Thursday, December 8, 2011

Justice Trembling in the Balance

Part 4 of 4: All the Machinery of the Pinkerton Agency

Attorney William Foyle of Towanda used all his persuasive power in December 1878 to convince Pennsylvania Governor John Hartranft to re-open the case of John Kehoe. Against all odds—including false rumors of his death—Kehoe’s wife Mary Ann had located a witness who could testify on her husband’s behalf.

“The witness is worthy of credit,” Foyle told Hartanft of witness Patrick McHugh’s deposition.

Foyle related that McHugh identified himself as collector of taxes for Carbon County's Banks Township at the time of the Langdon killing. McHugh "went over to Audenried the night of the affair, saw Jack Kehoe at William’s Tavern at the time the killing occurred or within five minutes of the time the alarm was given, and afterwards saw him running to the scene of the murder.”


The Philadelphia Times picked up the case and questioned McHugh’s testimony. Foyle again wrote to Hartranft. The attorney’s frustration streamed through his second letter to Pennsylvania’s governor.

“I shall not doubt the integrity of witness McHugh until some reasonable proof is given that he has sworn falsely produced in some other form than newspaper ‘squibs’ for which no one claims responsibility,” Foyle told Hartranft.

“[A]s I understand it from pamphlets sent me some time since with the compliments of Franklin B Gowen containing the trial of Munly [sic] … it took the Commonwealth aided by that astute lawyer and with all the machinery of Pinkertons Detective agency about fourteen years to obtain the evidence to establish the guilt of Kehoe meager as it was … is it too much to ask that Kehoe should have at least two years to look up evidence to prove his innocence?”

The attorney concluded with a plea: “Asking your pardon for having trespassed so much upon you and with no other apology than a desire to advance the cause of justice and truth in behalf of a condemned man whose life is now trembling in the balance.”

The New York Times reported the subsequent hearing called to discuss McHugh’s testimony. Kehoe’s attorney, Samuel Garrett, made a strenuous effort. Garrett sought to convince the board, through use of a map of the murder scene, of Kehoe’s movements on the night of Langdon’s killing.

“He had expected to bring the map and accompanying documents with him from Pottsville this morning, but they were found to be missing from the court records when he went to get them,” The Times reported. But nothing prevented Garrett from telling the pardon board that from 1876 to 1877 "there was not a fair trial in Schuylkill County; that the jury wheel did not contain the names of four Irishmen.”

Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Internal Affairs and pardon board member General William McCandless, a powerful Democratic state operative, summarily dismissed Garrett’s efforts. “‘If this man Kehoe is not guilty of murder in the first degree, he is guilty of nothing, and I have not changed my opinion as to his guilt,’” McCandless told Garrett. The general told a reporter: “‘We have refused to reopen the case. That’s how the matter stands. Kehoe will swing.’”


A carefully rigged Board of Pardons. A false statement regarding the death of a defense witness. Important documents placed in evidence during Kehoe’s trial for murder, gone missing from the file.

When it came to procuring a signed death warrant for John Kehoe, it seems nothing was left to chance.


Coming December 15 - A Message for December: Love Guides the Whole Design

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