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California Historical Murder Case Research Paper


“On the night of July 3, 1889, Charles Wilson, City Marshal of Oceanside, was foully murdered while performing his duty as an officer[1].”

City Marshal Charles C. Wilson and his brother deputy Marshal J. Koener “Keno” Wilson who was the deputy marshal were walking towards a hotel from where they heard gunshots. The two officers were going to investigate the gunshots and were passing through the railroad tracks located north of Santa Fe Depot.

A few minutes after midnight, the two officers heard a sound of breaking glass that appeared to come from near distance of their current location. Marshal Wilson and his brother decided to digress from their path and check out what was the cause of the breaking glass sound. As the two officers got to the scene, they saw two persons on horses riding towards them. One of the riders was a twenty four year old who had previously been arrested for charges of disturbing the peace.

Koener Wilson had done the arrest (under the orders of C. Wilson)[2] and therefore recognized the twenty four year-old as John Murray. However, Marshal Wilson was the first to point out his identity as John Murray. According to the account of J.K “Keno”, Murray was holding the reins of his horse with his left hand together with the globe glass of a street light. On his right hand, Murray held a pistol that swung freely on his hands. John Murray shot City Marshal Charles C. Wilson using the pistol and he died[3].

The Crime of Murder

Murder is a criminal act of killing another person with the intention of causing harm. The thought of malice that precedes murder is the dining attribute that differentiates murder from other crimes such as manslaughter. In the society, murder is highly frowned upon because of the massive loss it brings to the victim’s family and the fact that the loss of human life is also injurious to a society’s well-being.

Therefore, in all societies, murder crimes receive a punishment considered the harshest in the respective societies. Courts consider malice to be the intent to kill, the intent to cause deadly harm that slightly falls short of death, a careless handling of human life that is unjustified and the intention of obligating a treacherous offence.

Alcohol impedes a rational thinking of a person and is used as an excuse by defendants of murder cases to conceal the evidence of malice. A prevalence of pistols in nineteenth century California and alcohol places the Murray case as a common occurrence other than the fact that the victim was a city Marshal. Alcohol intoxication has not been used as defense for crimes since the 1800s.The defense must therefore provide more evidence to substantiate their claim of thinking impairment caused by alcohol intoxication.

Discussion of the Actual Crime

The killing of City Marshal Charles C. Wilson occurred on 4 July 1889, a few minutes after midnight. This account of the time of murder was defended by the coroner’s inquest of Dr. Henry Hubbard who conducted the examination of Charles Wilson’s body on the morning of 4 July 1989.

In addition, newspaper reports indicated that Marshal Wilson died immediately after being shot as he fell into his brother’s arms. The murder occurred in the Oceanside area of San Diego precisely at railroad tracks close to the Santa Fe Depot. The railroads scene is located west of the St. Cloud Hotel.

According to the coroner’s inquest of J.K Wilson, Murray and his companion Chavis were breaking lamps over the railroad track and this prompted marshal Wilson and his brother to head over to them to make an arrest. When they got to the suspects, Chavis ran away while Murray remained and defied an order from Marshal Wilson to stop. Instead, Murray threw the lamp he was holding at his face and then fired one shot at the moment and another as he ran away.

On escaping, Murray went and hid in one of the nearby pasture owned by O’Neill and then into Griffen’s vineyard. This is the place where he was discovered by William Griffen and he surrendered willingly to Griffen, albeit having been informed that he was not likely to escape and that he would be offered a fair trial rather than falling into the hands of an angry mob. He was later taken to San Diego secretly by four individuals namely Saylor, John Griffen, Charles M. Martin as well as Alfred Peyton[4].

The San Diego Union Tribunal of 6 July 1889 reported that “scarcely had the day been ushered in when on the morning air rang out the report of a pistol shot followed by others and a cry for help[5].”

According to Dr. Hubbard’s witness account (during preliminary examination), a bullet fired from a gun held above the victim who was stationary and standing upright created the bullet wound on C. Wilson’s body. He clarified that the shot entered the victim through the front part of the body and according to the bullet wound, firing occurred a few inches from the victim.

The bullet hit several organs among them the lungs and the heart; however, the left lung received the most damage with a rapture of its artery. In his final account, at the coroner’s inquest, Dr. Hubbard confirmed that the bullet wound in question was the cause of the death of the Marshal[6].

Newspaper reports indicated that Murray fled the scene of crime immediately after shooting Marshal Wilson. As he fled, J.K. Wilson fired at him and managed to get a single bullet into the back of Murray’s horse that impaired its mobility. The report further indicated that Murray hid the shot horse and continued to flee on foot. Visibility of the murder scene and the surrounding area was poor because of the night darkness and the tall grass growing on the nearby farms.

These conditions allowed Murray to get off his horse and he hid in the tall grass of a farmhouse pasture near the crime scene without being seen. Murray was later presented to San Diego authorities on July 8 1889 after he agreed to surrender[7]. After the preliminary examination, “Judge Hayes reread the charges and held Murray to answer to the Superior Court without bond[8].”

