Criminal Annals, Part 59 – Monster Humbug

Last week we provided a short article about the hanging of Thomas K. Page, who was on trial for the murder of an unknown man and had previously been in San Quentin for manslaughter until pardoned by then governor of California, George Clement Perkins.
With the assistance of local historian Marilyn Ferguson, the original story, which was in four issues of the “Mountain Democrat,” was located. Although lengthy, it provides a unique, interesting look at the judicial system in place in 1883, and starts with an editorial comment on the jury system as a whole.

Mountain Democrat, June 23, 1883

“THE MONSTER HUMBUG OF THE AGE. – The circumstances incident to the pending trial in our Superior Court are not materially different from those attending similar trials all over the country. But who can contemplate those circumstances in a thoughtful way without becoming impressed that our jury system is an expensive and cumbersome evil, with hardly a single distinguishable redeeming feature?

“Here are the Sheriff and his deputies scouring the country from Dan to Beersheeba, at unavoidably great expense to the county, hunting up men competent for jury duty. Venire after venire is exhausted and day after day is spent in an ineffectual attempt to empannel [sic] twelve men to serve in this capacity. Besides an unlimited number who may be challenged for cause, thirty-five of those whose compelled attendance has been laboriously and expensively procured may be peremptorily challenged according to the whims of counsel on the one side and the other. In the meantime, a great crowd of people – respectable, industrious and law-abiding – are compelled at their peril and at great inconvenience (some of them at the risk of losing their crops and the fruits of a full year’s labor), to dance attendance and stand ready to respond to the law’s summons as witnesses. All of this could be tolerated if it was essential to the attainment of the ends of justice, or unmistakably promotive of such result. But who is there in this community, or in this county, who for a moment doubts that the defendant in this or any other case could obtain a fair and impartial, and a far more intelligent trial before Judge Williams alone than before any jury that under the existing system could possibly be impanneled [sic]? Is there a man or a women in the county who would not have more confidence in his judgment and decision, after such hearing as he would give to the case, than in the verdict of any average or possible jury?

“The ‘right of trial by a jury of his peers’ was an emanation, and a beneficent emanation, from social conditions totally different from those by which we are surrounded. Absolute monarchs possessed and exercised the power of robbing their subjects of life, liberty and property through the decisions and edicts of corrupt Judges appointed by the crown, whereas our Judges are chosen by the people themselves. We don’t intend any disparagement of the jury that is to try the pending case, for we don’t know who are to be the members of that jury, but as a general rule the man deserves hanging who will recognize as his ‘peers’ the men who compose an average jury after an average ‘sharp’ attorney has exhausted his skill and right of peremptory challenge in excluding intelligent men therefrom.”

Mountain Democrat, June 30, 1883.

“THE PAGE TRIAL.

In addition to those named in our last issue [not found], a twelfth juror was secured last Saturday to try James K. Page for the murder of an unknown man found dead at New York ravine on the 10th of May last. The jury thus completed was composed of John Bradshaw, W. A. Ballard, Antone Wangler, Wm. Voss, Samuel Tingley, D. Macomber, Wm. Hendrix, Thos. Ralph, M. S. Gilbert, Elisha Charles, Timothy Wilcey [Wiley] and W. H. Brewer. The court then adjourned until Monday morning, June 25th, at which time the testimony was commenced, and was continued from day to day until Thursday noon, after which it was argued by District Attorney [George H.] Ingham and Prentiss Carpenter for the prosecution, by Geo. G. Blanchard and Clarke Howard for the defense, and a recess was taken until 8 o’clock, when Judge Williams delivered his charge, the jury retired, and at half past nine, through their foreman, Wm. Hendrix, returned a verdict of ‘guilty of murder in the first degree.’”

“Owing to the peculiar atrocity and and brutality of the crime, and the general interest manifested in the trial we were at special pains to obtain a full report of the testimony, intending to have it set up as the trial progressed, so as to present it to our readers in this issue of our paper.

“Judge Williams, however, reminded us that in case we should do so, and the jury should not agree upon a verdict, the difficulty in obtaining another jury would be greatly enhanced. We therefore awaited the determination of the case, and between the time the verdict was rendered and our time for going to press it was impossible with the limited force of a country office to get all that voluminous testimony into type. Therefore, rather than defer publication another week, we are compelled to epitomize [archaic for summarize] our report.

“On the morning of May 11th, 1883, at New York ravine, Salmon Falls township, near the Sacramento county line, the body of a strange man was found, pierced with a bullet, the skull crushed in, his pockets rifled, and near him a horse packed with a prospector’s outfit, the horse shot in four places, his throat cut, his windpipe severed in two places, indications that the man had been dragged from the road down into the ravine, the surrounding foliage to a height of several feet drenched and splattered with the horse’s blood. The body of the man was removed to the residence of Jeptha Wilson, where an inquest was held by Coroner Spencer, who had been sent for. The body was then brought to this city, and autopsy was made by Dr. H. W. Smith, and the remains were buried in the City Cemetery. A number of circumstances pointed to James K. Page, a resident of the vicinity, formerly convicted and sentenced to the State Prison for manslaughter, as the perpetrator of the crime, he was arrested at Mormon Island by Constable Macomber of Folsom, lodged in the calaboose at the latter place, and the next day delivered to Deputy Simmons of this county. Then District Attorney Ingham, with indeniable [sic], tireless energy and rare skill addressed himself to the task of ferreting out the perpetrator of this fiendish crime, and when this case was presented in court submitted a chain of evidence which was simply invulnerable to successful assault, tracing both the murderer and his victim step by step down to the scene of the horrible butchery.”

 

TO BE CONTINUED

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