The United States stopped executing criminals publicly after Rainey Bethea was executed on 14 August 1936. But in Kentucky, executions continued to be held publicly even after that. According to the jury at Rainey Bethea’s trial, Bethea deserved such an end, but there was a controversy that the whole thing happened within two months from Bethea’s crime.
The same thing happened with a young black man who had been executed previously. He was sentenced to death in a rape and murder case without any real evidences. He even claimed that his confessions were given under coercion. The jury talked for a few minutes and returned to the sentence of death.
Near about 20,000 people gathered around the gallows to witness Bethea’s execution. This was the last public hanging that was ever carried out in the United States. So what all these events have to do with midnight executions? Why are US executions at midnight?
Why they switched the time of executions to night?
People in the United States preferred to gather in large numbers during day time executions. That appears to be the main reason for switching the executions to late-night, giving us the Hollywood trope that has largely remained in existence to this day.
The earliest example of this switching from day to late-night occurred in the late 19th century when certain states began looking to cut down the audience at the gallows. The professor from the University of Baltimore School of Law States stated a reason for this change that “During the day time executions, there was pickpocketing, thefts, and even violence”. Fixing this was simple, just switch the execution time from day tonight.
Some countries still prefer to execute people in darkness, like India. In India, executions are carried out before the sunrise. Different people may state various reasons behind this, but the above-stated reasons seem to be making the most sense.