Granville Shaw - Arrests A Juror
Sharpshooting Sheriff rides into New Orleans...
A writer contacted me once to share a portion of a book he was writing, where my ancestor Sheriff Shaw disrupted a court proceeding, arrested a juror. The resulting mistrial caused the murderer of his ancestor to escape justice...he said the account came from a newspaper article which was so detailed, he had been able to use it almost word for word...
Day Four: Thursday, October 12, 1871
Day Four: Thursday, October 12, 1871
The Indicted Juror
Soleil levé là; li couché là.
“Sun rises there [pointing to the east]; he sets there [pointing to the west].”
Gombo Zhèbes, Little Dictionary of Creole Proverbs, Selected from Six Creole Dialects, by Lafcadio Hearn, 1885, Will H. Coleman, Publisher, New York
The crowd loved the give-and-take of the court-room, the intricate, often arcane, arguments of the attorneys, the wry asides of the judge and the fascinating excursions into unexpected places. Especially intriguing was the elevation of ordinary people like themselves to a place of distinction on the public stage where, guided (or goaded) by counsel, they stitched hazy recollections into a patchwork quilt of testimony for a jury that sat inscrutably absorbing it all. So the crowd returned on Thursday, eager to see how the Boyds were holding up, how the debate over Pasteur would play out, what Semmes had up his sleeve and Belden in his hip pocket to amuse and amaze them on this bracingly cool autumn morning.Little did they know that a new character was about to sweep onto the scene to produce an interesting wrinkle in the case. As the papers subsequently reported—“The public have indicated an absorbing interest in every step of the trial, which this morning culminated in a scene as exciting as it was novel and unexpected.”
As a somewhat disheveled jury filed back into their seats and Bofield was calling the court to order, Belden rose in his place, waving a piece of paper in the air.
“Yes, Mr. Belden,” shouted Abell over the din of the settling court. “What do you have for us this morning? Order! Order, please. We are under way and have a lot of ground to cover. Mr. Belden?”
“May it please the Court,” said Belden. “The Sheriff of the Parish of Vermilion, who is present here this morning, has just handed me a writ from the honorable Sixteenth District Court for the arrest of one John Fields, colored, a juror here in the case of the State versus William and John Boyd. I therefore must move that the jury be discharged.”
An excited gasp roiled the public gallery, and all eyes turned on the jurors. As Belden handed the writ to Abell, a young black man in the second row of the jury sat bolt upright, as if riveted to his chair, staring wide-eyed, straight ahead.
Abell pounded on his desk to return the room to order. Bofil and the Court clerks, Trepagnier and Gravois, stood transfixed looking at the judge for direction. Semmes, Atocha and Castellanos were deep in discussion at the defense table. The Boyd brothers looked first at each other and then swiveled to acknowledge their supporters in the crowd, all of whom had looks of amazement on their faces. Belden stood with his hands on the table before him staring intently at Fields, who now sat slumped in his chair gazing sullenly at the floor.
“This is a most singular case, your honor,” said Semmes, approaching the bench, “and without entering into a lengthy argument, I should like to have this fully investigated before any action is taken by the court. May I see the summons, please?”
Abell handed the writ of arrest to Semmes who looked it over briefly and then asked the Court’s indulgence to share its contents with all present.
“You may read it to the Court,” directed Abell.
“Yes, your honor,” said Semmes, turning to address the public. “The writ is worded as follows:”
‘The State of Louisiana vs. John Fields—Sixteenth Judicial Court, parish of Vermilion—to Granville B. Shaw, Esq., Sheriff, in and for the parish and State aforesaid, greeting:
‘By virtue of an order issued from the honorable District Court aforesaid, in chambers at Vermilionville, on the 18th September, A.D. 1871, in the case entitled and numbered as above:’
‘We command you, in the name of the State of Louisiana, forthwith to apprehend, and with the necessary assistance, proceed to arrest the defendant, John Fields, and have him brought before me in said court to answer at its next term to the charge of having shot at and upon the person of one Wm. Henry Evans, with the felonious intent to kill him, the said Evans, in the parish of St. Mary, on the second day of September, 1869.’
‘The said defendant having been transferred to this court for trial under an order of change of venue from the District Court of the parish of St. Mary, and herein fail not under the penalty prescribed by law. Witness the Hon. Eraste Mouton, Judge of said court, the 25th day of September, A.D. 1871.’
“And the writ is signed Lastie Broussard, Clerk,” Semmes concluded, as he turned back to address the Judge—“Your honor, I would like to call to the stand the Sheriff of Vermilion parish, who has so unexpectedly intruded upon our proceedings this morning, if it please the Court.”
“By all means, Mr. Semmes,” replied Abell promptly with a flash of keen interest illuminating his face.
