From the Log Cabin - Sept. 26, 1903
Jett Must Hang
Cynthiana, Kentucky -- September 26, 1903
After deliberating for two hours and 22 minutes, the jury at 5:07 o'clock, Tuesday afternoon, returned the death sentence against Curtis Jett for the assassination of Town Marshal James Cockrill, at Jackson on July 21, 1902. It was the general opinion that the death penalty would be reached in less than an hour, and the short delay caused some predictions of a hung jury.
Curtis Jett received the verdict without showing the slightest sign of Disappointment or emotion. Squire Elijah McKinney, the foreman of the jury, handed the verdict to Circuit Clerk T. J. Robertson, who read as follows:
"We, the jury, find the defendant guilty, and fix his punishment at death."
The jury was then polled and each juror answered that the verdict as read was his verdict.
The jury was composed of: J. W. Mattox, Hanson Wiglesworth, T. Finley Terry, John Pope, John W. Hill, Samuel H. Rankin, Geo. W. Magee, John Jameson, James Ross, Sam P. Baird, Ross J. Kendall, and Elijah McKinney.
Each member of the jury wore a solemn expression, and from their countenances it could be seen that they fully realized the meaning of the verdict. The jurors expressed themselves as having performed a very unpleasant duty, but that the death penalty alone fitted the enormity of the crime. The jurors stated that they had agreed not to divulge the proceedings in the jury room, or the name of the juror who held out for two hours for a life sentence. One juror stated, however, that he would not be violating the agreement by stating that there were five ballots taken, and that 11 jurors voted for the death penalty on each ballot. The one juror voted that Jett was guilty, and for four ballots voted for a life sentence.
After hearing the verdict Jett would make no statement. His attorney and friends say they expect the Court of Appeals to grant a new trial. Jett's mother, Mrs. Hagins, expressed the same opinion.
While the jury was out Special Bailiff John Blanton announced that he had arrested witness Bill Britton on an attachment, and left him in the custody of Deputy Sheriff Geo. Deaton of Jackson. While Blanton went to arrest another witness Deaton allowed Britton to escape. Judge Osborne issued another attachment for Britton, returnable at the November term, with bond at $1,000.
The attorneys for the commonwealth say they have no fears whatever of the case being reversed. These attorneys, and also Mr. Blanton, say the the fact that Jett has been sentenced to life imprisonment will not in any way prevent the death penalty from being inflicted.
Attorney Blanton on yesterday (Friday) filed his motion for a new trial on the grounds of absent witnesses, absent counsel, and alleged erroneous rulings of the court. Judge Osborne overruled the motion and set the time of the execution at Cynthiana on December 18.
When Judge Osborne asked Jett if he knew of any reason why sentence should not be passed upon him, he replied: "There are several, but I reckon it won't be worth while to give them." Later while discussing where Jett should be sent for safe keeping, the prisoner told the judge that he had treated him well during the trial. Jett objects to going back to Lexington and Judge Osborne is thinking of sending him either to Paris, Frankfort, Covington, or Louisville.
Attorney Blanton gave notice of an appeal and a stay of execution was granted. The defense will have until the November term of the Harrison Circuit Court to file the bill of evidence and exceptions. This case and also the Marcum case will be docketed and decided by the Court of Appeals at the January term. If the case is affirmed the governor will ten set the date for the execution.
Judge J. J. Osborne has appointed John Blanton as special bailiff to serve processes on witnesses in Breathitt County in the perjury cases against Jim Bach, Geo. Bowling, and A. C. Adams. These men are charged with falsely swearing to Jett's alibi in the Jett-White case here recently, and the case will be docketed for the February term of court.
Jett has authorized Mr. Blanton to say that he has nothing to confess and will make no confession. The other proceedings during the week were as follows:
On last Saturday, Charles Green was introduced by the commonwealth and proved to be one of the very strongest witnesses against Jett. Green refused to come here to testify as he was afraid of being assassinated.
Special Bailiff Tom Cockrill went to Lexington several days ago with a writ for the witness, but Green's wife said he had gone to Canada to remain until the trial should be finished. Sheriff McChord, of Clark County, again went to Lexington Friday, and going to Green's home finally persuaded Mrs. Green to divulge the place where her husband was in hiding. She said he had gone to the home of her father, Mr. Wheeler Gentry, five miles from Lexington.
McChord went to the Gentry home at 2 o'clock Saturday morning, and aroused the family. Mrs. Gentry told the officer that Green was upstairs, but begged that he be left alone, as he would certainly kill anyone who attempted to arrest him. McChord started up the steps and Green cocked a big revolver and demanded that the officer halt. He said he would kill McChord before he would be taken, and warned him not to advance. McChord says he told Green that it would do no good to resist arrest, "for if you kill me," said the sheriff, "the commonwealth will surely hang you." McChord told him that he intended to advance up the steps, but first wanted to talk to him as a friend. The officer finally persuaded Green that it was his duty to testify, and he at last agreed to come. McChord then allowed Green to go to his home in Lexington until time for the 7 o'clock train, Saturday morning.
