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California Historical Murder Case

California Historical Murder Case
“Killing the Marshal”
“Murray caught; on his way to San Diego. He gave up like a cuss. Terrible excitement. Parties have started out to catch and lynch him. Will keep them back all I can.”
–Thomas Weller, deputy constable, San Diego[1].
City Marshal Charles C. Wilson and his brother who was the deputy marshal were walking towards a hotel from where they heard gun shot. The two officers were going to investigate the gunshots and were passing through the railroad tracks located north of Santa Fe Depot. It was a few minutes after midnight; the two officers were attracted to a breakage sound that appeared to come from their vicinity. Marshal Wilson and J.K. “Keno” Wilson decided to digress from their path and check out what has cause the breaking glass sound. As the two officers got to the scene, they saw two persons on horses riding towards them. One of the riders was a 24-year-old ruffian who had previously been arrested for charges of disturbing the peace. J.K. “Keno” had done the arrest and therefore recognized the 24-year-old hooligan. However, Marshal Wilson was first to point out the identity of the hooligan as John Murray. According to the account of J.K “Keno” Wilson, John Murray was holding the reins of his horse with his left hand together with the globe glass of a street light. On his right hand, John Murray held a pistol that swung freely on his hands. John Murray shot City Marshal Charles C. Wilson on the head with the pistol[2].
The Crime of Murder
Murder is a criminal act of killing another person with the intention of causing harm. The thought of malice that precedes murder is the dining attribute that differentiates murder from other crimes such as manslaughter. In the society, murder is highly frowned upon because of the massive loss it brings to the victim’s family and the fact that the loss of human life is also injurious to a society’s well-being. Therefore, in all societies, murder crimes are dealt with punishments that are considered the harshest in the respective societies. Courts consider malice to be the intent to kill, the intent to cause deadly harm that slightly falls short of death, a careless handling of human life that is unjustified and the intention of obligating a treacherous offence. There are several exclusions to the charge of murder. They include, cases where there is no malice thus lowering the charge from murder to manslaughter[3].
Secondly, accidental killings once vindicated become homicides. Suicide is not murder but the person accused for assisting suicide is liable for a murder charge. The capital punishment for those convicted of murder does not constitute murder; likewise, the admission of medicine to a terminally ill patient that kills the patient with the aim of alleviating their pain is not murder. Lastly, a self-defense case where a person kills another who is attempting to kill them is not classified as murder. According to McKanna[4] Murder, crimes were common in San Diego in the 19th century. There were at least 220 homicide cases between 1850 and 1900 and a majority of the murder cases did not reach trial in the Californian criminal justice system. Of the 40 per cent of this cases that were tried in court, 42 per cent resulted in conviction. In most murders occurring from 1850 to 1950 in the San Diego area, a majority of suspects comprised of the Indian ethnic group. However, the John Murray case was one of the few that did not include an Indian suspect.
Discussion of the Actual Crime
The killing of City Marshal Charles C. Wilson occurred on 3 July 1889, a few minutes after midnight. This account of the time of murder is defended by the witness statement of Dr. Henry Hubbard who conducted the examination of Mr. Charles Wilson’s body on the morning of 4 July 1989. Death occurred immediately after the shooting as Mr. Wilson fell into his brother’s arms. The murder occurred in the Oceanside area of San Diego precisely at railroad tracks close to the Santa Fe Depot. The railroads scene is located west of the St. Cloud Hotel.
According to the surgeon’s witness account, a bullet fired from a gun held above the victim who was stationary upright created the bullet wound on Mr. Wilson’s body. The shot was on the front part of the victim and it must have been fired a few inches from the victim. The bullet hit both the lung and heart; however, the lung received the most damage with a rapture of its artery. In his final account, the examination surgeon confirmed that the bullet wound in question was the cause of the death of Mr. Wilson. After the shot on Marshal Wilson, his brother held him as he succumbed to his injuries and died, meanwhile the brother, Mr. J.K. “Keno” Wilson, was firing at the fleeing shooter who was still on a horse back. A single bullet shot from Deputy Marshal Wilson hit the Mr. Murray’s horse and impaired its mobility later on forcing Mr. Murray to continue fleeing on foot. Visibility of the murder scene and the surrounding area was poor because of the night darkness and the tall grass growing on the farms nearby. This condition allowed Mr. Murray to get off his horse and hid at the tall grass of a farmhouse pasture near the crime scene. Mr. Murray was later presented to San Diego authorities on July 8 1889 by four farmers after he agreed to surrender. The Superior Court then commenced trials against Mr. Murray[5].
The Union Tribune[6] in a revisit of the 1889 story reports that upon arrest, the accused claimed that he thought he was going to be robbed and therefore decided to act earlier than his supposedly robber by shooting him. The accused in his defense claimed that he was not aware of the identity of the person he had shot. The accused, Mr. Murray, claimed that it was only by hearsay that he understood the gravity of the criminal case against him. Mr. Murray also claimed that he was acting under the influence of alcohol and therefore was not in total control of his actions. He claimed that the alcohol he had consumed moments before the time of crime had impaired his rational thinking capacity. Murray also added that Marshal Wilson’s failure to identify himself concurred with his vindication that he was dealing with robbers. In clarifying his surrender to authorities after fleeing, Mr. Griffin the owner of the farm in which Mr. Murray was captured said that the thought of life loss to an angry mob and the fatigue the fugitive were the driving factors[7].
