|The Bismarck Daily Tribune, 18JAN1898|
Jury in the Trial of the Prisoner Villers at Jamestown Finds Him Guilty of Murder.
Punishment is Fixed by the Jury At Imprisonment in the Penitentiary for Life.
Stay of Proceedings is Granted Until February 1, When a New Trial Will be Asked.
Found Guilty.The jury in the case of Martin J. Villers, on trial for the murder of August Tromer, today returned a verdict of guilty of murder in the first degree and fixed his punishment at imprisonment for life. A stay of proceedings was granted to February 1, and a new trial will probably be asked.
The trial of the case was completed yesterday afternoon, and the jury went out this morning after having heard the arguments of counsel. The verdict in the case was not unexpected, as the circumstantial evidence against the man was strong, and his record probably told against him. The case has been one of the most peculiar in the history of the state in that the prisoner was serving a sentence of ten years in the pen when the evidence of the murder of the man whom the jury decides to have been his victim, was discovered and he was then removed from the pen to be tried for the greater crime. It was peculiar also that Villers was serving a sentence for a murderous assault on the wife of his victim when the body of her husband was discovered and he was put on trial for murder.
The trial of the Villers murder case was concluded in court at Jamestown yesterday afternoon, and the attorneys made their addresses to the jury. The case has been tried rapidly, and little time has been wasted. The Jamestown Alert says on the demeanor of the prisoner on the witness stand:
On the cross-examination Villers made a fine witness. His answers were ready, sharp and crisp and often times he had to wait for Attorney Guthrie to conclude his question before he could ejaculate a denial. Questions requiring a simple yes or no for an answer, either one of which would have compromised the witness, were answered promptly, but evasively and in such a manner as to throw from him an imputation of wrong doing. Throughout the five hours he was on the witness stand the prisoner sat quietly in his chair and only once did he show great excitement.
When Attorney Guthrie asked the witness if he remembered the burning of a hog pen in this city the night of Nov. 5th, when Mr. Villers was here, also that he was seen by Mrs. Cooper standing in front of the engine house when the fire alarm was turned in, the prisoner straightened in his seat, became greatly excited, the blood rushed to his face and he grasped the arms of the chair a little harder. When charged with the death of Peter Sterling, who is supposed to have worked for Mr. Villers that fall and with having thrown the body into Josiah Pierson's pig pen after having robbed the body of a large roll of money which Sterling was seen to have late that night and then set fire to the structure burning to body with the hogs, the witness kept his head, and only raising his voice a little emphatically denied all knowledge of the affair. He said he did not know of the fire until the next morning, he didn't "know the man" and bracing himself seemed to defy the state to prove him guilty of the crime.
When asked where he had been for the last three years the witness stated, "I was in Valley City, here, at LaMoure and Bismarck and back again." This made the audience laugh and the judge rapped for order. The witness said he had been thirty-two months in Bismarck when he was "working for the warden of the state penitentiary."
I've got to say that after transcribing this article I'm stunned. I didn't read it before transcribing. I didn't really think that there would be anything new, but to accuse him of another murder during cross-examination. I've heard nothing about the murder of Peter Sterling, although you can bet I'll be looking into it. Was the prosecution just trying to throw him off? Most certainly. What gets me though is the fire regarding the disposal of the body of Josiah Pierson. It's a similar m.o. to what he was found guilty of doing with Mrs. Tromer...but she lived.
Oh, well, all that's left is to transcribe the court documents. They are (for the most part) more difficult to read, but you can be sure I'll be setting on them in the near future. I was hoping to find something to tell me why Villers would have done something like this, if he did at all, but it just seems like the more I look, the more I find additional questions. Gotta love family history...even if you don't love some of the things the people in it did!