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December 8, 2016 / Joanne Yeck

The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: Part LIX


The Jury’s Decision

On January 11, 1905 Cliff Wooldridge spent a sleepless night in the Farmville jail. While he awaited the jury’s decision, four other prisoners were attempting a jail break! According to The Times-Dispatch:

They had cut a hole through the floor to their room and ascended to the floor below. There they had succeeded in breaking the inner lock to the door which would give them their liberty, when Police Officer Fogus arrived upon the scene and frustrated their desperate attempt.

Yet, when morning came, Wooldridge sat in the courtroom with a cheerful countenance.

The verdict was front page news. The newspaper was, once again, hyperbolic in its description of the conclusion of this long and arduous trial:

Never before has Farmville witnessed a criminal trial in which more community interest was shown than in this.

Long before the courthouse bell was rung men and women flocked to the building, until every space large enough to accommodate a child was occupied. One entire side of the room had been set apart for ladies and their occupancy was complete. They held to all the space decreed to them by His Honor, Judge Hundley, while on the other side of the building the men were jammed close together in their eager desire to catch the words of burning eloquence as they fell from the lips of counsel.

No less than four hours of silver-tongued eloquence followed.

Mr. Aubrey Strode’s argument for the prosecution was “strong and eloquent.” In a pleasant voice, he noted “the brightest spot in this case was the fidelity displayed by the women connected with it.” He declared that Wooldridge was “smart and shrewd,” adding that what Wooldridge could not explain to the jury, he simply denied.

Congressman Flood put forth a “magnificent review” of the case. In closing, he thanked the people of Prince Edward County for “their kindness to the prisoner’s family and to himself, and ask that the prison bars be opened, that the prisoner once more might breathe the air of freedom and of liberty.”

According to The Farmville Herald, “At the conclusion of Mr. Flood’s argument hundreds of eyes were bathed in tears and several of the jurors were visibly affected.”

The vigorous Edmund Hubard then closed for the prosecution, declaring there were five distinct confessions made by Wooldridge himself and reminded the jury that thirty-seven witnesses had “pointed unmistakably to his guilt.” According to The Times-Dispatch:

He compared the prisoner with the devil-tree of the tropics, which withers and destroys that which comes within its reach. He closed with an earnest plea for a verdict of guilty. His peroration being one of superb eloquence.

It only took the jury one and a half hours to pronounce Cliff Wooldridge — “not guilty.” Miss Maud ran from the courtroom to inform her mother who was waiting at the hotel. Instant applause broke out in the courtroom. The crowd surged towards Wooldridge to congratulate him. Judge Hundley rapped for order, announcing, “Mr. Wooldridge, you’ve had a fair trial, and have been acquitted, and you’re now discharged from custody.”

Edmund Hubard quickly rose, reminding the Court that there were still eight indictments against Cliff Wooldridge. Congressman Flood requested bail which was granted at $1,000 per indictment. Bond was given at once, with Mr. Flood as security. Cliff Wooldridge headed for the hotel to greet his waiting wife; at midnight, Congressman Flood departed for Washington, D.C., to resume his official duties there.

An unexpected note in Baltimore’s The Sun claimed that Cliff Wooldridge was the richest man in Buckingham County. This tidbit seems to have come out of left field. Doubtless untrue, what was The Sun implying?

Coming Next: Murder Will Out

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


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