Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Verdict Is In

Photo Credit:
By now I'm sure you've figured out that the man who was accused in this shooting is in our family tree. For those in my generation, Thomas Probert is our gg-grandfather. He would have been Norine's grandfather had he lived long enough to meet her. This story, like the man himself, has many interesting twists and turns. Thomas was indicted for killing Jacob K. Spears in Paris, Bourbon Co., Kentucky. The fact that he killed Spears is not in dispute. The question is, was it self-defense? What were the underlying conditions of the time?

This was a BIG trial. People in the town packed the court room. The victim, Jacob Spears, was a member of a wealthy, influential Bourbon who ran a distillery and apparently coined the term "bourbon." In future posts, I'll fill you in on the details of the trial, the prosecutors, the defense team and the Spears family.

I hate to disappoint you, but the jury could not decide. The Louisville Daily Courier reported it with this announcement.

The jury was dismissed and Thomas Probert was free pending posting bail in the sum of $2500 in 1856 dollars! I haven't been able to find out whether or not Thomas got out on bail, but I assume he did. His defense team sought and eventually got a change of venue.

I haven't been able to get much information between the "hung jury" and the retrial, but I hope to go to Paris and research their newspapers that have not yet been digitized. However, I know that Thomas was retried in Lexington and this time there was a different outcome.

The Louisville Daily Courier reported on 14 February 1859 that the jury rendered a verdict of acquittal after being out for one hour. What's even more amazing to me is that on 22 February 1859, Thomas, a widower whose first wife died in childbirth, married Catherine Richardson of Paris, Bourbon Co., Kentucky. By 1860, they had relocated a short distance to Mt. Sterling, Montgomery Co., Kentucky.

There's more to tell, and over the next month, I hope you'll follow along and get to know this complicated man. There is much to admire.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

You Be the Jury - Guilty or Not Guilty Part 2

Yesterday I described a trial from 1856 as described in a newspaper article. The Killing of J. H. Spears was published by the Louisville Courier Journal on April 29, 1856, p.1. If you haven't read it yet, go to yesterday's post before you read the rest of the article. For those who have, here is some additional information.

Note: The Allen Revolver used in the killing may have looked something like this:

The Trial 

There was a very large crowd in attendance upon the trial, which lasted from Wednesday until Friday evening, the case being continued each night until 11:00 or 12:00 o’clock. The lawyers for the prosecution were Hon. Richard Hawes, R.W. Woolley, Richard H. and Robert Hanson and Capt. W.E. Simms; for the defense, Hon. Garrett Davis, Col. T.T. Martin, and W.W. Alexander. The judge committed him for further trial on Thursday, but the question of bail was argued by Davis, Alexander, Woolley and Simms until the next evening. Judge Samuel refused to allow him bail.

The case was conducted with great power and force. The speeches were very eloquent and able and that of Capt. Simms was particularly moving. His voice faltered and he shed tears in its delivery. He described the deceased as his most particular associate and his best friend – one who he deemed incapable in any but the noblest of actions – cut down in the prime of his life when health, happiness, etc. were before him. The favorite and eldest son of an old man who leant upon him for support, and his widowed sister’s idol.

Mr. Spears was a single man about 30 years of age of fine manly form and address, was at one time a resident of Louisville, Mississippi and the Eastern cities, as agent of the large mercantile and manufacturing house of his father in Paris, and, by his genial manners, drew around him a host of young associates who will deeply sympathize with his large and influential relations in Bourbon, at his sad and untimely fate. The Citizen says he was buried by Odd Fellows and followed to the grave by an immense concourse.

OK - so now you know the victim was very popular, well-thought of, and influential in the community? Do you want to change your vote? Guilty or not guilty?

Monday, January 6, 2014

You Be the Jury -- Guilty or Not Guilty?

I recently came across a case in the newspaper. The incident took place in Paris, Bourbon Co., Kentucky. I'm going to post the article exactly as it was printed. Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to decide if the Defendant is Guilty or Not Guilty. I'm telling you up front that convincing arguments can be made either way. Tell me what your verdict would be by either posting on the comments below or on facebook where you will also see this posted. No excuses -- guilty or not guilty.

In the next couple of days, I will post how the jury ruled. Enjoy!

The Case 

We saw a gentleman yesterday who was in Paris during the preliminary trial of Thos. H. Probert for the killing of J. H. Spears, and as we and others have published partial accounts of the affair, we will deem it but proper to give the important testimony. On Sunday, eight days before the occurrence, Probert rode up to a fishing frolic and Spears frightened his horse. Probert told him not to show his backside. Spears followed him up, and asked why he spoke to him so. Probert said his horse was wild, and as he was unwell, he didn’t wish to be thrown, and he meant what he said. Spears said he was a better man than Probert and could whip him and insisted on a fist fight. Probert declined, saying he didn’t wish to mar the enjoyment of the party and would rather postpone it. Spears afterwards told witnesses that he had sent a man to prepare arms; that he intended to call upon Probert, and if anything occurred, murder him.  Probert was informed of this, and advised by witness to absent himself from house; that Spears was intoxicated and might carry his threat into execution.

That night, Spears visited Probert and was told that he was absent. On Friday Probert went to Cincinnati and returned on Monday evening. That evening (Monday) Spears, accompanied by a friend, went as far down the railroad as Cynthiana. Probert was informed by Spear’s friends that he got into the baggage car at Cynthiana and advised to go in and make up their difficulty, but he said he didn’t wish to see him, and upon arriving at the depot at Paris, immediately repaired to his bar-room. (Probert had been the baker for the hotel and had acted as bar keeper for two or three months) soon after, Spears came out of the car intoxicated and assisted by his friend, went down in the saloon of the Bourbon House. His friend remarked to Probert, “I have brought you a customer,“ and Spears called for something to drink. Probert set out the liquor and Spears asked him to drink with them several times. Probert declined. Spears asked him if it was because of their difficulty, or if he didn’t wish to drink.  He said it was the latter. Spears then threw the liquor in Probert’s face.  Probert asked him if knew what he was doing. Spears said he did, and at the same time Probert picked up the pistol, and Spears drew back the glass and the pistol fired, and the glass was thrown at the same moment.

Spears received one ball in the neck, one in the face and one in the side of the head, and two struck the ceiling. The tumbler knocked down a cigar box, and broke a pane of glass in the window. The only persons present were Spears’ friend and the two young Messrs. Thurston and the landlords of the hotel. Spears lived in a state of insensibility for three hours. The pistol was an Allen’s revolver, and had lain in the same place from which Probert drew it when he fired, behind the water tank, during his absence in Cincinnati.

Spears was proven to have been very drunk in going from the cars, and walked between two friends, who braced him by the arms to prevent his staggering or falling. But Mr. Thurston said he walked alone when in the saloon. Spears was not armed, but his friend ran out of the room when the fight commenced, and said they were both shooting and one or the other must be killed. Probert was not on good terms with Spear’s friend. Probert came out and desired to go to jail, and his friends secreted him until the Sheriff could arrive to prevent Spear’s friends from mobbing him who seemed to be afraid he might leave.

This is a picture that hangs in the home of a friend of Rogers Barde of Paris, Bourbon, Kentucky.
I am so grateful that she sent it to me.