Green took the witness stand at about 9:30 Saturday morning, and gave probably the most positive testimony during the trial, although two other witnesses saw Jett shooting out the window and several others saw him lean out the same window just after the shooting. Green said he was and is a car inspector on the L. & E. Railroad. He was standing near Jim Cockrill when he saw three men shoot out of the courthouse window. One of the men he unmistakably recognized as Curt Jett, and he could not state who the other two men were. Cockrill began to run and the witness thought the men were shooting at him until he saw a wound in Cockrill's throat. The shooting ceased when Cockrill jumped behind a house.
Green said he saw Jett come out of the courthouse very soon after the shooting and had had a revolver in his hand. He corroborated some 20 other witnesses who saw Jett cross to Hargis' store and return to the courthouse.
When Curtis Jett was called to the witness stand to testify in his own behalf in this trial for the murder of James Cockrill, all rumors of a confession were finally set at rest.
Jett had practically no defense, as he and Doug Hayes were the only persons who would swear that he was in Hargis' store while the shooting was being done. The recent perjury proceedings here had seemingly had a bad effect on Jett's witnesses, for some of them could not be pulled into the courthouse, while others were so very conservative in their testimony as to be of no assistance to the defendant. In fact, some of the defense witnesses greatly strengthened the case against Judge Hargis' nephew.
Bill Britton, whom Riley Coldiron swears he saw at the window with Jett when the shots were being fired, left here Saturday without testifying.
Ed Callahan and Mat Spencer were both here Monday morning, but went to Cincinnati without testifying for Jett. It is probable that they will be arraigned for contempt of court.
Attorney Blanton made a brief statement, saying the defense would prove that Jett was in Hargis' store at the time of the shooting; that he ran to the courthouse as soon as the shooting began and was then seen by commonwealth witnesses, as stated by them; that two men were seen to walk from the direction of the courthouse that night and a little later leave town rapidly on horseback, and with rifles; that Capt. Patrick saw all he said he did, except that he was mistaken as to Jett's identity. He criticized the prosecution, which he termed a "persecution," and said it was desired to railroad Jett into eternity because a death sentence had not been passed in the Marcum case.
Jett On The Stand
It was 9:30 when Jett took the stand. He began his story by saying that he was in Hargis Brothers' store about 20 feet from the door, when the shooting began. He at once ran out and thinking the shooting was at the rear of the courthouse, he ran around to the left of the courthouse, passed the side door, to see who was doing the shooting. Having found the shooting was not there, he came back a short distance, walked into the side door, around through the side hall, then through the front hall to the front door. This now placed him where over 20 witnesses saw him and he admitted his proven actions from that point. He also admitted seeing two commonwealth witnesses who stated they saw him in the hall. He said he then drew his pistol and returned to Hargis' store and went upstairs. There he saw King Ford, Ed Callahan, Judge James Hargis, and Doug Hayes. Someone told him to go guard the courthouse or to see who came out, and he at once returned to the front door of the courthouse, as stated by other witnesses. He told his version of the Arlington Hotel difficulty with James Cockrill, the town marshal. He admitted he was drinking and said he was in conversation with a drummer, when he looked up and saw Cockrill with a pistol leveled on him. Witness said Cockrill at once fired and he drew his pistol and fired twice, and that Cockrill then went upstairs to get a rifle. He denied saying on the way up town from the hotel that he would kill Cockrill on sight. He denied saying that "No d__n man can shoot at me and walk the street of Jackson," and that "When you see you have got to kill a dog, the sooner you do it the better." He said Bruce Little never argues with him that he ought to drop the trouble with Cockrill, as Little said he did when Jett made the above statement.
Jett was cross-examined by County Attorney Webster, and the witness was several times boiling over with rage as Webster cornered him on points in his story. Webster had him to say that he had not gone as far as the back end of the courthouse, after having previously said that he thought the shooting was in the rear of the courthouse, and he had gone back to see who was doing it. Webster then made the witness destroy the value of the testimony of his alibi witnesses, who said he came into Hargis' store as soon after the shooting, that he could not have come from the upstairs courthouse window, down the back stairs, through the hall to the store door after the shots were fired. Webster made the witness admit that the route he said he went (from Hargis' store to the side door of the courthouse, through the halls and back to the store) was longer than the route from the upstairs window back to Hargis' store. Jett said he had his pistol drawn when he crossed the street. At this point, as if to explain the pistol incident, he said: "If the truth was known you'd find pistols were drawn all up and down that street." Witness said he could not remember who told him to go guard the courthouse or why the order was given, as none of those in the crowd over Hargis' store were supposed to know where the shooting had been done. Several times during the cross-examination Jett's eyes were flashing fire, but all he could say was, "I don't remember." He invariably refused to give any estimate of time, and at one time angrily said: "I don't remember and I'll not try to." He gave no explanation of why he went upstairs in Hargis' store, and said, "I don't know no such thing," when Webster asked: "Don't you know that they had sent you to murder Cockrill and when you ran back to them they sent you back to guard the courthouse?"
