Saturday, September 27, 2014

Sodomy Trial Leads to Acquittal for Accused, Jail for Witness

Don't mess with the courts
There’s tantalizingly little information about the 1899 sodomy trial of one John H. Williams in Montana. The name is common enough that in looking at one newspaper, the Anaconda Standard in that year, I was able to find several men named John Williams, not all of who could be same man: the new father, the dog racer, the retired military man, the (dead) miner, the partier, the con man, the thief, the sodomite. The first two reports on the case, refer to the accused as “John X. Williams,” but in the final story, he’s listed as “John H. Williams.” The “H” is probably correct. Likewise, John Lynch, the alleged witness, could be one of several men (although there are several men of the name in the Anaconda Standard of the time who couldn’t be the witness).

Williams was arrested on June 3, 1899 on the charge of sodomy. He was arraigned on June 5, with a hearing on June 6, leading to a trial on September 13. When the case came to court, he was acquitted, due to a lack of evidence.

This is what the Anaconda Standard reported on September 13, 1899:
The trial of John Williams on the charge of sodomy was the chief event in the district court yesterday. Evidence was only circumstantial and the jury returned a verdict of not guilty. A bench warrant was issued for the arrest of John Lynch, a witness in the case, who disregarded a subpoena. It is said that Lynch is in Butte. He is reported to have been an eye-witness to the alleged crime, and hence the most important witness the state had.
The reports on the case are amazingly even-handed. Frequently, when I read old reports of sodomy cases, the reporters editorialize on how vile the accused are, on the lines of “this vile man, this fiend in human shape, plead not guilty to his revolting crime.” The courts having finished with Mr. Williams, then turned to Mr. Lynch. In his cae, there was no acquittal.
John Lynch Gets Tangled in the District Court Buzz Saw.
Refused to Obey a Subpoena and Must Pay the Penalty—Trial of a Mining Suit Commenced in District Court.

John Lynch will no longer monkey with the buzz saw of district court processes. He is in jail reviling the man who told him a subpoena didn’t amount to anything. He is there serving out a find of $30 and costs for contempt of court and the costs amount to about $25.

Lynch was an important witness for the state in the sodomy case against John H. Williams, tried recently in the district court. Lynch failed to appear in answer to the subpoena served upon him in Butte by Deputy Sheriff Joe Daly. Williams was acquitted.

Lynch had been working, it is understood, at the Never Sweat mine in Butte. A bench warrant was issued on the charge of contempt of court and with it Deputy Sherrif Daly went to Butte, but Lynch was hiding. At intervals Daly has been visiting Butte in hopes of finding his man. About 12 o’clock Monday night he was rewarded for his vigilance by meeting Lynch face to face in the street. Daly brought his man back on the delayed Great Northern train, reaching here about 5 a.m. yesterday. Lynch had known Daly was in Butte, but thought he had left at 10:40, the hour on which the delayed train should have left.

Lynch was arraigned before Judge Napton during the day. When asked why he had not obeyed the subpoena, he weakly answered that he had no money and hence could not get to Anaconda. The court imposed a fine of $30 and costs, and in default committed Lynch to jail to serve out the sum.
Writing fans may be interested to know that the next case heard in the court involves one E. B. White, though in this case, it is clearly not New Yorker writer known for Charlotte’s Web and his contributions to The Elements of Style, among others. It’s the mining suit, noted in the subhead. It is hard to imagine E. B. White in a mining dispute.

But back to Mr. Lynch. Our first lesson is clearly that when trying to evade the law, do not rely on train schedules. The whole matter of the train seems odd, in that Anaconda and Butte are about twenty-five miles apart, yet a train that left Butte at midnight (scheduled for 10:40 p.m.) didn’t arrive at Anaconda until about 5 a.m. That seems odd.

In any case, the courts were certainly swift with Mr. Lynch, although in his case, there wasn’t really an opportunity to enter a plea of not guilty. It would seem that the facts were not in dispute; he received the subpoena and did not appear. By this point, the facts of the earlier trial had become moot; it no longer mattered what Mr. Lynch had seen Mr. Williams do, which is a shame, because I'll admit to curiosity about them. If Mr. Lynch was the sole witness, upon whom (or what) did Mr. Williams (allegedly) commit sodomy?

While Mr. Williams was acquitted of the charge of sodomy (to which he had plead not guilty), no such out was available for Mr. Lynch.

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