Important Factors in the Case
The fact that the accused was not of Indian origin might have increased the media attention for the case, secondly the fact that a senior police officer was the victim certainly compelled the case to be a high profile one. The accused, Mr. Murray, was considered a black ship of a high profiled family in Oceanside that enjoyed relatively good social status. According to newspaper reports of the murder incident, the victim was an alcoholic and generally a delinquent.
It is worth noting that the accused was riding a horse during the time of the incident and it was believed that the he owned the horse as none of the accusers claimed that the horse was stolen. The possession of a horse elevates the accused to a higher social status and so does the possession of a pistol. During the 19th century, possession of guns was limited to the high-ranking citizens in terms of social status. Horses were possessions comparable to cars in the modern day; therefore, someone possessing a horse is viewed to be relatively wealthy[8].
Mr. John Murray was taken to trial at the Superior court of San Diego where he was convicted of murder of Marshal Charles C. Wilson. During the Marshal Wilson trial, the people were the respondents and Mr. John Murray was the appellant. Although transfer of the suspect to the Superior Court happened immediately after his arrest, the actual taking of witness statements was delayed up to October. The high profile category of the case must have informed the prosecutor side to ask for more time in collecting evidence given that the arrest was made three months before the actual start of the trial[9].
During the trial, the appellant argued that the jury was influenced by newspaper reports for the murder. The Jury had a preformed judgment of the defendant, depicting him as a cold-hearted careless person capable of murder. The defense side reminded the court that out of thirty or more murder cases that appeared on the court prior to the Marshal Wilson case, only four were convicted based on the evidence presented to the court. The rest suffered under the preconception of the jury on the guiltiness of the defendant. The defense side also noted that previous cases were mostly involving Indians[10].
The newspapers reported the trial correctly as it proceeded however; they were accused of giving the jury a false interpretation of the case before the trial. Newspapers concentrated on pointing out the importance of the victim in the society and contributed to the depiction of the defendant as unmerciful. Newspapers used the case to discourage rascality in the area; however, their intention had a negative effect on the case that prevented the award of a fair trial to Mr. Murray. Although judges were informed by the jurors on close examination that they had indeed read the newspapers accounts of the murder, the court still ruled in the positive on the case of the people versus Mr. John Murray and sentenced Murray to death by hanging. It is clear that the newspapers account of the case greatly influenced the jury’s verdict. The defense accounts on the court points out the underhand that the newspapers played in denying the appellant a fair trial. The newspapers in this case influenced the jury to have a negative biased opinion against the defendant.
Personal Analysis of the Case
The facts ruminating from the case and its coverage by local newspapers in the San Diego area brings out a mistrial of Mr. John Murray. While it is clear that the accused committed the crime of killing Marshal Wilson, the manner in which the trial was conducted is suspect and leaves a neutral observer with doubts of the verdict by the judge and jury.
The coverage of the trial does not indicate whether the accused received proper legal advice prior to the trial. However, the fact that he had a qualified attorney representing him in the trial shows that he was advised fairly of the case against him.
Facts presented in the case point out the defendant actual killing of the Marshal on the account given by the victim’s brother who was a witness of the murder. The prosecution side relied much on the evidence presented by the victim’s brother might have erred. The witness was a blood relative of the victim and therefore was subject to give a biased account of what really took place at the night of the murder. No mention is given of the second witness role in the case.
My final assessment of the case is that the murder victim was guiltier than the defendant in the case was. This comes out because of the victim’s failure to crush the defendant’s assumption that the victim and his brother were robbers. However, the defendant does not go free of guilt. Mr. Murray’s failure to confirm actually the victim’s identity and his claim of influence of alcohol does not cover him from the vindication of the murder crime. The nature in which the newspapers influenced the jury’s perception of the defendant is wrong.
Criminal Justice in Nineteenth-Century California
The whole account of the Marshal Trial case brings out key components that shaped up the criminal justice environment of the nineteenth century California. First, it is observable that jury neutrality was not a major factor to be considered when formulating a criminal case’s jury. The defense side of the Marshal Trial points out that out of 30 or more cases previously tried in the courts involving murder charges, only four were fairly judged based on the evidence presented in the courts. This account leads the reader to paint a picture of a less competent criminal justice system that is more concerned with ending cases than providing a fair trial of the victims and the defendants. This point is also visible on the fact that the case took three months to begin after the initial selection of the jury.
[1] Crawford Richard. Slaying of City Marshal Left an Impact in Oceanside. Union-Tribune, 24 March 2011. Retrieved 21 April 2011 from http://www.sandiegoyesterday.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Killing-the-Marshal.pdf pp. 1-3
[2] Ibid
[3] McKanna, Clare V. The Treatment of Indian Murderers in San Diego, 1850-1900. San Diego History Centre Vol.36 No.1 Para. 2-7
[4] Ibid
[5] People v Murray, 20634 Supreme Court of the State of California, 1890 p. 361
[6] Crawford Richard. Slaying of City Marshal Left an Impact in Oceanside. Union-Tribune, 24 March 2011. Retrieved 21 April 2011 from http://www.sandiegoyesterday.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Killing-the-Marshal.pdf pp. 1-3
[7] Ibid
[8] Crawford Richard. Slaying of City Marshal Left an Impact in Oceanside. Union-Tribune, 24 March 2011. Retrieved 21 April 2011 from http://www.sandiegoyesterday.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Killing-the-Marshal.pdf p. 2
[9] Ibid
[10] People v Murray, 20634 Supreme Court of the State of California, 1890 p. 361

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