Monday, February 8, 2010

Mr. Eaton's Trial

A few days ago Last Lemming asked if I knew the results of the trial of Rev. Eaton, a minister who not only beat up an LDS Elder, and knew who burned down the local LDS meetinghouse, but was on trial for the rape of his benefactor's wife. The information was not anywhere I could find on-line. So I went to the State Archives to find out. Tennessee Supreme Court documents are kept in the Manuscript section, so I figured they would know where I could find other court records too. The archivist suggested the court minutes for the county in question so I pulled the correct microfilm and started reading. 

D. J. Eaton was arrested for the rape of Alice Rouse in March 1900. But the court minutes are a little weird. The grand jury returned an indictment with two contradictory statements. The first statement said that Alice was under the age of 12. The very next charge says Alice was over the age of 12 but under the age of 16. Other statements clarified that the two were not married and that Alice was not a prostitute, which is another topic altogether.
So, now that I know her name, I look her up in the census to find out how old she was. Turns out she was 30 years old which contradicts the two age ranges given in the court minutes. So is this a legal maneuver to state all the possible crimes when the court does not know the age of the victim?

But it gets stranger. 

Eaton does not make bail and is held under court custody until his trial 97 days later at a cost of $40.80 which I estimate at about $2,810 in todays currency. Maybe he is considered a flight risk since he was not from the area. The minutes do not explain. And, no, that is not the strange part.

When his trial does start on June 8th, 1900, in what I believe to be a rare event (correct me if I am wrong) every last one of the jurors and alternates assigned to the case failed to show up for the trial. And the court minutes names them. All 26 of them are fined $5.00 for not showing up. This, of course, pushes the trial to the next day when 12 completely different people - also named in the court minutes - promptly (1 day) acquit Mr. Eaton of all charges. The judge directs the clerk to cover the cost of Mr. Eaton's jail time and he is set free.

Now I have been called on jury duty before. And sometimes not enough people show up for the jury pool to be large enough for a valid trial. But I have never heard of every one not showing up. I can only imagine what might cause such an event. Jury tampering is the first to come to mind. Plus if it is so obvious that he is innocent, that the trial and jury deliberation takes 1 day, then why was he indicted in the first place. No, something smells here.

[As a side note, in every Census (1910, 1920, and 1930) Alice listed her age as 29 years younger than her husband, except for the 1900 Census which she clearly states she in only 19 years younger than her husband. If I accept the age as declared in the three later census records, at the time of the trial, James was 59 years old and Alice was 30, nearly half the age of her husband. James and Alice were married in 1892 and were still married and living together in the 1930 census. They had only two children: one in around 1895 and a second in around 1901. Either they were reconciled over the events that led to the trial enough to have another child of their own, or the child was Rev. Eaton's. My bet is on reconciliation, since they were still married 30 years later. But to be honest, that isn't really proof. But it is totally irrelevant to LDS History.]


Ardis Parshall said...

Could be a case of nullification -- if Eaton was so popular, or Alice so unpopular, or the scandal so widely talked about that everybody already had an unalterable opinion, the jurors may have stayed away to indicate their disapproval that Eaton had been indicted at all. It's weird in any case, isn't it Would be nice to hear what the newspapers said -- but as you note, this is getting so far afield that it wouldn't be worth pursuing as Mormon history (local history, yes).

BruceCrow said...

I hadn't thought about nullification, which would have been an issue with such a popular figure as Eaton appeared to be. And the threat to reveal the identity of the arsonists may have motivated others to make sure the trial went the way it did.

Additional newspapers may shed more light on the local sentiment, and maybe more about the arson and the beating the Elder received.

Too bad the newspapers in Tennessee aren't digitized yet. Looks like another trip to the Archives.

Justin said...

Turns out she was 30 years old which contradicts the two age ranges given in the court minutes. So is this a legal maneuver to state all the possible crimes when the court does not know the age of the victim?

That's rather strange, as you suggest. It appears to be a defective indictment.

Is D.J. the only identification given for Eaton?

BruceCrow said...

Just the initials. That appears to be very common for the period, though I have no idea why.

The indictment was for rape with four conditions. The first two were for the age of the victim, the remaining two indicated they were not married and that she was not a prostitute. I'm no legal scholar, but I'm guessing that even though the first two ended up not being true doesn't invalidate the indictment since the last two conditions were still true. That would explain the presence of two apparently contradicting conditions on the indictment.

Last Lemming said...

Not the outcome I was hoping for, but fascinating nonetheless. Thanks for pursuing this.

BruceCrow said...

I agree the outcome was disappointing. Of course, I am assuming he committed the crime. But I saw no reason to believe he didn't.