09 May 2011

A Most Curious Case



So I have been working on a new project for a client and I have to tell you, it is probably the most interesting one I have had in a long time.

The year is 1897 in San Joaquin County, California. A man is hauled into jail for attempting to kill his wife. Reading the newspapers of the day, it appears that the wife was going to run away with another man. The padding in her dress stopped the bullet from doing any real damage, she suffered a slight flesh wound.

The jury took only 2 hours to find him guilty and gave him the maximum sentence allowed by law at the time - 14 years.

So off to San Quentin Prison he goes. Then two years later in 1899 the Governor of California is presented with an application for a pardon for the man. The contents of this application makes this case extremely unusual:

1. A formal petition from THE PANEL OF JURORS THAT CONVICTED HIM stating that the man had been in prison long enough that justice has been served. It is signed by each and every juror.


2. A letter to the Governor from the District Attorney who prosecuted the man, asking that he be given a full pardon. The District Attorney states

"This is the first case of the number I have prosecuted as District Attorney, wherein I felt that I could address the Governor upon the grounds and in behalf of a person seeking pardon or parole."

3. A formal petition requesting a pardon for the man that is signed by every adult in the small town of Linden where the man had been born and raised and had been a resident up until his incarceration.




Well this just stunned me. What had happened in the two years 1897-1899 that changed everyone's mind. Remember this is the same jury that wasted no time in throwing the book at the guy. The District Attorney had wasted no time in getting the case to trial. Start to finish was approximately 3 weeks.

I have gone through the newspapers page by page for those two years and there are no items about the man, his family, any of the jurors, the District Attorney (other than different cases he was prosecuting at the time).

I checked local vital records and there were no deaths, births or marriages that might have been a factor.

The man was finally granted a pardon three years later in 1900. So again I am at the newspapers, but there is no mention of his homecoming. Census records have not been useful in this case either.

Any thought on what might have happened to make basically an entire community do an about face? And why it would not have been news?
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