Sunday, January 9, 2011

Amanuensis Monday - The Villers Saga, The Final Newspaper Chapter

Bismarck Daily Tribune, 19FEB1898
Under "State News"

"The Jamestown Alert says the prisoner Villers is reported growing weaker but it is possible that he is shamming to gain sympathy.  He has constant services of a physician."

Under "State News"

Bismarck Daily Tribune, 23FEB1898
"Judge Fisk at Jamestown today hears the motion for a new trial in the case of M.J. Villers convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment in the penitentiary.  If the motion is denied, Villers will probably be brought at once to the pen, where he will remain unless the supreme court should grant him a new trial.  It is stated that Villers health is poor and that his life sentence will be no more of a punishment than the ten years sentence under which he was formerly held, as he is not likely to live that out."

I noticed that this article already says that he has been found guilty.  I don't have the article with that "breaking news" so maybe the search engine missed it and I'll need to go back and manually search.  So the above "shamming" (gotta love seeing that phrase in an old newspaper) was to gain sympathy for the sentencing portion.

Bismarck Daily Tribune, 25FEB1898
"Villers Sentenced.

No New Trial is Asked in the Villers Case and He is Sentenced for Life.

Prisoner Declares He is Innocent of the Crime for Which He Has Been Convicted.

Various Items of Local News Gathered in and Around the City of Bismarck (doesn't pertain to Villers so will not be transcribed).

Villers Sentenced.

Martin J. Villers, convicted at the January term of court in Stutsman county of the murder of August Tromer, was Thursday sentenced to confinement in the state penitentiary at hard labor for life.  Sentence was pronounced by Judge Fisk of Grand Forks who tried the case, because of inteligibility of Judge Glaspell.  The prisoner heard the announcement unmoved.  No application for a new trial was made.  Since his confinement and trial the prisoner has grown visibly weaker.  He is an old man of 60 or more, and it is thought by his friends that he will not live out the year.  But it is believed the regular habits and work at the penitentiary will bring the old man back to his former health.  The absence of employment in the county jail was a serious disappointment to him.

This is the first and only "lifer" Stutsman county has ever sent to the state penitentiary.

A peculiarity of the Villers case is that all of the precautions that were taken by the murderer to conceal the body of his victim, were set at naught by the burrowing of a badger.  One of the little animals dug its hole just over the place where the body of Tromer had been buried, and its burrowing threw out pieces of bone, and shreds of clothing, which attracted the attention of a farmer who was plowing in the field, and who made an investigation which led to the discovery of the body.  Had it not been for this little animal, the body might never have been discovered and the disappearance of Tromer have always remained a mystery.

When Villers was arrigned for sentence, Judge Fisk asked the prisoner if he had anything to say or had legal cause to show why judgment should not be pronounced against him and it was with an effort that Villers controlled himself.  His face grew white and his mouth twitched as he rose and replied "No." He stated the jury had found him guilty.  He said he was innocent of the crime charged against him but supposed he would have to suffer for it.

Attorney Ellsworth made a merely formal motion for an arrest of judgment which was denied and then asked that the time in which to prepare a statement of the case, to be used in a motion for a new trial, also the time for making such motion, be extended to June 1.  This the judge granted.  An appeal of the case, it may be stated, may be taken with within one year after sentence, according to law.

The court directed, in view of the weakened condition of the prisoner stated by his attorney, that the prisoner be kept at Jamestown until the sheriff considered his condition proper for removal to Bismarck."

Gotta love the mentality that hard labor would make him healthy again.  Martin Villers did manage to live until 1904.  Whether he was ill at the time he was sentenced isn't known.  I guess putting his death certificate on my "To Do List" is next!  I also find it interesting that even though they acknowledge that this case was special, it didn't make the front page.  It was on page 3 of a 4 page paper!

All errors are intentionally left in the transcription.