Chenango county has witnessed several capital trials, though only eight have resulted in conviction, and in only two has capital punishment been inflicted.

    The earliest murder trial in the county on record is that of Rufus Hill, who was convicted of the murder of a child, by throwing upon it an armful of wood, and was sentenced to be hung on the last Friday in August, 1808; but the verdict was disaffirmed by the Governor, and the sentence was never executed. The defense put in the plea that the killing was accidental, and the prisoner affirmed before sentence was pronounced that he was "not guilty of willful murder." The trial was held in the meeting-house at North Norwich, and commenced on Monday, May 30, 1808, before Hon. Joseph C. Yates, Justice. Mr. Talmadge was associated with District-Attorney Williams in the prosecution; Messrs. Gold and Platt were counsel for the prisoner. Sixteen witnesses were sworn, and the trial closed, and sentence pronounced on Friday, the fifth day.

    The next trial was that of George Dennison, January 21, 1833. Dennison and his victim, Reuben Gregory, the latter the son of a respectable tavern keeper, on the road from Columbus to New Berlin, were, in 1832, residents of the former town and intimate friends. Dennison was a young man of dissipated habits, and on the day of the murder, September 30, 1832, having visited the inn kept by Gregory's father and drank freely, was refused further supplies of liquor, when he left, feeling indignant and threatening vengeance. The elder Gregory uniformly wore a slouch hat and was in the frequent habit of smoking. On the day in question the younger Gregory was suffering severely from toothache, and having resorted to various remedies without relief, was advised to try tobacco, which he did towards evening, seating himself in a room which opened into the woodshed, with his father's slouch hat drawn down over his eyes. Dennison, in the meantime, had been home and procured his gun, which he loaded with shot, and started out for the purpose of "peppering old Gregory's legs." Stealing along through the deepening twilight to the inn he saw young Gregory sitting in the accustomed seat of his father, and supposing him to be the latter, deliberately fired. The shot entered the heart of the unfortunate young man, who was only twenty-three years of age. Dennison was horrified the following morning on learning of his death. He was lodged in jail in Norwich, and brought to trial January 21, 1833, before Judge Monell. John Clapp was the prosecuting attorney, and Abial Cook, Henry Van DerLyn and S. S. Randall were counsel for the prisoner. The trial was held in the old Presbyterian Church, which occupied the site of the present Congregational Church, and continued two days. The jury returned a verdict of guilty after an absence of one and one-half hours; and the prisoner was sentenced on the 23d. Every effort was made in his behalf, but Governor Marcy refused to interfere with the execution of the sentence, and Dennison was hung March 19, 1833. The place of execution was at the foot of the hill, south-west of the Catholic church, and near where the track of the Auburn branch of the Midland railroad now runs. The crowd which flocked to Norwich from all directions to witness the execution has never been equalled before or since. At 11:30 A. M. on the day of execution, Dennison, robed in white, was conveyed by Sheriff Franklin to the place of execution in a sleigh drawn by two horses and containing his coffin. He exhibited great nerve throughout. On going out of the jail, he noticed that one of the strings of his shoe was untied, and placing his foot upon a chair, he tied it as unconcernedly as though going on a pleasure trip. He took his seat in the sleigh beside his coffin almost cheerfully, and having reached the gallows, sprang from the sleigh and firmly ascended the stairs. He sat with his feet resting upon the fatal drop. On the right sat Deputy-Sheriff Brown, and on the left Deputy-Sheriff Perkins; on an adjoining platform sat several clergymen. The "ceremonies" at the scaffold were opened with prayer by Rev. Mr. Sprague. The prisoner then read a written address, warning all young men against the use of intoxicating drinks. Addresses were then made by Revs. Swan, Bogue and Birdsall, during one of which the prisoner asked Deputy-Sheriff Brown for his tobacco box, took a chew, cooly put it into his mouth, and with thanks and a smile handed the box back to its owner. At the conclusion of the addresses the Sheriff adjusted the rope; and as he did so Dennison remarked:--- "I have worn a more graceful necktie than this before now." The Sheriff took leave of him by a shake of the hand and descended to the foot of the gallows. While the prisoner stood firmly upon the fatal drop, Rev. Mr. Bogue occupied three-fourths of an hour in prayer. At the conclusion of this lengthy appeal the drop fell, and Dennison died without a struggle, at the age of twenty-seven years, leaving a wife and two children.

    Robert Maynard, indicted for the murder of his wife, was tried at the September term of Oyer and Terminer in 1842, convicted of manslaughter in the second degree, and sentenced to seven years in Auburn State Prison. The trial took place before Robert Monell, Justice; and George M. Smith, who was District-Attorney, made one of the most eloquent pleas ever heard in the court house. Tradition, the only source of information regarding this homicide, says Maynard pounded his wife to death with a sledge stick.

