Friday, April 15, 2011

Edwin W. Mooring is tried for murder and walks...and then runs!

Great excitement built in Jackson County in anticipation of the trial of E. W. Mooring for murdering his brother-in-law, young Charley Nickels.  Mooring’s wife and children returned from Germany and an imposing defense team was assembled on his behalf, including former state’s attorney and county judge William H. Milton and James F. McClellan, a frequent litigator before Florida’s state supreme court and a future circuit court judge. The phalanx of lawyers including T. W. Bernard of Tallahasee and Capt. W. Young of Vicksburg, Miss.   The state, however, convened its own star-powered attorneys to prosecute the case, including former congressman and state supreme court justice George S. Hawkins, former circuit court judge Allen H. Bush and a Mr. McKenzie.

After some trouble picking the jury, the trial commenced in early December 1874. After three weeks, the defense strategy first debated by newspapers months earlier proved correct when the jury, comprised of six whites and six blacks, delivered a verdict of not guilty for reason of insanity “at the time of the homicide was perpetrated.”

According to the report carried in the Columbus Enquirer, Florida law required that such a verdict mandated the defendant’s commitment to an asylum, to jail, or release on bond.  After the verdict was read Saturday, Mooring was remanded to confinement until sentencing on Monday.  That Saturday night, however, the bailiff reported that Mooring was liberated by armed friends and got in a waiting buggy to drive away.   On Monday, Mooring was identified in Alabama, but refused to return and remained at large.  The newspaper’s editor repeated the report of a Jackson County correspondent that the court had not held night sessions “on account of a physician’s certificate” that Mooring “was in exceedingly delicate health” The editor remarked with a wink that Mooring’s health ‘must have been restored very speedily.”  In the ensuing months Mooring continued to move about freely and he was seen visiting Columba, Georgia several times.  [CE: 12/25/74; 1/10/74]

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