in Smithland, Kentucky. At dawn on Good Friday in April 1935, he was led to the scaffold in the Smithland jail yard. His accuser and her husband, at whom DeBoe directed a tirade of insults and accusations, were among the mass of spectators.
According to an article in in the 20 April 1935 issue of the Evansville Courier, DeBoe patted the sheriff on the back and asked if he was talking too much. The sheriff told him he was entitled to have his say. DeBoe continued talking for over 40 minutes - until words could no longer delay the inevitable. G. Phil Hanna, the hangman, promised DeBoe to see that he would “go easy.” DeBoe thanked him and then took his final steps toward his fate.
The black mask was put in place and the noose was adjusted. He was pronounced dead at 6:45 a.m.