The same lanky young man who had lingered in the court the previous evening ambled with a slight limp to the front of the room and lowered himself carefully into the witness chair. Although he was only in his early twenties, he had the casual insouciance of one who was comfortable speaking his mind in public, although he had only been sheriff for a year and a half. Taking the measure of the man as he was sworn, Semmes noted the assured demeanor and poise of the youthful lawman.
“State your name and profession for the record, please,” enjoined Semmes.
“I am Granville Shaw, Sheriff of the parish of Vermilion in this State,” the young man drawled laconically.
“And how did you come to be involved in this pursuit of juror Fields?” asked Semmes.
“The case was transferred to our parish in the latter part of 1869…under a change of venue. I was not in the parish at the time. I was in Texas.”
“Has there ever been an order of arrest issued before?” inquired Semmes.
“I do not know, sir,” replied Shaw. “The case has been pending in the court since 1869. The order for the arrest was issued, and I was given no further instructions but to get Fields. I was not even directed to come to this parish. I ascertained, while in Brashear City, that Fields had left for Algiers. He was driving a dray there. I saw his name in the papers as a juror in the present trial—and I came to get him.”
“Have you ever met the man before?” asked Semmes.
“He was a Justice of the Peace in the parish of St. Mary, so… no, I never saw him before,” said Shaw.
“Then how do you know he’s the right man?” prodded Semmes.
“By being the only John Fields, colored, in this State, whom I know,” countered Shaw, and a low chuckle issued from the crowd. “I knew he left Brashear City.”
“Well, how can you be sure he’s the defendant in this case?” Semmes continued to probe.
“I took it for granted he’s the man,” responded Shaw with a shrug.
“Thank you. Mr. Shaw,” said Semmes, turning to address the judge. “Your honor, the defense has nothing to do with this juror—that is left for the Court to decide. We are here to defend our clients. And in their interest, we object to the discharge of the jury and the arrest of John Field. The accused are entitled to a trial of this case to the end by this jury, which we have empanelled to render a verdict, if they can agree on one. It would be outrageous, preposterous and totally detrimental to the rights of our clients to stop the trial at this time. It would be unlawful to do so. After Fields has been sworn, the Court and the Attorney General have no authority to discharge him. I really have to wonder what strange coincidence has brought Sheriff Shaw here at this particular juncture. The Court has no right to interfere with this trial,” and Semmes resumed his seat at the bar of the defense, a look of stern indignation on his face.
“The Court agrees that John Fields certainly cannot be arrested on this warrant while he is a member of this jury,” said Abell with some hesitation.” But, the question remains, is he, under the circumstances, a fit person to serve as a juror? What do you say, Mr. Belden?”
Belden stepped forward into the well of the court and addressed Abell—“It is not the goal of the State to place this juror under arrest, but to decide his status and whether or not he should be considered a competent juror as such. Like everyone else, I’ve only just heard of this complication and must ask for time to consider whether Fields is capable of being a jury member. As he has been charged with intent to kill, I hardly think he is competent.”
“Very well, gentlemen,” concluded Abell. “A reasonable time will be granted to examine this case fully, as it is one that interests the entire State of Louisiana, from one end to the other. Therefore, we will adjourn until 10 o’clock tomorrow morning when Fields will either be discharged from the jury, or we will continue trying the case. In the meantime, John Fields is to remain with the present jury under the supervision of Mr. Bofield, the Deputy Sheriff of this Court.”
Abell gaveled the session closed amidst the din of an out-of-control courtroom. Debate was rife about this astonishing turn of events. Many in the crowd could only attribute the unexpected denouement “to some eccentric device or astute practice of the counsel,” as the Daily Picayune subsequently suggested.
Fields’ eyes were downcast, lifeless, as he filed out with the other jurors, Bofield at his side. It was as if the sun had set for him with no promise of daybreak to come.
A diligent Times reporter rushed back to his offices after the trial was adjourned, rolled up his sleeves and uncovered the details of Field’s alleged transgression in St. Mary’s parish.
“By referring to our files, we find a report that on the 2d September, 1869, the house of Mr. William Henry Evans, manager of Mr. John Smith’s plantation, in St. Mary’s parish, was surrounded by a mob of twelve armed negroes, headed by one John Field, a colored Justice of the Peace of the above parish, and that Mr. Evans and his family were most outrageously attacked. This is the occasion on which Field, it is said, shot at Mr. Evans with intent to kill; and which case has been pending ever since September, 1869.”
Granville Berwick Shaw, Sheriff of Vermilion parish, about 1882, courtesy Joel Lovell (Shaw’s great-great-great nephew)
Granville Shaw, circa 1885-1895, courtesy Vermilion Historical Society