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THE FIRST MURDER TRIAL IN PERRY COUNTY

Taken from the History of Randolph, Monroe and Perry Counties, Illinois



The first person tried in this county upon the charge of murder, was one William CORBERLY. The cause was brought on change of venue from St. Clair county, where the indictment had been found. The first order regarding this cause, appears on the record of April 30th, 1842, when James SHIELDS, the prisoner's attorney, appeared before judge Walter B. SCATES, and made a motion that the cause be stricken from the docket for want of jurisdiction. The motion was sustained and an order in accordance therewith entered. His attorney appears in court again with a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, and upon a hearing on May 3d of the same year, the prisoner was ordered to be delivered to the sheriff of St. Clair county. The cause came up for trial in this court, on the fifteenth day of October, 1842. Willis ALLEN was the attorney for the people, and John DOUGHERTY appeared in defense of the prisoner. A jury composed of James HUGGINS, John HUGGINS, Euclid LOGAN, Peter W. ROBINSON, John AYERS, John M. CAMPBELL, John KING, Daniel GUNN, Samuel S. WILSON, William LINTON, William HUTCHINGS and Samuel BROWN, was secured. The same day the prisoner entered a plea of "not guilty," the trial completed and a verdict of the jury rendered, finding the prisoner guilty and fixing his punishment at two months and three weeks in the penitentiary, with two weeks in solitary confinement.

At the October term, 1856, a meeting of the members of the bar was held, Ben. BOND of Clinton county, chairman, and Wm. STOKES, secretary, at which Wm. H. UNDERWOOD, B. M. COX, P. E. HOSMER, R. S. BOND and a. J. DICKINSON were appointed a committee to present resolutions commemorative of the death of H. B. JONES, a member of the bar, who had died.

Of the murder trials, which have been had in this county, the death penalty was never adjudged by the jury, until November 8th, 1873. At the November term of the circuit court, John FEEFEE and George WILLIAMS, negroes, were put upon trial for the murder of a farmer names MATTISON. They had been stealing his hogs, and were being followed by MATTISON, when they riddled his body with bullets, and left him lying dead in the field. The cause came up for trial before judge Amos WATTS, on the first day of November, and issue joined and plea of "not guilty," entered.

D. W. FOUNTAIN appeared, alone, for the people, while the prisoners were defended by Gen. JONES, E. H. LEMEN, Lewis HAMMACK and M. C. EDWARDS. The following jury was obtained after several days' effort: Samuel J. BROWN, William G. BROWN, Julius SCHLEGEL, Jesse GREEN, James M. WHEATLEY, James SMITH, Absalom ADKINS, Jonathan M. RICE, Daniel BENSON, James HORNER, Isaac LIPE and Ephraim PYLE. On the morning of the 8th of November, the jury rendered a verdict of guilty, and fixed the punishment at death by hanging. The criminals were sentenced to be hanged on the 28th of November, 1873. The scaffold was built and every preparation made by Sheriff, Leonard T. ROSS, to carry into effect the sentence, when governor BEVERIDGE commuted the sentence to imprisonment for life.