    At the term of the court commencing September 13, 1847, Charles Mason, Justice presiding, Russell Cady, jointly indicted with his mother, Nancy Cady, was tried for the murder, as was alleged in the indictment, by kicks and blows inflicted by himself and mother, of George Manwarring, Jr., of Oxford, an uncle of Cady's and brother of Cady's mother. He was convicted and sentenced to be hung November 23, 1847; but a stay of proceedings was obtained and a new trial granted, on which he was acquitted. Owing to the result of the second trial Mrs. Cady was not tried.

    At the same term of court, and following the trial of Cady, Dan Foote, a physician, was tried on an indictment for assaulting, beating, kicking and killing his wife, Sarah Foote, whom he is also said to have poisoned by compelling her to drink blue dye, as, when found, her mouth was discolored by the dye. He was convicted of manslaughter in the first degree, and sentenced on the same day with Cady, October 2, 1847, to State Prison for life. He also was acquitted on a second trial, which was delayed till nearly all the witnesses were dead. The deed was committed in New Berlin.

    On the night of Monday, June 25, 1860, John S. White, Orlando Utter and Samuel Robinson, having previously blackened their faces and otherwise disguised themselves, went to the residence of Horace R. Burlison, about a mile east of Oxford, with the intention of razing it to the ground. White, using a bar and Robinson an ax, commenced tearing off the roof, while Utter held a lantern. While they were thus engaged, Burlison shot Robinson, killing him instantly. His intention was to shoot White, but owing to the darkness and disguises, killed Robinson. The coroner's jury brought in a verdict of murder; but the grand jury failed to indict him and he was discharged.

    Lavinia Hilliard, alias Leach, confessed to the accidental shooting on the morning of July 6, 1864, of George W. Harkins, a member of a detachment of the invalid corps which was then stationed at Norwich as a Provost Marshal's guard, and occupied the store-house on Mechanic street for barracks. She was a noted cyprian and had spent the night at the barracks. Being engaged in conversation with Haskins on the subject of revolvers, she alleged she laughingly pointed towards him one she had taken from a comrade's pocket, which was accidentally discharged and inflicted a wound in Haskin's forehead from the effects of which he died the same day. The testimony taken at the coroner's jury substantiated her statement.

    On the afternoon of February 10, 1868, Robert Corbin shot and killed Elliot J. Kidder on a lot of arid land in the town of Afton, which was in dispute, being claimed by Kidder and W. V. Caswell, each under a deed from Corbin. On the morning in question, Kidder, with five men and two boys took possession of a log shanty situated in a clearing of some ten or fifteen acres, ostensibly for the purpose of logging and cutting wood. The same morning Corbin sent his ox team, in charge of Mr. Shaw, to Caswell's, to get a load of wood which he had purchased. To go to Caswell's it was necessary to cross the disputed lot, and while doing so they were discovered by Kidder, who forbade Shaw going off the premises or taking the cattle off. Corbin, being advised of the state of affairs, repaired to the locality. Kidder observed their approach and ran toward the team Corbin was driving, stopped it by flourishing an ax, with which he struck one of the horses. Corbin descended and requested Kidder to get out of the way. As the latter did not move Corbin drew from his pocket a pistol, which he pointed towards Kidder, who, saying, "I'll cut you down," attacked Corbin, who, retreating as far as the sleigh, stumbled and fell. As he did so Kidder struck a blow with the ax, which, had it had the effect intended, would have killed Corbin instantly. But as he fell he turned a little to one side, and the ax cut off the outside breast pocket of his overcoat. Kidder prepared for another blow, when William Mallory, who accompanied Corbin, seeing the latter's peril, jumped out and rushing forward, attempted to arrest the impending blow. He was only partially successful, for the descending ax clipped the buttons from his coat. Kidder then aimed a blow with the ax at Mallory, who seized the weapon with his left hand, and, partially bending, was struggling with Kidder who tried to brain him. At this point, Corbin, seeing Mallory's imminent peril, discharged the pistol and Kidder fell dead. Corbin was tried February 17, 1869, before Judge Balcom. R. A. Stanton, District Attorney, C. L. Tefft, Rexford and Kingsley and Hon. Lyman Tremaine appeared for the people, and Sayre and Winsor, I. S. Newton, F. H. Prindle and Amasa J. Parker, for the defense. Corbin was convicted of manslaughter in the third degree, and was sentenced to Auburn Prison for two years and two months. He was pardoned by the Governor September 19, 1870, and restored to citizenship October 24, 1870.

    On the night of February 9, 1874, John Young, Doghlen Morrissy and William Bookpower, young men, brakesmen on the Midland railroad, repaired to a house of ill repute on East Main street, in the village of Norwich, known as the Orr House, to which they were refused admission. Instead of going away, they sat upon the stoop on the east side of the house, and annoyed the inmates by shaking the door; whereupon Albert Holmes, the putative husband of one of the Orrs, came out and attempted to push them away, and meeting with resistance he drew and fired a revolver. The ball struck Young, who staggered out of the yard, around to the front of the house, and there sunk down in the snow of the street and died. Holmes was arrested, and tried February 17 and 18, 1875, before Judge Murray, C. L. and H. M. Tefft appearing for the people, and E. H. Prindle for the prisoner, who was convicted of manslaughter in the third degree and sentenced to Auburn Prison for three years and eight months.

