WEBSTER COUNTY, Ky. (1/9/13) - For years I have been investigating my family tree. It has not been easily, but in recent weeks I’ve learned some things.
A few weeks ago I reported that Providence Police Chief Brent McDowell was looking into the case of the killing of Providence City Marshall William Smiley in hopes of having Smiley inducted into the National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial. Smiley was killed while attempting to arrest James Hughes on February 4, 1896.
Part of the process of getting a fallen officer into the National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial in Washington D.C. is tracking down the survivors or defendants of the officer.
I volunteered to assist in the search, since James Hughes was my great grandfather, and if he had murdered someone I thought it was fitting that I might set things straight.
While doing research on the case I discovered a copy of the Kentucky Law Reporter from 1897. In it was a recorded of the appeal and subsequent overturning of Hughes’ murder conviction.
According to the record of the appeal, Marshall Smiley had been elected by the residents of Providence, KY, but had not “executed the bond required by law before entering upon the duties of the office.” However, the court ruled that although Marshal Smiley had not fulfilled this requirement, he was recognized by the citizens and city officials as a law officer, making him an “officer de facto, although not an officer de jure”.
The real problem came in the fact that Marshal Smiley attempted to arrest Hughes for carrying a concealed weapon, not for drunkenness as newspaper clipping from the time reported.
According to the court ruling, a law officer or a private citizen was allowed to make an arrest if they witnessed a felony. Smiley, however, did not witness Hughes with a gun nor did he have a warrant at the time he attempted to make an arrest.
With that concession from the court the defense argued that if the arrest was not legal, Hughes had the right to resist arrest using only as much force as necessary to free himself. If he felt his life was in jeopardy then he had the right to defend himself.
The appeals court reversed the previous judgment.
As a news man, my concern is the truth. I believe whole heartedly in the freedom of the press, but part of that press means printing things occasionally even when you don’t want to. I didn’t want my great grandfather to be a murderer, but the facts presented to me at the time showed that he had been convicted of murder.
I didn’t go looking to prove him innocent either, because for the news media to truly be free it must remain unbiased. It’s a simple matter of a change in the facts since my last article.
I’ve spoken with members of my own family and members of Marshal Smiley’s extended family, and each side has their own story to tell. But when you deal with families, even more than a century later, you still deal with emotions. With emotions come opinions, and opinions do not constitute news.
All I can say for a fact is that James Hughes shot and killed Marshal William Smiley. He was convicted of murder, and the court overturned the conviction.
From everything I’ve read I can also say that Providence was a much different place back then. In many ways it was almost an old west town. Until Smiley was appointed Sheriff there was very little law and order here. People were used to taking care of themselves. People carried guns and they used them.
What I’m Reading
I just finished reading The Walking Dead: The Road to Woodbury. It is the second novel from The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga.
The zombie plague unleashes its horrors on the suburbs of Atlanta without warning, pitting the living against the dead. Caught in the mass exodus, Lilly Caul struggles to survive in a series of ragtag encampments and improvised shelters. But the Walkers are multiplying. Dogged by their feral hunger for flesh and crippled by fear, Lilly relies on the protection of good Samaritans by seeking refuge in a walled-in town once known as Woodbury, Georgia.
If you’re a WD fan, then this book is for you. If you’re not, this might be a good way for you to break in to the television series.
J-E News Editor
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