John Rooney (1880 – 17 October 1905) was an
American convicted murderer and was the last person executed by North
On 26 August 1902, a farm worker named Harold Sweet
was shot and killed during a robbery near the Chicago, Milwaukee & St.
Paul Railroad tracks on the west side of Fargo, North Dakota. Rooney
was arrested and charged with first degree murder. In January 1903
Rooney was convicted by a jury and on 31 March 1903, he was sentenced
to death by hanging.
Rooney's appeals went to the Supreme Court of the
United States. Rooney argued that because on 9 March 1903, the North
Dakota Legislature had changed the law to mandate that all executions
should be conducted in a prison rather than in public, the application
of his sentence was being applied ex post facto, since no such law
existed at the time of the murder. The Supreme Court rejected this
argument, holding that "the place of execution, when the punishment is
death, within the limits of the state, is of no practical consequence
to the criminal."
Rooney was hanged behind the walls of the State
Penitentiary in Bismarck, North Dakota on 17
October 1905. It was the first execution in North Dakota's history to
be held in a prison as opposed to in public.
North Dakota abolished the death penalty in 1915.
It was reinstated from 1939 to 1977, but no one was executed by North
Dakota during that time, making Rooney the last person executed by