The defendant told her version of the story in a quiet, calm manner
(Editor’s note: This is the second part of a three-part series. The third part will be featured in our Saturday issue.)
At 8:30 a.m. on the second day of jury selection, the court room was buzzing with excitement. Not only was the court room crowded, but people gathered in the streets outside and at the nearby opera house awaiting any news of the proceedings.
Just before the session began, Mr. Morrison, father of the accused, entered the room, smiled at his friends and began speaking with Jessie’s attorneys.
Olin Castle sat near the jury box and beside him sat Roland Wiley, father of Clara Castle. It was reported he looked sad and fought back tears.
Jessie Morrison made her appearance a few minutes before the session opened. She appeared to be cheerful as she spoke with her attorneys. She was dressed in a green checked and black silk dress, wore a fur collar and a felt hat, slightly drawn down over her eyes.
As she sat waiting for the proceedings to begin, she looked at the state and defense attorney. At times Olin Castle looked directly at Jessie, but if she noticed, she paid no attention.
Judge C.W. Shinn opened the proceedings and County Attorney Brumback told the jury they were being summoned in a criminal action.
“That the state of Kansas is the plaintiff and Miss Jessie Morrison, the defendant. She is charged with murder in the first degree. As a juror in this case you will have a serious question to to decide.”
Men chosen for jury duty took the stand one after another. Some admitted to having an opinion, therefore being rejected, and others were accepted and sworn in.
The panel of 12 – nine farmers and three laborers – included the following: Homer Blackburn, Douglass Township; J.W. Hishly, El Dorado; T.R. Miller, Spring Township; William Garrett, Plum Grove Township; William Rizer, Chelsea Township; John Knutson, Spring Township; John Davis, El Dorado; A.R. Higgins, Towanda; C.L. King, El Dorado; Arch Stinson, El Dorado Township; R.M. Poe, Plum Grove Township; and F.D. Holford of Augusta.
The written statement by the victim was not heard and attorneys for state and defense said it contained no new facts. But the victim’s clothing was examined. A gingham checkered apron, covered with blood, contained a long cut and two others on the upper part of the apron. Clara’s blood-stained dress had a number of cuts along the collar and down the front.
The state had summoned 58 witnesses and the defense, 31. Most were from El Dorado.
Jessie takes the stand
The defendant told her version of the story in a quiet, calm manner. All eyes were riveted on her as she repeated what she had said the day of the murder – she had been walking past the Castle home when Clara called her in and immediately attacked her with a razor, slashing her again and again. She also denied statements Olin Castle had made on the stand and told the court he had used her in an attempt to make his wife jealous.
According to reports, the state was not able to contradict any points she made in her testimony, and there was an attempt to introduce evidence in rebuttal of some of her claims, but it was ruled out.
The trial had lasted almost a month, with testimony consuming 11 days, when it went to the jury on Dec. 11. Olin Castle was not present for the closing arguments, which stretched to 10 p.m. Judge Shinn sent the 12 men to a hotel, directing them to begin deliberations the next morning at 8:30. Most people felt it would take the jury a couple of days to reach a verdict.
When the jury began deliberations the next morning in a small room in the court house, it was apparent to everyone nearby the struggles had begun. The jurors’ loud voices could be heard in the hallway. While the men worked on reaching a verdict, the prisoner and her family were in her jail cell. She spent her time singing and praying. It was reported Jessie had received 40 letters of sympathy and even an invitation from a New York physician extending an invitation from himself and his wife, inviting her to live with them, as they were certain she would be acquitted.
No real conclusion
The jury was out for more than three days and could not reach an agreement. Nine voted for acquittal and three voted for conviction and those three wanted manslaughter in the fourth degree with a punishment ranging from six months in jail to two years in prison.
The 12 men waited for their discharge. It was doubtful another jury could be secured in the county to try the case again.
A report in a California newspaper stated Jessie’s lawyers would make an application for her release on bonds, which was believed Judge Shinn had already decided to grant.
Jessie’s father, Judge Morrison was confidant as he told a reporter, “It shows that there is not much doubt of Jessie’s innocence. I hear a good many folks say if the county attorney does the right thing he will dismiss the case.”
Later in the evening, County Attorney Brumback said, “It was all a farce. I knew there were three jurors unfavorable to the state and it would hang the jury. I will begin at once to investigate, and arrests for perjury are pretty sure to follow. Perjury had been committed.”
(Editor’s note: Find out in Part 3 how the El Dorado community reacted to the hung jury in one of the most famous criminal trials in Kansas history. And what happened to Jessie Morrison?)
Information was gathered from the archives of the following:
The Walnut Valley Times, The El Dorado Times, Butler County Genealogical Trails, The Kansas Semi-Weekly Capital, The Wichita Daily Eagle, The Enid Weekly Wave, The Newark, Ohio News, The Los Angeles Herald, and the San Francisco Call.
Belinda Larsen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.