Monday, February 17, 2014

America's First Trial of the Century - 1906

On February 17, 1906, union leaders Bill Hayward, Charles Moyer, and George Pettibone are taken into custody by Idaho authorities and the Pinkerton Detective Agency. They are put on a special train in Denver, Colorado, but the officials had no legal right to arrest the three union executives in Colorado. Idaho had resorted to this strategy in an attempt to bring the union leaders to justice for the assassination of former governor Frank Steunenberg. On December 30, 1905, a powerful bomb affixed to Steunenberg's front gate exploded and killed him as he was returning to his home in Caldwell, Idaho. The former governor was a target for union miners after his role in breaking a strike in Coeur d'Alene years earlier. 

In order to solve the crime, Idaho called in the Pinkerton Agency and the country's most famous private detective, James McParland. He was the man responsible for bringing down the Molly McGuire’s, a secret Irish society from Pennsylvania's mining district. Through a combination of trickery and intimidation, McParland got witnesses to implicate Bill Hayward, Charles Moyer, the president of the Western Federation of Miners, and others in the plot to kill Steunenberg. However, these men were in Colorado, where local authorities were friendly to the unions and would not extradite them. Government officials in Idaho, including the current governor and chief justice, sanctioned a plan to kidnap Hayward, Moyer, and Pettibone so that they could be put on trial in Caldwell. Despite the blatant illegality of their operation, the union leaders lost their appeals in federal court and were forced to stay in Idaho to be charged with conspiracy to commit murder. Clarence Darrow, who was one of the country's foremost defender of liberal causes, was brought in to defend the case. It was the first "Trial of the Century," drawing national media attention and celebrity attendees. Darrow made an impassioned 11-hour closing argument that mercilessly attacked the prosecution witnesses, and the jury acquitted all three men.
Michael Thomas Barry is a columnist for and is the author of numerous books that include Murder and Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California, 1849-1949. The book can be purchased at Amazon through the following link:      

No comments:

Post a Comment