The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution promises that the “accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury.” The case of the State of Missouri vs. John William Daniel (or Daniels) of Henry County in 1877-1878 for murder suggests this was not always provided. The heinous nature of the crime, the newspaper publicity, and changes of venue affected the trial and its outcome.

On March 3, 1877, the Sedalia Democrat reported that “The Murderer” was now in custody in Pettis County, having been brought from Clinton by Deputy Sheriff George Adams. He had been charged with the murder of Jesse Miller, whose remains were found near Little Cedar Creek in Pettis County on Feb. 24.

Daniel’s arrest was based on the “strongest chain of circumstantial evidence” the Democrat stated it had ever found in such a case, having “not a single missing link.” The evidence was gathered from the clothing, quilt, and sheet found with Miller’s body, blood found on a sheet in Miller’s wagon, testimony from Mrs. Miller, gossip and innuendo from one of Daniel’s comrades during the Civil War and neighbors, as well as inferences made based on his appearance.

Henry County officials telegraphed the Pettis County Sheriff’s office and asked that the clothing, quilt, and sheet found with the body be brought to Clinton so they could determine whether the man they suspected could be identified. Their suspicions had first been aroused when Miller did not return from a trip to Calhoun, Windsor and Sedalia. Daniel and Miller had left from their adjoining farms near Brownington in Henry County on Feb. 20. A few days later, Mrs. Miller saw her husband’s wagon, team, and some stock in Daniel’s possession. She obtained a writ of replevin, a legal order that requires the seizure of property obtained illegally, that enabled her to reclaim her husband’s property.

Daniel sought help from Henry County attorneys Ladue and Gatewood, asking them to get a writ of counter-replevin against Mrs. Miller. The two attorneys believed his request to be a bit questionable, and after reading the account of the discovery of the body in Pettis County, they contacted Henry County Sheriff Calvert, who contacted Pettis County officials.

Calvert, Pettis County Deputy Adams, and the Henry County Prosecuting Attorney visited Daniel at his farm. He accompanied them willingly to Brownington. They had told Mrs. Miller that they believed they had items belonging to her husband, and she joined them in Brownington. She identified the clothing, tearfully pointing out black mending stitches she had made.

Mrs. Miller turned viciously on Daniel, accusing him of murder “in the strongest words she could command”; she also claimed he had been the cause of her separation from her husband the year before. Deputies removed her “as soon as possible.” Daniel claimed he had bought the wagon, team, and stock from Miller in the presence of two men at Main Street and Ohio Avenue using money he had obtained while herding cattle in Texas.

The Democrat finished its discussion of Daniel’s apprehension by noting that an army buddy called him “dangerous,” that he had married a woman with a “bad reputation,” and that he had long hair and looked like a “desperado.” These comment lead to the question of whether Daniel could get a fair trial.

 

Contributing Columnist

Rhonda Chalfant is the president of the Pettis County chapter of NAACP and the Pettis County Historical Society. 

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