THE HANGING OF THORN WALLINGFORD

Part 2 of 2

Source:  The Crittenden Press. (Marion, Ky.) 1919-Current, November 12, 1920, Edition 1, Image 8 - Chronicling America - The Library of Congress.

 

Written for the Press by R. C. Haynes

 

Owing to the absence of the movers as witnesses, the case was continued for a number of terms of court. Finally, however, the case came up for trial at the fall term of the Crittenden Circuit Court, September 1852, Judge R. K. Williams on the bench, Oscar Turner, commonwealth attorney and Sumner Marble, county attorney. Mr. Turner being ill the court appointed Wiley P. Fowler to represent the commonwealth. The defense was represented by Nathan R. Black and Chester C. Cole, both members of the Marion bar. Other county officials than those we have named were R. G. Stewart, circuit clerk; Berry S. Young, county clerk; David B. Carter, county judge; William Hogard, assessor and A. J. Brasher, coroner. (These attorneys and officials have all since passed away—Oscar Turner served several terms as congressman from the First District. Sumner Marble also became prominent in political affairs of the state.)

When Judge Williams had called the court to order the case of the Commonwealth vs. William T. Wallingford was read from the docket. The accused was brought in by Jailer Bruff and to the charge of willful murder plead not guilty. After much consultation with witnesses the attorneys on both sides announced ready for trial. The most noted trial that had ever come up in the Crittenden circuit court was now on, and the court room was packed with people from all over the county.

Two days of the court were taken up in impaneling a jury, since, owing to the nature of the crime and the publicity given it, so many of those summoned by the sheriff to act as jurors had previously “formed or expressed an opinion in the case.” At last, however, the panel was made up all of whom, collectively and individually, the attorneys on both sides “liked.” The gentlemen who served as jurors were as follows: John L. Adams, foreman; P. A. Johnson, William Banks, Andy Woodall, James Harvey Travis, William P. Stallions, William H. Minner, James B. Foggs, William Fritts, Thomas S. Alvis, Richard Williams and A. B. Perkins.

(With the lapse of 68 years these men who served on that jury have all passed away. Andy Woodall being the last to succumb to the ravages of time.)

After the jury had been sworn and had taken their seats the witnesses in the case were called and responded to their names as follows: B. S. Pickering, Ross Williams, Geo. M. McDowell, Jesse McMillican, Charles Lisenby, G. H. Williams, James Pickering, Lena Pickering, Thomas L. Dean and Alex Dean. (Of these witnesses who testified in this case all have since died, except Dr. Thos. L. Dean, who now resides in Texas.)

It was a hotly contested legal battle, the best of talent and ability being engaged on both sides. Just what the nature of testimony given the records do not show; but after the evidence on both sides had been given and the attorneys had “rested” the court gave his instructions to the jury.

Four speeches were made to the jury, two on each side, Nathan R. Black and Chester C. Cole for the defense and Wiley P. Fowler and Sumner Marble for the commonwealth.

Sheriff Duke Haynes took the jury to their room to deliberate and the crowd in the court room waited anxiously and impatiently to hear the result. The accused man was apparently the most unconcerned man in the court room.

“Gentlemen have you reached a verdict?” inquired the court.

“We have.” answered the foreman.

“And do each of you gentlemen concur in the verdict rendered?” again asked the court.

“We do.” answered each of the remaining eleven jurors. Amid almost breathless silence Circuit Clerk Stewart read:

“We the jury find the accused William T. Wallingford guilty as charged and fix his punishment at hanging by the neck until he is dead.” The condemned man sat in stolid indifference.

Turning to the prisoner at the bar the court asked: “Have you any statement to make or reasons to offer why the sentence of death should not be passed upon you?”

Rising to his feet Wallingford said: “I am innocent; or, if I killed my wife and child I was too drunk to know anything about it.” Judge Williams fixed the 17th day of September as the day of execution.

Friday, September 17, 1852 was a notable day in Crittenden county. The hanging of Thorn Wallingford is still remembered by some of our older people. Unlike the executions of today, it was public and the occasion drew people from all over this and adjoining counties. A larger crowd was in Marion on that day, it is said, than there ever was before or has ever been since. Everybody went, men, women, and children. Slaveholders gave their colored people a holiday and they made the occasion a day of jubilee.

When the hour of execution drew near an oxcart, on which a coffin was placed was driven to the jail by a man named Vickers and Wallingford was placed upon the coffin. Vickers then started the ox team and the procession moved on down the Fords Ferry road, preceded by a company of two hundred militia under the command of Major Franklin and followed by an immense crowd of people.

Down the road a half mile or more in a field to the left of the road, now owned by Mrs. J. P. Pierce, stood a tree with large branches outspreading. This tree was chosen as a scaffold. When the procession neared the scene Major Franklin with the militia formed a circle around the scaffold to keep back the crowd, the team of oxen drawing the cart on which the condemned man sat was driven directly under the limb. In every direction from the scaffold was an immense crowd of people, expectantly waiting. Parents held up their little children in their arms that they might get a better view.

In those days there was no official hangman and it devolved upon the sheriff to tie the knot around the condemned man's neck. Sheriff Duke Haynes was a man so constituted that he shrank from taking the life, though legally, of a fellow human being, and he shrank from the imposed duty. Deputy Sheriff J. H. Walker would rather resign than to tie the knot. There was, therefore nothing else to do—the sheriff must “face the music” and tie the fatal knot around the victim's neck. While Wallingford sat upon his coffin apparently unmoved and unconcerned, the sheriff stood by with the rope, his hands trembling and his knees shaking. At this time a man pushed through the crowd, passed through the circle of militia and stepped up to the sheriff. The man was William Perkins. “Duke,” said the man to the trembling official, “give me five dollars and I will tie the knot.” Without any equivocation as to the price the sheriff accepted the terms and gave the rope to Perkins.

A short religious service was held. Rev. Joel Grace, pastor of the Crooked Creek Baptist church, read a portion of Scripture and began a discourse. He was an able preacher, but the surroundings and the solemnity of the occasion was too much for the minister. He shook, as if with an ague. Finding he could not proceed he called on Rev. Aaron Moore, pastor of the Marion Methodist church to conclude the service. Bro. Moore responded by singing “There is a Land of Pure Delight,” and offered a prayer for the soul of the condemned man. The crowd was immense. Every tree available was filled with boys, black and white. A limb of an apple tree standing near broke under the weight on it, throwing a number of boys to the ground.

The sheriff told Perkins that the hour of execution had arrived. The newly made deputy tied the knot in the rope and put the noose around Wallingford's neck. The sheriff turned his back to the scaffold, refusing to witness the death scene. Vickers started the oxen, the cart rolled from under the limb and Wallingford dangled in the air, the fall breaking his neck. In a few minutes two physicians, Dr. John S. Gilliam and the other probably Dr. J. C. Elder, pronounced him dead.

Thorn Wallingford had paid the penalty for his crime, the friends of the murdered wife and child had been avenged and the “majesty of the law” had been upheld.


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