Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Wednesday Promo- Michael Farmer
Conspiracy: The Trial of Oliver Lee and James Gililland
Politics Betrays Justice
Politics mixed into criminal prosecutions makes a poisonous witch’s brew that betrays justice. The 1899 New Mexico Territory “Trial of the Century” of Oliver Lee and James Gililland shines a brilliant light on this kind of poison.
Lee and Gililland were accused of murdering of eight-year-old Henry Fountain. Henry and his father, Albert, a tough frontiersman, attorney, newspaper publisher, territorial legislator, and leading Republican, disappeared near White Sands not thirty miles from Lee’s ranch. Republicans, humiliated and embarrassed in business deals and political campaigns by Oliver Lee, a brilliant rancher and deadly gunman, were convinced Lee was robbing them and helping his attorney, Albert Fall, steal elections. When Albert Fountain disappeared, he held grand jury indictments to prosecute Lee for rustling. With the Fountain disappearance, Republicans believed they had the case, motive, and evidence they needed to eliminate Lee.
Democrats claimed Lee was a victim of a Republican conspiracy. All the evidence was circumstantial and Fountain had many enemies from his long career as a prosecutor. When the Fountains disappeared in 1896, the Democrats, under Fall, controlled Doña Ana County, New Mexico where the crime had been committed and no warrants were issued for Lee and his men. Two years passed before Republicans returned to power. Pat Garrett, killer of Billy the Kid, and hired by Governor William Thornton to arrest Lee, submitted his evidence to a grand jury for an indictment against Lee and his friends. The grand jury rejected Garrett’s case on the basis of insufficient evidence. Using the same evidence submitted to the grand jury, Garrett obtained a bench warrant to arrest Lee and three of his men for the Fountain murders.
Lee and James Gililland, although never arrested by Garrett, stood trial a year later. A leading New Mexico Republican, Thomas Catron, led the prosecution. He was so anxious to convict Lee, he offered to prosecute the case at no charge to the government. Albert Fall, leading New Mexico Democrat led the defense. The trial began 26 May 1899. It lasted 18 days, had night sessions, and swore over seventy-five witnesses. The case went to the jury around 11:30 p.m., 12 June. At the insistence of Fall, the jury began its deliberations immediately, and in less than eight minutes declared Lee and Gililland ‘Not Guilty.’ No one else was ever tried for the Fountain murders.
The territorial government didn’t have enough evidence to convict Lee and Gililland. Justice for the Fountains was never achieved because an objective search for the killers by the territory intent on eliminating political competition was never made.
Conspiracy: The Trial of Oliver Lee and James Gililland
He sighs and nods. “I don’t suppose you’ve heard of the Fountain murder trial that’s about to start?”
The Fountain murders? The name has a familiar ring. Staring at him blankly for a moment, my mind scrambles to find the scrap of information needed to keep me from looking like an uninformed moron. I raise my right index finger.
“Hah... yes. The Fountain murders…Uh, New Mexico Republican…territorial legislator…attorney…disappeared near White Sands with his eight-year old kid in ‘96 or ‘97…believed murdered by one of his Democratic rivals. It was some rancher he was set to prosecute for stealing cattle. I can’t remember the sheriff’s name…the guy who killed Billy the Kid. Pat Garrett. He was hired to catch the killer. So there’s going to be a trial? Garrett caught him, huh? When’s the hanging?”
He nods slowly, again staring at his Havana rolling between his thumb and fingers.
“That’s right, except you got about half the facts wrong, which is about par for a kid learning the trade. Here’s the deal. Fountain and his son have never been found. All the evidence on the men accused is circumstantial. The lead prosecutor is a bigshot Republican named Tom Catron. Catron’s so anxious to get a conviction, he’s said he’d be willing to act as lead prosecutor at no charge to the government.”
He takes a long draw on the Havana and blows the smoke toward the ceiling. “My spies tell me the defendants will be tried for the murder of the little boy. If that’s true, it’s a smart move. Catron has to be calculating he’ll get a lot of sympathy from the jury that way. Besides, if there’s not a conviction for the child, the territory can try the accused again for the murder of Fountain. It’s a damned clever way around double indemnity don’t you think? The lead defense attorney is a prominent Democrat named Albert Fall, who regularly kicks Republican tail in territorial politics. The defendants have helped out Fall whenever he needed a little political muscle. He owes them big time.”
W. Michael Farmer holds a Ph.D. in physics. His first novel, Hombrecito’s War, was a finalist for a Western Writer’s of America Spur award for best first novel in 2006 and a New Mexico Book Awards Finalist for Historical Fiction in 2007. A sequel, Hombrecito’s Search, was published in July 2007. Conspiracy: The Trial of Oliver Lee and James Gililland, published in 2009, is his third novel. His next novel tells the little-known story of Pancho Villa’s División del Norte’s long, grueling march across the Sierra Madre and Villa’s betrayal at the battle of Agua Prieta in1914.
Purchase Link: http://www.trebleheartbooks.com/SD-WMichael-Farmer.html