Welcome to Illinois Genealogy Trails - Helping to Find Illinois Ancestors

Contributed by Barbara Ziegenmeyer

January 19 1876

Something Concerning the Exercise of Executive Clemency in Illinois. A List of Pardons Issued to Prisoners Under Sentence for Manslaughter and Murder.

Our Penitentiary System Today as Compared with That of Years Ago.  Special Correspondence of the Inter-Ocean Springfield, Illinois Jan.17, 1876.

The Executive clemency toward prisoners in the Penitentiary having been the subject of some remarks In various papers, an Inter-Ocean representative has examined the papers upon which pardons have been granted during the past year, and which are on file in the office of the Secretary of State.

In the direction of prison reform, as regards both the internal economyof the institution and the physical, mental, and moral treatment and welfare of the prisoners, the conduct of the present administration during the three years past is deserving of the highest commendation. If there is any one thing in the State government of which the people of Illinois have reason to be justly proud, it is the Penitentiary system which has obtained in this State. During Governor Palmer's administration a very creditable step in advance was taken on the part of the Executive in giving his frequent personal attention to  the condition of individual prisoners, and to relieving the prison life (in cases which often occur) of its extreme hardship and injustice.

The Policy of
Governor Palmer, in this regard, his been more fully carried out and greater personal attention given by Governor Beveridge.  He has been able to do this more efficiently than his predecessor, by reasonof the more complete system which is maintained in  the institution andwhich allows of a more critical and careful consideration of individual cases. He has given to the examation of each case that deliberation and care which a conscientious Executive should always find it his duty to exercise. Much has been said in regard In the pardon of persons imprisoned for murder and manslaughter.

In the Chicago Tribune several  articles  have appeared in criticism of the pardons, but no one of these statements has ever given the grounds on which such pardons are granted. An examination of the papers in each of the murder and manslaughter cases shows as follows, commencing with those last issued:  
J. Gallagher, March 1869, murder, Henderson County; 20 years. In this case a petition from Henderson County, headed by the County Judge, Sheriff, State's Attorney, City Marshal of Oquawka. County Clerk, Mayor, Justices, and many principal citizens of the county; also from Keithsburg, Gallagher's residence, signed by the President of the Town Board, justices, constables, City Marshal, Town Trustees, and other citizens; also from Rock Island, where he was well known, showing conclusively that he had been punished sufficiently for a crime committed while very young, and in defense against a person who had robbed him; also a letter from Penitentiary Chaplain saying, " I should love to see Jack at liberty", for I have confidence in him, and believe he will make a useful member of society and a good citizen;" also from the Board of Prison Commissioners, recommending his pardon and asserting his reformation, which is certified and urged by Warden McClaughrey. He had served nearly eight years. Pardoned Dec. 24, 1875.

William Butler, colored; July, 1867; murder; Alexander County; life. Pardoned Dec 24, 1875 Butler was one of three (Gallagher, Butler and Rose) unanimously recommended by the Penitentiary Commissioners for pardon, he being broken down in health. Of him Warden McClaughrey writes: "he has been a faithful and hardworking convict whose health is impaired by long service. Since his health has broken down he has cooked in the hospital kitchen. His pardon would show the colored men that they are remembered, and would have a good effect on other convicts."  He served eight and a half years.

Albert Rose; May, 1866; manslaughter: Madison County; fifteen years Pardoned Dec. 25, 1875 He was also recommended by the Commissioners for pardon. The Warden writes "Rose has made all his good time, and will go out Dec. 23 by expiration of sentence. His parents live in Southwest Missouri and he wishes to reach home by Christmas. It will be a case of clemency for which I am willing to be responsible." Served nearly ten years. Pardoned three days before term expired.

W.H. Stout; September 1871; murder; Brown County; twenty years. Pardoned Sept. 27, 1875. This case, in all its details is one of the most singular. In regard to the evidence, the circumstances, and the mystery surrounding it, which ever has occurred in history. To write it up would require a book. I content myself by saying that the pardon was finally granted after more than three years spent in its investigation and in taking testimony in Nebraska, Missouri, Arkansas, and Texas, and it is finally conclusively determined that Stout was absolutely innocent. And was not within 400 miles at the time of the murder. More recent investigations, which it would not be proper to detail here, implicate another party, who may yet be discovered.

J.C. McCullock: November 1873; murder; Pope County, Illinois Pardoned Aug. 12, 1875. In this case there is a perfect avalanche of petitioners. Judge, Jury, county officers, and everyone  who had any knowledge of this case, united in urging the pardon, showing that an associate of McCullough, who was sentenced with him, was the guilty party. There are about 700 or 800 petitioners, and their statements are conclusive in showing that McCulloch was in on sense guilty of murder.

C. Atwood: April 1871; murder; 21 years; Morgan County pardoned Aug. 12, 1875; served 4 years Eight of the jurors who convicted and numerous citizens and attorneys ask this pardon. There is much among the papers in this case to show that Atwod was entirely innocent, and thatone Baldwin committed the crime in a drunken spree. Prison officers certify to good conduct and religious character of Atwood.