Webster read to him his affidavit in which he said Breck Combs would swear that he (Jett) was in Hargis' store when the shots were fired. Webster asked him why he had made such an affidavit, when he knew Combs was three miles in the country at that time. Witness said he didn't know it and had been told that Combs would so testify.
At the opening of court Tuesday morning Thos. Cardwell, Sr., was introduced by the defense. He was unable to say that eye witness, Riley Coldiron, was not on the side steps to his store, as claimed by the commonwealth. He saw Coldiron soon after the shooting. The defense here rested its case and the commonwealth introduced two rebuttal witnesses.
Thos. Cardwell, Jr., the police judge who was so long kept a prisoner in his store from fear of assassination, testified to seeing Coldiron at corner.
M. Forbes, merchant, testified that when the shots were fired, Newt Campbell ran down the street into a store. Campbell had testified that he went in the opposite direction to Hargis' store "very soon" after the shooting.
The court then read the usual murder instructions, and at 9:45 a. m. Mr. Blanton arose to argue the case for Jett.
Mr. Blanton spoke for an hour and devoted considerable time to criticizing Byrd. The general opinion has been that he has been managing his case admirably, and made the most of a hopeless task.
He reviewed the history of the Marcum and Cockrill murders and characterized the prosecution as a persecution, and said because the jury failed to indict the death penalty in the Marcum case the commonwealth was now trying to railroad the defendant into eternity, on the Cockrill indictment. He said that Mr. Byrd was parading before the limelight of public opinion, when he should have had indictments found a year ago in the Cockrill case. He said Byrd was dancing before the jury, demanding Jett's head, like the maiden who danced before the King and demanded the head of John the Baptist. He said that the Commonwealth of Kentucky, from the governor on down to Byrd, seemed to think there was some special reason why Jett should be hanged at this particular time. He then took up the testimony of Capt. John Patrick, an eye witness, and said he believed that Patrick was honestly mistaken and that when Patrick thought he saw Jett at the courthouse window it was merely a case of mistaken identity.
He reviewed the testimony and undertook to show from the evidence that Jett started from Hargis' store as soon as the shots were fired, then ran to the side door of the courthouse, passed through the halls to the front door, where the 23 commonwealth witnesses saw him. He admitted Jett's movements from that point as shown by the commonwealth. Blanton said the commonwealth had been brow beating and intimidating witnesses and they were afraid to come and testify. The court here ruled out this statement.
Blanton said the sentiment had been scattered broadcast that the Hargises or some of their kinfolks would have to be hanged to restore law and order in Breathitt, and every effort was therefore being made to hang Jett, who is a nephew of the Hargises.
Blanton closed by asking the jurors to do their duty and by their verdict rebuke the character of the prosecution in this case.
Commonwealth Attorney Byrd began his speech at 10:45, and spent considerable time in answering Blanton's argument. Byrd said that he had laid sufficient evidence before the juries before the special Breathitt grand jury was called, but that the previous bodies had failed in indict. He also referred to the reign of terror at Jackson, and showed from the testimony that Capt. John Patrick had fled to West Virginia, Riley Coldiron to Winchester, and Chas. Green to Lexington, all for fear of being assassinated.
He referred to the statement that some defense witnesses were absent, but said the testimony of the few absent ones was read to the jury in Jett's affidavits as to what they would swear if present. Byrd declared that if the friends of the defense had tried half as hard to get their witnesses here as they had tried to keep them away, they would have had them here. He said this statement also applied to the absent attorneys. He demanded the death penalty alone as suitable to the crime. He argued from the Mosaic law that this death penalty was prescribed by God himself, and quoted numerous passages which declared that whosoever shedeth man's blood, by man shall his blood also be shed.
Byrd vigorously attacked Doug Hayes, who was the only witness who swore to an absolute alibi for the prisoner. He referred to the fact that Hayes had been pardoned by Taylor and then by Beckham for manslaughter, and said that was the strongest reason why Jett should be placed beyond the reach of a pardon by any governor.
At 1:30 o'clock, Mr. Byrd took up the testimony and declared that the commonwealth had made an absolutely perfect case, not lacking a single necessary element. He said the commonwealth had shown malice from Jett's hotel fight with Cockrill; threats after that fight, as proven by four witnesses; boasts by Jett that his "45" had laid Cockrill on the cold ground; that three eye witnesses had seen Jett in the very act of firing; that three witnesses had seen him lean out the window from which the shots came, and that 22 witnesses had seen him at the courthouse door immediately after the shooting; that three witness saw him enter the courthouse and one saw him go up the back stairs just before the shooting; and that another had heard persons run across the courtroom floor towards the back stairs, and still another witness had seen him come from the back stairs.
Byrd urged the jury to render a just verdict that would be a terror to other criminals.