    On the morning of February 25, 1874, Isaac E. Sabine received injuries at the hands of George H. Rogers, at Preston, from which he died the next noon. Sabine was in the employ of Nathan Rogers, father of George H. Rogers, with the former of whom he got into an altercation about the care of a horse. Sabine, becoming irritated, ordered Rogers from the barn, and on the latter's refusing to go, clinched him. George, believing his father to be in danger, seized a piece of plank and struck a terrible blow which felled Sabine to the floor senseless. When it was discovered how severely he was injured all vied to relieve him. Rogers was arrested and bailed in the sum of $15,000. He was tried Thursday, November 21, 1874, the people being represented by C. L. Tefft, District Attorney, assisted by Hon. Milo Goodrich; and the prisoner, by Hon. E. H. Prindle and J. W. Glover. He was convicted of manslaughter in the third degree, sentenced by Judge Murray to State Prison for two years and two months, but was pardoned by the Governor the following fall.

    Sunday morning, December 27, 1874, Mrs. Sarah M. Fitch, of Norwich, was brained with an ax at Guilford by John P. Hall, who married her only niece, and with whose family Mrs. Fitch was spending the holidays. The deed was committed without any apparent provocation; and the wound inflicted was seven inches long, extending diagonally over the head, terminating about one and one-half inches above the left ear and two and one-half inches above the right. Hall was arrested and imprisoned, but the evidence of his insanity was such that a commission in lunacy was appointed, who reported his insanity. He was taken from jail and confined in the department for insane criminals in the State Prison at Auburn, where, not long since, he died.

    On the evening of July 5, 1876, Matthew Brady shot William Jones, who was standing on the porch of his hotel in Earlville, engaged in conversation with William Holhnan. Brady assigned as a cause a grudge of many years' standing against Jones, but it could not be traced to any reliable source. Doubts of his sanity existed, and his counsel, George W. Ray, secured the appointment of a commission in lunacy. Voluminous evidence was taken, both here and in Canada, Brady's former home. A majority of the commission reported his insanity, and on this the court ordered him taken to the Utica Insane Asylum, where he is now confined. During his confinement he attempted suicide, which was nearly successful.

    On the morning of February 26, 1877, William Brushell shot John Donovan, an Irishman living on Pleasant street, in the village of Norwich, in a house belonging to Brushell's father. On the morning in question, Donovan, and a woman with whom he was living, were packing up their household effects preparatory to moving into another house. Brushell stood at the window of his father's residence, which was separated from the Donovan place by a lane only, and made faces at Donovan, who becoming enraged, shook his fist at him. Brushell then called to Donovan from the woodshed door and dared him to come down; when the latter advanced to the middle of the lane, and there, amid a war of words, he was struck by a brick thrown, as he averred in his ante-mortem statement, by Brushell. Donovan picked up the brick and a club and pursued Brushell through the kitchen to the parlor of the latter's residence, where he was shot by Brushell with a gun he had taken from the pantry on his retreat through the kitchen. Donovan died the next morning. The trial, which lasted three days, took place at the November term of the court in 1877. Brushell was ably defended by E. H. Prindle and George W. Ray. He was convicted of manslaughter in the fourth degree and sentenced to Auburn Prison for two years and three months.

    December 3, 1878, at "Nigger Holler," about three miles south of Sherburne, Felix McCann shot and instantly killed James M. Hatch, with whom he had lived as near neighbor the two preceding years, for about which period a feud had existed between the two families. On Thursday afternoon of the above date, Hatch, it is claimed, shot one of McCann's chickens, which had trespassed on the premises of the former. McCann was in Sherburne at the time, indulging in one of his periodical drunks. On his return he was told by his wife of the shooting of the chicken. In his drunken frenzy he resolved to be avenged by shooting Hatch. About ten minutes after five of the same afternoon, Mrs. Hatch lighted a lamp and went into a dark recess, leaving her husband standing by the kitchen window, when suddenly she was startled by the heavy report of a gun in close proximity to the house. She heard the rattling of the breaking glass, and looking up she saw her husband stagger from the window, saying, "I'm shot, I'm gone; I shall never get over it." He then fell heavily to the floor, where he immediately expired. Looking from the window, she saw Felix McCann standing by the door-yard fence, some twenty-six feet distant, resting a gun on the rail of the fence. He then shouldered his gun and ran home. McCann's trial began at an adjourned Oyer and Terminer, Tuesday, March 26, 1879, before Judge David L. Follett, and continued six days. He was convicted of murder in the first degree, and sentenced to be hung May 29, 1879. He was reprieved by Governor Robinson May 13, 1879, till June 6, 1879, at which time he was executed in the jail yard, in the presence of thirty-one spectators, in this respect a marked contrast between the first and second capital execution in this county --- the fruit of a reform which had required nearly the entire forty-six intervening years to accomplish.

1 - The facts contained in this chapter are condensed from an article prepared for the Chenango Telegraph, which the gentlemanly publisher kindly permits us to use.
Transcribed by Tim Stowell - Sep 2004
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