Lucien Cannon; April 1871; Murder; Clay County; 14 years; pardoned June 21 1875. In this case twenty attorneys in the court, Judge Allen, the County Attorney, the Assistant State's Attorney, several of the jurors, and several hundred citizens unite is asking pardon. All speak of him as a boy, honest, industrious, impulsive, and generous, without any clement of a criminal.

Thomas Brashears; June 1865; manslaughter; Alexander County; 25 years. pardoned June 4 1875. This man served ten years. He claims to be innocent. The Penitentiary Commissioners write " We believe him innocent and, whether do or not he has been here long enough. We recommend his pardon "He was punished for misconduct while in prison, but the Warden certifies that there were" many extenuating circumstances.

Michael Murphy, October 1867, murder: Henry County; life; pardoned May 19, 1875; served 8 years. The papers in this case show that Murphy was not the leader in the crime. but was led into it. The Hon. John B. Hawley McCandless, the employer of Murphy, the officers of his late regiment, and others recommended it, and the Warden reports his conduct good.

A.P. Mingea; May 1869, murder; Massac County, 20 years; pardoned May 19, 1875. The papers in this case are very voluminous. Judge David J. Baker, who sentenced him, writes recommending his pardon. Elmer Washburn, late Warden, the prosecuting attorneys, and almost the entire community where he resided speak highly of him, and deem his imprisonment sufficient. The convection was almost wholly on circumstantial evidence, and there seems good grounds for executive interference. Mingeas is claimed to be a talented high minded man, and there is reason to believe that he for reasons creditable to the noblest mind, voluntarily assumed the odium of the crime to save others.

Virgil Scott; April 1872, Manslaughter; Washington County; ten years, Pardoned May 1875. Scott was convicted with two others for this offense. They sentenced one to five years and he an another to ten years each. The others were pardoned by Governor Palmer in January 1873, less than one year, while Scott remained. The Hon. ?.E. Merritt, and several hundred others petition for his pardon, alleging that the proof showed he as less guilty than the others, who had long since been pardoned. The Mayor and leading citizens of Centralia join in these petitions, and present a strong case in Scott's favor. Scott served three years.

Henry White; March 1873; Will County; Manslaughter; one year;  pardoned on May 1875. White killed a man named Ford under the most grievous provocation. Ford declared to White that his wife was unchaste, and was constantly upbraiding him with it, and claimed to himself the disgrace of being father in one of White's children. He persisted in these insults until once in public at a store, as they passed near each other. Ford caught hastily at a gun standing in the store, whereon White shot his dead. Nine of the jurors urged his pardon and the other three having left the place. Letters from the county officers, from the lawyers, business men, and one from the late Senator Senter pray for his pardon. He served three years.

H. Westphal; March 1873; Will County; manslaughter; one year;  pardoned in May 1875. Judge Josiah McRoberts, who sentenced this man says " There was no  malicious intent, and I think it is a case where the exercise of elective clemency would be proper. I think it an act of justice to pardon him" Fourteen Attorneys of the Will County bar, the Sheriff and county officers, and leading citizens sign the petition, and say that the prisoner was set upon by a crowd of persons at a German ball. He was knocked down and beaten. On escaping again, and the crowd about overtaking him he cried; " Stop or I'll shoot." They didn't stop and he fired, He should never have been convicted.

Robert Britton and Cornelius Daly. These two men were in the party who shot Sherriff Pratt, of Tazewell County, seven or eight years ago. Pratt was shot by one Berry, a desperado, who was afterward lynched while in jail at Pekill. One or two others of the party who were sent to the Penitentiary were pardoned by Governor Palmer, leaving Britton and Daly only remaining in prison. Neither Britton or Daly had anything to do with killing Pratt; they were simply with the party, and had no murderous intent. Britton was only 19 years old. A copy of the evidence and report of trial showed that their sentence had been fixed under the excitement existing at the time. As they served six years it was deemed sufficient by the prison authorities and the Governor.

Frederick Skinner, September 1864; manslaughter; 20 years; Edwards County. Pardoned April 1875.This man was in the Penitentiary eleven years. The mother, brother, and two cousins of the man killed by him ask for his release. The Hon. S.S. Marshall writes that he thinks a pardon would be proper in this case. The Sheriff and many citizens of his county petitioned for his pardon, and it is thought his service of eleven years was sufficient to satisfy the demands of justice.

William Barham, April 1874; one year; Williamson County; manslaughter. This man was pardoned six days before the expiration of his term, his conduct having been good, on petition of the Hon. A. C. Nellson, of Williamson County.

Joseph G. Shelton: June, 1866: manslaughter; for life: Franklin County. Pardoned February, 1875. The petition in this case is headed by the Hon. Thos.S. Casey, of Mt. Vernon, and signed by a large number of the leading citizens of Franklin and Jefferson Counties, urging that the prisoner having served  nine years was sufficiently punished. The Warden certifies that his conduct has been uniformly good and that he had never been punished since his confinement.

