The case of John William Daniel, charged with the murder of Jesse Miller whose body was found in Cedar Creek in Pettis County in February 1877, was scheduled to begin in Sedalia in November 1877. On Nov. 11, the Sedalia Bazoo reported the defendant’s attorney Joshua Ladue of St. Louis filed for a change of venue, claiming a fair trial could not be given in Pettis County due to the existing prejudice of the people.
Both the Bazoo and the Democrat printed articles about the crime that emphasized Daniel’s guilt and his bad reputation, so the question of a fair trial in Pettis County was a fair one. The court agreed and changed the site of the trial to Johnson County, where Judge Hill presided.
On Dec. 4, 1877, Jacob Pogue and John Scheer, residents of Johnson County, filed an affidavit with the court claiming that Judge Hill was prejudiced against Daniel and would not be able to preside over a fair trial. As a result, a special judge, Colonel A.W. Rogers, of Warrensburg, was chosen to hear the case.
The trial began on Dec. 7. The jury was composed of men of a variety of occupations, including five farmers, three merchants, a saddlemaker, a bookkeeper, a banker, and a capitalist. Daniel pleaded not guilty. The state was represented by Pettis County Prosecutor G.P.B. Jackson and Johnson County Prosecutor W.H. Brinker. Three attorneys — Ladue, W.Y. Pemberton of Sedalia, and Fine Farr of Warrensburg — represented Daniel.
Some of the testimony dealt with the discovery of the body and the items of clothing and a quilt that Mrs. Miller used to identify her husband. Other testimony detailed what Daniel and Miller had done on their trip from Henry County through Calhoun to Sedalia, including whether Daniel had purchased the team and wagon from Miller. This testimony seemed straightforward and repeated much of what had been brought up in the investigation.
Other testimony was not so straightforward, however. Questions were raised about how well Miller and Daniel, who were neighbors, had gotten along. Mrs. Miller testified that the men had had a quarrel about a field, but that they seemed to get along. Mrs. Miller began to tell of an incident involving some horses being taken at a church, but Attorney Ladue objected, saying that issue was irrelevant. Although Prosecutor Jackson claimed to be able to establish the relevance of this issue, the judge agreed with Ladue and the issue was dropped.
Ladue attempted to discredit Mrs. Miller by noting the problems in their marriage and by claiming Miller had left his wife before. Mrs. Miller replied she was the one who left, but the couple had reconciled and were “getting along very well now.”
Perhaps the most interesting testimony came from H.H. Kitterman of St. Claire County, a former neighbor and a blacksmith at Brownington, a village near Daniel and Miller’s farms. He testified that Daniel had confessed to killing Miller and threatened that if he told anyone, he (Daniel) would kill him. Kitterman said Daniel killed Miller because he “knew too much,” but didn’t elaborate on what Miller was supposed to have known.
Next week’s column continues the account of the trial, including questions about a witness’s reputation for truthfulness.