Sunday, March 31, 2013

Black Sheep Sunday – People vs. Horn

In 1886 my Prussian-born great great grandfather, William Horn of St. Louis (Sierra County, California), pointed his shotgun at a man and was subsequently arrested by the local sheriff for assault with a deadly weapon.
1863 wedding painting for William Horn and Amelia "Bridget" Keenan.
From there the case takes an unusual turn. The sheriff returned the shotgun to him without checking whether it was loaded. During the trial, William Horn's attorney contended that the gun was not loaded since a weapon is not a weapon unless it is capable of doing harm. Since the District Attorney wasn't able to prove that the gun was loaded, the judge "instructed" the jury about the law in that regard. To nobody's surprise, the jury returned a not guilty verdict.

This didn't sit will with the District Attorney who wanted a new trial and appealed the case saying the judge should have "advised" the jury. The case worked its way up to the California Supreme Court. That Supreme Court apparently didn't see much difference between instruction and advice, ruling that a retrial was out of the question due to the protection of double jeopardy.

From a genealogical perspective, there is good news and bad news.

Good news – During several months in 1886, the Mountain Messenger (local newspaper) included a lengthy article about the case on an almost weekly basis.

Bad news – Surprisingly little information of genealogical interest was present in those articles. The level of repetition was high and any new material was a legal discussion of the case.

During this time, William Horn owned two saloons and possibly some mining claims. His primary saloon competitor was Charles Brundage. According to my aunt (quoting a series of people leading to one of his daughters), he wasn't the easiest to get along with. Ten years later, after the last of the daughters got married, his wife Bridget (Amelia Keenan) walked out to live with one of her daughters saying "I divorced him." That was a bit surprising since the born-in-Ireland Bridget was supposedly a devout Catholic.

Submitted and posted by Richard Hanson

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