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November 21, 2016 / Joanne Yeck

The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: Part LIV

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A Juror Challenged

On January 4, 1905, Edmund Hubard raised an issue concerning the legitimacy of one of the jurors. Witness George H. Morris, a traveling salesman and a resident of Farmville, testified that Juror E.W. Venable stated that he would not hang a man on circumstantial evidence. Then, he added that he had heard that Venable said the same to Congressman Flood.

Flood took exception to this hearsay, asked to be sworn in, and denied under oath that any such conversation had taken place with Mr. Venable. The attorneys proceeded to argue the question of discharging the jury. The judge concluded that the trial would proceed with the present jury: however, he would instruct the jury as to circumstantial evidence. Judge Hundley stated, “according to the law of this Commonwealth circumstantial evidence is good evidence, and I want to say that any member of the jury who might entertain the idea I have referred to that that disqualifies him from sitting upon this case; and if any juror entertains that idea, I want to know it now.”

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The following day, counsel for the defense opened with a series of witnesses discussing a telegram sent on May 22nd which involved the arrest of Charlie Forbes. Based on the coverage in The Times-Dispatch, it is unclear where this line of questioning was headed. Suddenly, Edmund Hubard interrupted Congressman Flood’s examination of Elkin Agee, one of the men who had previously broken into John S. Forbes’s home, asking the court to send the jury out, and hear the evidence of J. H. Morgan, concerning the incompetency of Juror E. W. Venable. Morgan was a nephew of John S. Forbes and, as such, may not have had a completely neutral relationship with the case.

Sometime in early December, Morgan stated that he heard Juror E. W. Venable say that he did not believe in hanging a man on circumstantial evidence. In fact, he did not believe in circumstantial evidence.

Following Morgan’s testimony, Judge Hundley asked the jury to return. Morgan repeated his statement in front of the jury and was followed by George Morris, who stated that Venable made a similar comment about circumstantial evidence in his home. Then, Venable was given a chance to speak and stated that, in December when he spoke to Morgan, he was referring to the McCue case (not the Wooldridge case) though he had often said he wouldn’t hang a man on circumstantial evidence unless the case was made very clear.

When Lonsford Butcher, another juror, was put on the stand, he indicated that Venable had doubts about serving on the Wooldridge jury. Butcher quoted Venable as saying, “Butcher, old boy, I am afraid I ought not to be on this jury.”

Juror Venable, a man of high standing in the county, requested permission to address the court, asking the court the lawyers and the people of Farmville to remember that he took an oath to try the case fairly.

Once again, the jury left the courtroom and Mr. Hubard requested that Juror Venable be withdrawn and replaced. According to The Times-Dispatch, “This motion was eloquently and forcibly opposed by the attorneys for the defense.” It was followed by an equally eloquent and forcible speech offered by the prosecution.

At the conclusion of the argument, Judge Hundley decided to carefully consider the motion.

Coming next: Contradictory Evidence

Need to catch up? Click here for The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: Part I

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