Trial Is Set For Clayhole Cases
Louisville Courier-Journal, February 9, 1922
"The Clayhole cases," as the murder indictments against 13 participants in the battle at Clayhole precinct, Breathitt County, on election day, 1921, are commonly known, have been set for trial in the Breathitt Circuit Court March 25. And on that date Judge D. W. Gardner, it is expected, will send them to another county.
Judge Gardner, who is in Florida, has already indicated such an intention, according to Commonwealth Attorney Grover Cleveland Allen, but he has not said to what county he plans to send them.
They have been sent back here from Boyd County, where three trials have been held, the total net result of these lengthy hearings being that one of the defendants, William Barnett, received a two-year-term in the penitentiary.
Barnett belongs to the so-called Republican group of defendants, which includes, besides himself, Andy Barnett, Willie Davis, Marion Barnett, Will Campbell, Ed Davis, Alfred Barnett, Ed Combs, and Chester Davis. Each faces three murder charges, except Barnett, against whom, in view of his conviction, only two are pending.
The nine men of this group are accused of the murder of Cleveland and Asbury Combs and Ethan Allen, Democrats.
In addition to 17 wounded, a fourth man, George McIntosh, Republican, was killed. Leslie, Shade, and French Combs and George Allen, Jr., Democrats, are under indictment for his murder.
They were tried jointly in Catlettsburg in the summer of 1922. Leslie Combs and Allen each received a 15-year prison sentence and the other two got five-year terms. This verdict was later reversed by the Court of Appeals.
The following March the cases of the defendants who were on the Republican side in the battle were called at Catlettsburg. The defendants demanded separate trials, and William Barnett, the first to be heard, received the two-year sentence.
No appeal was taken, nor were any of the men indicted with Barnett tried at that time. Later, the other group, on being called for trial, also demanded separate hearings.
Leslie Combs was chosen as the first to face a jury. The panel failed to agree on a verdict.
Judge Gardner's reported decision to transfer the cases to another county indicates that he regards the state of feeling in Breathitt such that the trials could not be heard impartially in Jackson. It was for that reason they were originally sent from Jackson to Catlettsburg.
Met With Difficulties
The original change of venue to Boyd County was not effected without difficulty. It will be recalled that Judge Sam Hurst, then presiding in the Breathitt Circuit Court, refused at first either to grant a change of venue or to vacate the bench.
Judge Hurst was a Republican and also had been a candidate in the 1921 election. The Democratic defendants did not want him to try their cases.
Ryland C. Musick, chief of the attorneys for the Democratic group, was fatally injured in an automobile accident near Lebanon, Virginia, last summer, and some persons doubt that, in view of his death, the cases ever will be pressed.
Mr. Musick was aggressive, not only in the defense of the four Democrats, but also in the prosecution of the nine men on the other side in the fight.
However, Clay Watkins, who was associated with Mr. Musick from the start, said emphatically today that there is no disposition among his clients either to avoid trial themselves or to let the prosecution of the opposing group drop.
Mr. Watkins said John Waugh, of Ashland, probably will take Mr. Musick's place as chief counsel, while Chester A. Bach, of Jackson, also will be employed. Henry L. Spencer, of Jackson, like Mr. Watkins, has been in the case from the outset.
On the other side, the chief attorneys are A. H. Patton, of Jackson, and A. Floyd Byrd, of Lexington.
History of Case
The suggestion that, because of Mr. Musick's death the whole affair might be "forgotten" is not as outlandish as it might seem to persons unacquainted with the history of the Clayhole case. Soon after the original indictments were returned, all 13 defendants signed a petition to Judge Hurst and Commonwealth Attorney J. M. McDaniel, stating they wanted to "let bygones be bygones."
The wording of this agreement described the bloody election-day battle in the light of a little difficulty among friends in which the authorities could not conceivably be deeply interested. The defendants, in the language of their petition, failed to see "where any good can result either to the community or to the Commonwealth of Kentucky in litigation over the matter."
Since the Clayhole battle, the judicial district in which Breathitt County is located has been altered and Judge Hurst no longer presides over the court here. This district was one of six changed by the 1924 legislature under a law, designed, its title said, to relieve congested dockets in Boyd and Perry Counties.
Approaching the Clayhole cases in interest here are the so-called "jail raid" cases, which also are set for trial at the next term. they are 11 defendants named in five indictments: Bud Noble, Soldier Noble, Luther Noble, Will Penn Watts, Lewis Watts, Beecher Noble, Hagins Noble, Sam Grigsby, Tom Porter, Tom Noble, and Alfred Noble.
These cases date back to one o'clock one morning in December 1921, when A. A. "Smokey" Allen, Breathitt County Jailer, was awakened by a band of men who said they had brought in a prisoner. Allen directed his son, Oscar Allen, to let them in, and he did so. But the visitors had brought no prisoner. They came, instead, to "rescue" some of Allen's charges.
In the shooting melee that followed, Albert Roberts, deputy jailer, was killed; Miss Maggie Allen, the jailer's daughter, was mortally wounded; and Mrs. Sarah Allen, Oscar Allen's wife, received injuries which are belive to have caused her death more than a year later. The indictments charge the 11 defendants with the murder of Roberts and Miss Allen.
The men indicted, with the exception of Hagins Noble, who lived at Grapevine, Perry County, all were residents along Lost Creek, Breathitt County, and for the most part were relatives of Hargis Noble, Willie Noble, Alton Grigsby, and Isaac Watts.
These four men had, shortly before the attempted "rescues," been convicted for the killing of Joe Napier and were in custody. Hargis and Willie Noble, who had received life sentences, had been taken to the Clark County jail for safe keeping, but Alton Grigsby, who also had been given a life sentence, and Isaac Watts, who got a two-year term, were in "Smokey" Allen's jail. Neither Grigsby nor Lewis Watts got away in the raid. Will Penn Watts, however, received a death sentence. His attorneys took the cae to the Court of Appeals and obtained a reversal of the verdict. The Appellate Court found fault with the presiding judge's instructions to the jury.
The "jail raid" cases alone, even if the defendants should not demand separate trials, as is their right, might conceivably take up a good part of the 18 days of the next term, lawyers here say. Twenty-eight commonwealth witnesses are listed in the circuit clerks records. The defense would present that many or perhaps more.
Bud Noble and his two sons, Soldier and Luther Noble, have never been captured. they were the alleged leaders of the raid.