Farce of a Legal Trial


[A little background: You need to know that Col. Thomas Buford, very publicly shot and killed Judge Elliott of the Kentucky Court of Appeals in the Capital Hotel in Frankfort.  According to one source, Buford was “one of the most notorious of Kentucky criminals,” but he wasn’t found guilty of murder, but of “impulsive insanity,” by an Owen County jury.  One newspaperman was outraged, and had some pretty unkind words for Owen Countians.  He pulls no punches:]

 “Of all the farces of so-called legal trials by which this country has been disgraced, none has been more transparently a farce that the trial at Owenton, Ky., of Col. John Buford for the deliberate, cold-blooded, wholly unprovoked and atrocious murder of Judge Elliott of Frankfort..  Nothing could prevent conviction, even in a Kentucky court, except the well-worn plea of insanity.  Insanity is, of course, pleaded, and men are found willing to swear to palpable falsehoods.  The monstrosity of the crime is made an assumption of derangement by the declaration, on any other ground, of absence of motive.  It is sufficient motive for murder, with ruffians of Buford’s stamp, that any man should act, even in an official capacity, in opposition to their desires or interest.  Buford threatened to kill any judge or judges who should decide adversely to his claims, and he redeemed his word in the most cowardly manner, taking credit to himself for not killing two judges instead of one.  A physician pretending to be an expert pronounced the prisoner a victim of “impulsive insanity” – the same kind of “impulsive insanity” from which hundreds of Kentuckians habitually suffer, when, flushed with their native Bourbon, and armed with revolvers, they see any man they have taken offense at.  The Bufords seem to have been, to a large extent, a race of assassins, and from this fact it is deduced that insanity runs in the family.  When assassinations and insanity are considered synonymous in Kentucky, much of the State should be roofed over for a vast lunatic asylum.  Owenton, where the trial was held, is one of the least civilized of the Kentucky towns, and Owen County is noted for the illiteracy of its people.  For this reason it was chosen.  The case has been managed from the start in the direct interest of Buford, as is plain from the fact that nine out of the twelve jurors were unable to read or write.  And those ignoramuses were called on to decide the most delicate and difficult questions of mental disorder, upon which the most intellectual and learned men, who have given years to their study, have never been able to agree.  The material interest of Kentucky demanded the conviction of Buford, but nobody acquainted with the State had the remotest idea that he would be convicted. 

[Buford died at the Anchorage Insane Asylum in 1885.]


from the New York Times, July 18, 1879.  In defense of the Times, they’re probably re-printing a story they picked up from another newspaper, but if so, that paper is not noted.