TRIAL AND EXECUTION OF VAUGHN

The history of this crime is best told in the language of the "Globe-Democrat" of June 17th, 1882: "James BAUGHN was a tall, good-looking fellow. He worked in he coal mines the best part of his life, and so was not tanned and browned like the general run of the country laborers. He wore quite a swell mustache, parted his hair neatly, and when dressed for the grave in a suit of broadcloth he looked like anything but a murderer. In June, 1881, there was a meeting of Democrats held in the town of Tamaroa, Ill., nine miles northeast of Pinckneyville. It was here that VAUGHN lived at this time, together with his father and mother and their children. Ben VAUGHN was the favorite brother of James, and Ben liked fun as well as any man. Ben, although a Republican, went to the Democratic meeting, and when one of the speakers was soaring to the top cloud, Ben spoiled the effect by shouting "Hurrah for Garfield." This breach of the peace riled William WATTS, the city marshal of Tamaroa. He pulled his revolver and pointing it at Ben he frightened the latter so that he took to his heels, with WATTS after him, still holding the revolver and flourishing it as though he intended killing the fugitive. The latter ran clear to his father's home and entered the house just as WATTS was catching up with him. James VAUGHN heard of the escapade of his brother and of the chase, and the more he thought of it the madder he got. "If WATTS ever tries to arrest or fool with me as he did with Ben," said VAUGHN, "I'll kill him just as sure as there's a God in Heaven." On August 4th, just two months after the occurrence noted, James VAUGHN, filled up with whiskey, took a walk about the public streets of Tamaroa. He talked loudly, said he did not care much for anybody, and less for WATTS, and as he talked the latter appeared and told him he was disturbing the peace, and that he would arrest him if he did not shut up. VAUGHN turned his nose up at the marshal and told him he could not arrest him unless he was armed with a warrant. This statement appears to have irritated WATTS, for he seized hold of his man and said he would have to come along. VAUGHN jerked away from WATTS, and this made the latter very angry. He raised his cane, and struck VAUGHN over the head with it. VAUGHN seized the cane and raised his right hand, which contained a pocket-knife with the big blade open. VAUGHN aimed for a vital spot, and his aim was true, the knife severing the subclavian artery. WATTS fell to the ground, saying, "I'm a dead man," but before giving up life, and while in the very throes of death, he drew his revolver and aimed at VAUGHN, who, noticing the marshal's move, beat a hasty retreat. The dying man aimed at the fugitive, but the cartridge failed to explode. A second time he fired. This time the weapon responded, and a bullet pierced VAUGHN's left leg, inflicting a slight flesh wound. The next moment WATTS toppled over and was dead. VAUGHN was seized by bystanders, and before them he said: "Oh, I'm a man of my word. I told you I'd kill that man if he ever tried to arrest me, and I've kept my word."

An indictment for murder soon followed his arrest, and on the first day of May, 1992, James VAUGHN was arraigned before judge George W. WALL, on a charge of murder. He entered a plea of "not guilty." Mortimer C. EDWARDS, the country attorney, assisted by R. W. S. WHEATLEY, Esq., conducted the prosecution, and Messrs. R. M. DAVIS and E. H. LEMEN, the defense. The first two days were spent in obtaining a jury, which was as follows: John W. RUSHING, P. S. WILKS, George KRAFT, Charles SEIFERT, William STEWART, W. H. STERLING, Christian SCHWARTZ, Jacob THOMAS, Chesterfield HAROLD, Hugh DEVINNEY, James KNOX and R. P. BURBANK. The cause was given to the jury on the evening of May 3d, and at fifteen minutes past twelve the next morning, they rendered their verdict of guilty and affixed the death penalty. The usual motions were made in the case, but all were overruled, and on the 13th day of May, judge WALL passed the sentence of death, selecting the 16th day of June, 1882, as the date for the execution, the first and only one in the county. The case was then taken to the Supreme Court, who affirmed the decision of the jury in the lower court.

Sheriff Thomas PENWARDEN, had named 12:15 P.M., as the hour for the execution, and at that time twenty-five persons were admitted to the body of the jail. This included the sheriff's guard, the spiritual adviser of the condemned and the reporters. The scaffold was in one corner of the jail. To reach it the tops of the cells had to be scaled, and reaching this point was made easy by a temporary wooden stairway. The little crowd gathered on the top of the cells and awaited the coming of the condemned. At 12:20 VAUGHN was taken out of his cell and led to the scaffold by the sheriff. The minister walked by his side and stood by him upon the trap. After prayer the death warrant was read, and then the sheriff asked VAUGHN if he had anything to say. He answered, "I have got nothing at all to say," whereupon the clergyman said that VAUGHN had asked him to speak for him. He said that VAUGHN was very sorry that he had killed WATTS, but confident and hopeful that Christ would pardon him for all his sins committed in this life. He repented for the crime, and had faith that God had a pardon waiting for him in Heaven. After this last statement the sheriff put on the black cap and adjusted the rope. Then the minister and the sheriff stepped off the trap, shaking hands at the same time with VAUGHN and bidding him good-by. Deputy sheriff LEMEN raised the axe and severed the rope that held the trap up. The door fell with a crash and VAUGHN was sent flying into the unknown world. There was a twitch of the ropes and then all was over. The fall was nearly six feet and had broken his neck. Thirty-five minutes after the drop life was pronounced extinct by the attending physicians. VAUGHN was a Tennesseean by birth, hailing from McNair county, that state. He was thirty three years of age at the time of his death.


 

 


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