The San Diego Union Tribune[9], in a revisit of the 1889 story, reported that upon arrest, the accused claimed that he thought he was going to be robbed and therefore decided to act earlier than his supposedly robber by shooting him.

The accused in his defense claimed that he was not aware of the identity of the person he had shot. The accused claimed that it was only by hearsay that he understood the gravity of the criminal case against him. Murray also claimed that he was acting under the influence of alcohol and therefore was not in total control of his actions.

He claimed that the alcohol he had consumed moments before the time of crime had impaired his rational thinking capacity. Murray also added that Marshal Wilson’s failure to identify himself concurred with his vindication that he was dealing with robbers. In clarifying his surrender to authorities after fleeing, Griffen the owner of the farm in which Murray surrendered said that the thought of life loss to an angry mob and the fatigue of the fugitive were the driving factors that made Murray surrender[10].

Important Factors in the Case

The fact that a senior police officer was the victim certainly compelled the case to be a high profile one and received in-depth newspaper coverage. Murray was considered a black sheep of a high profiled family from Texas that enjoyed relatively good social status. According to newspaper reports[11] of the murder incident, the defendant was an alcoholic and generally a delinquent. The coroner’s inquest that indicated Murray had previously been charged with a crime of disturbing peace substantiated the delinquent fact[12].

Other than the newspapers account of Murray’s family origin from Texas, its relatively well to do social status, nothing else confirmed his social class. One newspaper, the San Diego Tribune of 6 July 1889, casted a motif for Murray’s crime by reporting that:

This man Murray threatened the life of Wilson last year at the same time and, has openly declared that he would kill him, He is reported to kill two if not three men in Texas. He is a single man[13].

It was expected that a strong defense would be set up for Murray since he hailed from a rich background. Nevertheless, this did not prevent Murray from being found guilty of murder of Marshal Wilson. It is in fact reported that Murray had pleaded guilty of the charge before Judge Hayes, even before the trial began[14].

The newspapers reported the trial correctly as it proceeded however; they were accused of giving the jury a false interpretation of the case before the trial. Newspapers concentrated on pointing out the importance of the victim in the society and contributed to depict the defendant as unmerciful.

Newspapers used the case to discourage rascality in the area; however their intention had a negative effect on the case that prevented the award of a fair trial to Murray. Although judges were informed by the jurors, on cross-examination, that they had indeed read the newspapers accounts of the murder, the court still ruled in the positive on the case of the People versus John Murray and Murray got a death sentence.

It is clear that the newspapers account of the case greatly influenced the jury’s verdict. The defense account points out the underhand that the newspapers might have played in denying the defendant a fair trial. The newspapers in this case may have influenced the jury to have a biased opinion against the defendant. All the same, Murray was confirmed guilty of murdering C. C. Wilson in cold blood.

Personal Analysis of the Case

The facts ruminating from the case and its coverage by local newspapers in the San Diego area brings out a mistrial of John Murray. While it is clear that the accused committed the crime of killing Marshal Wilson, the manner in which the trial was conducted is suspect and leaves a neutral observer with doubts of the verdict by the judge and the jury.

The coverage of the trial does not indicate whether the accused received proper legal advice prior to the trial. However, the fact that he had a qualified attorney representing him in the trial shows that he was advised fairly of the case against him.

Facts presented in the case point out the defendant’s actual killing of Wilson on the account given by the victim’s brother who was a firsthand witness of the murder as well as Dr. Hubbard’s confirmation after medical examination of the body of the deceased.

The second witness, Jose Antonio Chavis[15], confirmed that the two Marshals approached them and also confirmed shooting and an order to stop from the marshal. Murray was guilty of murder based on the account of the presented witness. His defense statement of acting in self-defense did not hold, given that he knew the victim and had actually threatened to kill him a year earlier. The following report sums up the defenselessness of Murray.

Murray, looking through the bar seems to fully realize his position and it will not evidently take a very long incarceration to break him down. He pretends to think that he shot a man named McCray, and that he was so drunk at the time that he did not know what he was doing[16].

This comes out because of the victim’s failure to crush the defendant’s assumption that the victim and his brother were robbers. However, the defendant did not go free of guilt. Murray’s failure to confirm actually the victim’s identity and his claim of influence of alcohol did not cover him from the vindication of the murder crime. Even if the newspapers covered the murder in a lengthy manner, this did not seem to influence the jury since it was candidly identified that Murray murdered C. Wilson willfully and “without provocation[17].”

Criminal Justice in Nineteenth-Century California

The whole account of the Murray trial case brings out key components that shaped up the criminal justice environment of the nineteenth century California. First, it is observable that jury neutrality was questionably influenced by newspaper coverage of murder cases. The case of the People vs. Murray is a display of prevalence of homicides in the nineteenth century California.