F. Nichols; May, 1871: murder; ten years: Cumberland County; served four years.  Pardoned February. 1875. The testimony in this case shows that the man Howe, who was killed, was hunting up Nichols and threatening to kill him when he was shot. The State's Attorney, County Judge, Senator Brewer, the editor of the county paper, and a large number of citizens request this pardon. The papers show that Nichols was very young.

John McCarthy, February 1869; manslaughter, Winnebago County; fifteen years; pardoned February 1875; served  six years.; petition from a large number of citizens of Winnebago County, showing McCarthy's good character, and stating that he was in full belief of receiving personal injury from the man he killed, who had threatened him, urging that his punishment was already sufficient; the warden reports his conduct good in prison.

Joner Coen; November 1869; murder; Lawrence County. fourteen years; pardoned February 1875. Served five years; in this case the county officers, most of the attorney's, the sister, sister-in-law, and brother-in-law of the man killed, and many citizens, indorsed by Senator Henry, and certificate of good conduct from warden of the prison.

Philip Grass. July, 1870; murder; Shelby County; life. Pardoned January 1875, served 5 years. Chaplain Briscoe writes; "This old man's days are almost numbered. I have written to his son to know if he will take care of and make him comfortable, which his answer shows he will do. My prayer is that this poor old man may immediately restored to his liberty". Commissioners and warden recommend his pardon. His conduct has been very good.

Clarissa Baldwin; April 1868; murder; 14 years; White County. Pardoned January 1875, Served 7 years. This pardon was granted on request of the Penitentiary Commissioners upon the certificate of the prison surgeon that she was unable to work because of atrophy of the left arm, caused by injury; and further that she was gradually becoming demented. Her conduct in prison was uniformly good. Longer imprisonment could serve no good purpose.

Philip Martin September 1861; manslaughter; Bureau County;  life;  pardoned Dec. 25, I871; served 13 years. Warden Edwards certified in 1872 that Martin had several times prevented escape of other prisoners at risk of his own life, and that his conduct in prison was always good. Large petitions, signed by the Judge and prosecuting attorney who secured his conviction, are on file. The Penitentiary Committee of the House of Representatives investigated his case and specialty recommend his pardon. In 1867 Warden Dorubiazer recommended his pardon, Warden Elmer Washburn recommend his pardon. The endorsement  of pardon is in these words: " This man has been in prison longer than any other convict; his conduct has been universally good. Upon recommendation of the Commissioners and officers of the prison, and as an act of mercy on Christmas day I pardon him."

James M. Gay, October 1867; murder; Alexander County; life; pardoned March 1875; served nearly 8 years. In this case a copy of the entire evidence is furnished, and shows that the killing was committed under great provocation. Statements show that a strong prejudice existed against the prisoner. The Penitentiary Commissioners recommend a favorable consideration of this case. A lengthy petition shows that the sentiment of the community had greatly changed, and that on clearer understanding of the case it was thought he had been sufficiently punished. A careful examination of the evidence shoes that the case at the worst could have been but manslaughter.

Daniel O'Brien; May 1867; murder; Sangamon County; life; pardoned Dec. 15 1874; served 7 1/2 years. The physician of the prison certifies that O'Brien is suffering from chronic inflammation and indurations of the liver, and his constitution is generally broken down; that he is unable to do any work. The Warden certifies that the officers of the prison deem his punishment undeserved and states that during his service he had earned over $300.00 by overwork.
The above review is but a very brief resume, and gives but a slight idea of mass of evidence upon which the pardons were granted. The murder and manslaughter cases only are referred to here, because time and space are too limited to consider those for minor offences. But an exemption shows that great care and inquiry as well as personal investigation have been given by the Governor to almost every case. There may be, and doubtless are, instances among these where the error of the Executive has been that of leaning strongly to the side of mercy. But in the great majority, in fact, substantially all, leaving the questions of mercy and sympathy out of the case simple justice has demanded the course pursued. Hundreds of cases exist where the populace and the juries are temporarily and greatly excited and incensed against the prisoners, and sentences are fixed at a limit altogether unreasonable. There are cases where for substantially; the same offense, one jury has fixed a two year sentence, and another a fifteen year sentence.
One thing must be remembered, that the theory of the Illinois  Penitentiary system is not, simply revenge against erring and criminal humanity, but by the "good time" law, and by the pardoning and commuting power, the system is intended to punish and at the same time teach respect to law by firm but humane regulations. Where a convict earns, by good conduct and hard work for years the diminution of his sentence, he ought to enjoy the benefits of a pardon.
It is earnestly hoped that
Governor Beveridge will continue giving the same personal attention and care to the matter as he has done, and that the Penitentiary will continue to receive the encomiums of the people of the State. It must be remembered that although the number of pardons seems large, yet they are only a very small proportion of the nearly 3,000 who have been in prison during the time. Times have changed. The terrible punishments in the early history of prison life in Illinois in the old Alton prison, have passed, never to be revived, and an era of  decency and humanity have succeeded. God grant it may long continue.

Back to Brown County

©Genealogy Trails