Sunday, March 6, 2016

Amanuensis Monday - Wrapping Up the Villers Trial, Part 1

I've blogged about Martin Joseph (MJ) Villers before. I've shared articles and documents from his attempted murder trial as well as his murder trial. I thought I was done, but then I was contacted by, Guinn Hinman, who is currently researching the historic Stutsman County Courthouse in North Dakota (like their FB page!). In her research she found two things of interest to me. First she found my blog which referenced MJ Villers and the trial at the courthouse, and second, she found a photograph on the front page of a newspaper of MJ Villers! Yes, morbid curiosity made me want to know what this man looked like and now I know...

...but this is an Amanuensis Monday post so what am I transcribing? Well when Ms. Hinman told me about this photo and an article I never expected what I encountered. There wasn't just an article, but all of page 1, 2, 3, and parts of 4 and 8 were about the trial!

Now that's a lot of information so I can't possibly share it all here, so I'm going to tackle this elephant bit by bit over the next several weeks (possibly months) of Amanuensis Monday posts. I've always wanted to know what made this man do what he did. His family was highly respected and he had even once been a police officer in Wisconsin. Why did this happen?

Well I haven't read all of the articles in this paper. I'm too busy with school right now, but I think I can commit to transcribing a little for each week until my term finishes at the end of April. We'll discover it all together.

These articles are from the January 20th 1898 edition of The Jamestown Weekly Alert which can be digitally found on Chronicling America.

Headline - The Jamestown Weekly Alert, 20JAN1898, pg1
"Imprisonment for Life

The Jury Finds M.J. Villers Guilty of Murder in the First Degree and Fixes Punishment at Imprisonment for Life.

Stay of Proceedings to February 1st is Granted to Give the Defense Time to Prepare Argument for a New Trial.

The Judge's Charge to the Jury, - Sketch of the Concluding Testimony - Pleas of the Attorneys - Satisfaction With Verdict."

The Jamestown Weekly Alert, 20JAN1898, pg1
"State of North Dakota, pelt. vs. Martin J. Villers dfdt. We, the jury, find the defendant guilty of murder in the first degree as charged in the information and fix his punishment at imprisonment in the penitentiary for life. (Signed) M. Watson, Foreman.

The above is the verdict rendered by the jury in the trial of M.J. Villers for the murder of August Tromer Sept. 14th, '94. The verdict was read at 9:50 a.m. in open court and then the jury polled at request of defense. Each juryman responded firmly and distinctly that that was his verdict.

Judge Fisk thanked the jury 'for the careful manner in which you have discharged your duty - have done so in a very able and conscientious manner. I believe as you go to your homes you will do so feeling that you have discharged your whole duty, both to the state and the defendant.' They were then excused for the remainder of the term.

A stay of proceedings was granted by the court to Feb. 1st to give the defense opportunity, if so desired, to prepare a motion for a new trial. A request for a copy of the proceedings was made by the defense and argued Tuesday p.m. This was granted by the court.

During the reading of the verdict the prisoner sat behind his attorney closely watching proceedings. He remained unchanged when his fate was announced. On his return to his cell, however, he was not in the best frame of mind and threatened in regard to the delay of his physician in arriving."

I'll try not to be the grammar police, because I'm sure they were trying to get a lot into these pages and it was quite the sensational story of the time, but the phrasing of that last sentence is puzzling. I can understand him not being in the best frame of mind, but the "threatened in regard to the delay of his physician in arriving"? He felt personally threatened by that or he felt that his health was threatened? Or was it another threat? You may say that I'm reading too much into this, but there were allegations that he tried to kill himself in another article I transcribed and he was not a healthy man at this point in his life. This life term he received would end within 6 years with his death. Many thought he was faking sickness for pity from the jury. I guess he had the last laugh there.

The Bismarck Weekly Tribune 01MAR1985, pg8
Jumping a little off track to illustrate what I just mentioned, this article was taken from The Bismarck Weekly Tribune on March 1st 1895 when MJ Villers was on trial for attempted murder (he tried to kill the wife of the guy he killed...yeah...this story has some drama).

"Has His Nerve

M.J. Villiers (sic), who is confined in the LaMoure jail awaiting trial for a murderous assault on a woman, Mrs. Tromers (sic), made a desperate attempt at suicide last Friday. Being allowed to leave his iron-grated cell for the purpose of exercise, Villers took advantage of the opportunity to secure the poker from under the stove, and returning to his cell, extinguished the light and attempted suicide. It appears that he placed the poker against the wall and with a wonderful display of nerve forced the sharpened point through his body at a point a few inches above the navel. The force used was sufficient to penetrate the body at least for or five inches, and, as Sheriff Jones entered the jail at this very moment, Villers, not to be baffled in his purpose, grasped the handle of the poker and drove it upward toward the heart. He then coolly drew the steel out, dripping with blood, and threw it under the cot in his cell. Villers' condition was not improved, and, in fact, considerable (sic) worse. His injuries were fully as serious as reported, and in his weakened condition it is not improbably that death may result."

This is all I'll transcribe for this post. It's time that I jumped into my discussion post for the week for Lighting 1. This class is going to be challenging. Right now all the terminology is just swimming around in my mind and not really clicking. Hopefully that changes because a photographer that doesn't grasp lighting won't be very good. Here's hoping that I keep up the posts with school in session. I haven't for the past few months because school was just too overwhelming. This, however, interests me enough to take a small break to transcribe. Until next Monday!

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