Guns were common among civilians and alcohol was also commonplace. This exacerbated the incidences of homicides. Civilians who felt offended by law keepers appear to have been taking revenge missions against their offenders as characterized by Murray’s premeditated killing of C. C. Wilson. The fact that residents of Oceanside were almost unanimously involved in searching for Murray is an indication that there was community participation.

It is not however clear whether they were acting in pursuit of the reward that had been promised for anyone who would assist in Murray’s arrest or it was a genuine act of community participation[18]. All in all, the element of mob justice existed as evidenced by plans (made by parties) to lynch Murray[19]. It is evident from the coverage of the trial that gun possession by citizens in the nineteenth century California was a common feature.

Footnotes

  1. The San Diego Union Tribune, C. C. Wilson, Marshal at Oceanside foully murdered, Murray the Assassin Escapes, July 6, 1889.
  2. Ibid.
  3. The San Diego Union Tribune. The murder case: Preliminary examination of John Murray. July 11, 1889. The Coroner’s inquest on the body of the marshal actually confirmed that the marshal died from a gun shot wound from John Murray. This was also reported in the San Diego Union Tribune of July 6, 1989.
  4. The San Diego Union Tribune. Murray in Jail: Hunger and thirst cause him to surrender. July 10, 1889.
  5. The San Diego Union Tribune, C. C. Wilson, Marshal at Oceanside foully Murdered, Murray the Assassin Escapes, July 6, 1889.
  6. The San Diego Union Tribune. The murder case: Preliminary examination of John Murray. July 11, 1889. It is important to note that Dr. Hubbard was not cross-examined during the preliminary examination.
  7. The San Diego Union Tribune. The murder case: Preliminary examination of John Murray. July 11, 1889. The San Diego Tribune substantiated that in actual sense; Murray surrendered willingly but of course after being informed by Griffen the farm owner that there were few chances of him escaping as everyone was after him. The arrest was made by Griffen’s son, John and Alfred Paden.
  8. Ibid. Preliminary examination was conducted in the Police Judge’s Court before T. J. Haye’s in City of San Diego on July 11, 1889 involving the people vs. John Murray. The defendant’s counsel had two members while the prosecution had one member of counsel. From the Coroner’s Inquiry, Chavis was accompanying Murray when the murder occurred.
  9. The San Diego Union Tribune, C. C. Wilson, Marshal at Oceanside foully murdered, Murray the assassin escapes, 4 July 1889.
  10. The San Diego Union Tribune, C. C. Wilson, Marshal at Oceanside foully Murdered, Murray the Assassin Escapes, July 6, 1889.
  11. The San Diego Union Tribune, C. C. Wilson, Marshal at Oceanside foully Murdered, Murray the Assassin Escapes, 4 July 1889.
  12. The San Diego Union Tribune. The murder case: Preliminary examination of John Murray. July 11, 1889.
  13. The San Diego Union Tribune. The murder case: Preliminary examination of John Murray. July 11, 1889.
  14. The San Diego Union Tribune. Murray in Jail: Hunger and thirst cause him to surrender. July 10, 1889. It is reported that when the charge of murder was read to Murray, he pleaded guilty but he was asked by the judge to reserve his plea for the trial.
  15. The San Diego Union Tribune. The murder case: Preliminary examination of John Murray. July 11, 1889.
  16. The San Diego Union Tribune. Murray in Jail: Hunger and thirst cause him to surrender. July 10, 1889.
  17. Whitson, W. W. Inquisition by Coroner’s Jury. In the matter of the inquisition upon the body of C.C. Wilson on July 4, 1889. Coroner Eadon conducted the inquest on July 5th, 1889 at Oceanside. State of California, County of San Diego. The Coroner’s inquest was made of 6 jurors, namely: W.W. Rainey, A. Walker, R. Augustine, J. M. Patterson, H. M. Bush and E. Perry. The entire jury concluded that C.C. Wilson died as a result of “a pistol shot wound, the pistol being in the hands of John Murray, and we find that it was willful murder, and without provocation.”
  18. The San Diego Union Tribune. The murder case: Preliminary examination of John Murray. July 11, 1889. There was a reward of $500 set by the Board of Supervisors f Diego County and this was later raised to $1,200. This could have acted as a motivation to the people to capture Murray. The San Diego Union Tribune of July 6, 1989 however points out that C. Wilson was a not only popular among the Oceanside citizens but also loved. This made the citizens also to offer a reward to anyone who would capture Murray.
  19. The San Diego Union Tribune. Murray in Jail: Hunger and thirst cause him to surrender. July 10, 1889. As soon as news arrived at the Oceanside that Murray was held at Griffen’s home, Thomas Weller organized a party and travelled nine miles to Griffen’s resident ready to lynch Murray.
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IvyPanda. (2019, December 3). California Historical Murder Case. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/california-historical-murder-case/

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IvyPanda. "California Historical Murder Case." December 3, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/california-historical-murder-case/.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "California Historical Murder Case." December 3, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/california-historical-murder-case/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'California Historical Murder Case'. 3 December.

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