People v. Arthur

Decision Date04 December 1924
Docket NumberNo. 15954.,15954.
Citation145 N.E. 413,314 Ill. 296
CourtIllinois Supreme Court


Error to Circuit Court, Piatt County; George A. Sentel, Judge.

George Opal Arthur was convicted of murder, and brings error.

Reversed and remanded.Grover C. Hoff, A. F. Miller, and W. F. Gray, all of Clinton (C. D. Bradley, of Chicago, of counsel), for plaintiff in error.

Edward J. Brundage, Atty. Gen., and Burl A. Edie, State's Atty., James L. Hicks, and Charles F. Mansfield, all of Monticello, for the People.


Plaintiff in error, George Opal Arthur (hereafter called defendant), has sued out this writ of error to review a judgment of the circuit court of Piatt county on a conviction for murder and inflicting the death penalty.

Defendant is a single man about 30 years old and lived with his parents on a rented farm about 2 1/4 miles south of Monticello, the county seat. He had served overseas with the American Expeditionary Forces, and was discharged in August, 1919, after the close of the World War, and returned to his parents' home. He was employed by J. P. Kratz, owner of a considerable amount of farm land, as choreman at the Kratz homestead, which was about midway between his father's home and Monticello. Charles Martin, the deceased, was about 20 years old, single, and the son of David B. Martin, a stock buyer, who resided in Monticello. Martin and defendant were intimate friends and associates. At the time of his death, and for considerable time prior thereto, Martin was employed as an automobile mechanic at the garage of his brother-in-law, George Rudisill. Defendant's father's family consisted of the father, J. W. Arthur, his wife, two daughters, and defendant. December 24, 1921, all the family except defendant went to visit friends some distance away, leaving defendant at the home alone, and did not return until 2 o'clock in the afternoon of Saturday, December 31. Martin visited defendant at the Arthur home Friday afternoon, December 30. Gibson, a witness for the people, testified he was at the Arthur home at the time, and that the relations of defendant and Martin were friendly. The same evening, somewhere in the neighborhood of 7 o'clock, defendant drove to Monticello in his Ford runabout, got Martin, and the two drove to the Arthur home. Before leaving town they, or one of them, bought milk and oysters, which they took to the Arthur home, cooked, and ate for supper. Defendant claims that after supper, somewhere around 9 o'clock, he took Martin in his Ford runabout to Monticello; that Martin said he had agreed to meet some parties there; that when they arrived in front of Russel's barber shop two men were standing on the sidewalk near a Ford car parked at the curb, and Martin said, ‘There they are now,’ jumped out of the car, and defendant drove home.

There is no evidence of Martin having been seen alive by any one but defendant after he went home with defendant early in the evening. His body was found Thursday, January 5, 1922, in the Sangamon river, at the Croninger bridge, about 13 miles southwest of Monticello. It was weighted down with a piece of stone in a gunnysack, fastened to the body with wire. The arms and legs were bound up with wire. There were bullet holes in the head and the skull was badly crushed, showing conclusively that Martin had been murdered and his body thrown into the river so weighted and bound that it would not rise again. Sunday afternoon, January 1, Martin's sister, Mrs. Rudisill, called the Arthur home by telephone and inquired if defendant knew anything of the whereabouts of Martin, who had not been seen since Friday evening. Defendant got in his car, drove to the Martin home, and talked with Mrs. Martin and her daughter, Mrs. Rudisill. He told them of Martin being at his home Friday evening and of their oyster supper there, and said he then drove Martin to town to meet some parties he said he had an appointment with, and told Mrs. Martin and her daughter about where Martin got out of the car, of two men on the sidewalk, and what Martin said as he saw them and of his getting out of the car. Apparently Mrs. Martin and her daughter suspected defendant of either knowledge of or responsibility for the disappearance of Martin. Mrs. Martin asked defendantif he would mislead one of her children, and said she did not trust any one and would not trust defendant. He denied knowing anything about what became of Martin, and told Mrs. Martin he was sorry she felt as she did. After the visit and conversation, defendant returned home. On Tuesday morning, January 3, he returned to his work at the Kratz home in his father's Ford touring car, which he left standing in the garage of a Mr. Stiverson, who lived on the place. That day the sheriff went out to the Kratz place, arrested defendant on a charge of larceny of money from Martin, and put him in the county jail.

The sheriff testified he looked for blood on the car that day and saw none; that he looked at the running board, opened the doors, and looked at the cushions. The car remained at the Kratz place till the evening of the day following defendant's arrest, when his father went after it and drove it home. The disappearance of Martin excited considerable public interest and several parties visited defendant in the jail and talked with him about Martin's disappearance, some of them directly or indirectly accusing him of Martin's murder. Among the parties visiting defendant in the jail were Martin's mother and sister. To all he denied knowing anything about what became of Martin after he took him to town following the oyster supper Friday night. Searching parties were organized, and the body was finally found Thursday, January 5, in the Sangamon river at the place and in the condition above stated. The coroner's jury, at the inquest held January 6, charged defendant with the murder of Martin, and at the February term of court he was indicted for the murder by the grand jury. In May the grand jury was, on motion of the state's attorney, recalled and returned another indictment charging defendant with the same crime. He was tried at the October term, 1922, found guilty and the punishment fixed at death.

A great many errors are assigned as reasons why the judgment should be reversed. The trial lasted four weeks. With the exception of the testimony of some witnesses who were in jail with defendant, the evidence, the most important of which will be referred to, was circumstantial. The principal circumstances relied upon by the people are that, so far as the proof discloses, defendant is the last person who saw Martin alive, and that was on the occasion of the oyster supper at defendant's home the night of December 30. On one of the officer's visits to defendant's home in search of evidence, he asked Mrs. Arthur for defendant's revolver, and she gave it to him. It required a 32-caliber cartridge, which was the size of the bullet found in Martin's head. The rock (a piece of Bedford stone) placed in the gunnysack and bound by wire to Martin's body was similar to some rock at the Kratz home place, which had been part of a building that had previously burned down, and the wire was similar to wire used on the farm. On January 5, the day the body was found, but before the sheriff had notice it was found, he and a deputy, Goodin, went to the Arthur home to again search the premises. WhileGoodin was searching the haymow and other places, Sheriff Gale again examined the Ford touring car of J. W. Arthur, which he had brought home from the Kratz place, where it had been driven by defendant before his arrest and where it had remained two days. The sheriff testified he found blood stains on the car. They were on the right-hand side of the car, on the rear seat, on the sill between the two seats, on the cushion and upholstering, and on the covering of the floor between the front and rear seats. He called Arthur's attention to the stains and inquired whether anything had been recently hauled in the car from which the stains came and was told there had not. Deputy Goodin testified there was ‘quite a little blood’ on the car. Some of the stains were on the matting, some on the upholstering, some on the floor, and some ‘streaks and spots.’ Late that day, after the body of Martin was found, Goodin and another man went back to the Arthur home, and drove the car to Monticello, and put it in the Rudisill garage. It was later, the same day, as we understand, taken to the jail garage. Speciments of the stains from the car were delivered to chemists in Chicago, and they testified an analysis of them showed they were human blood. Afterwards several trips were made by officers and others to the Arthur home in search of evidence, and May 12 stains resembling blood were found. Some of these were on a barn door at the south end of the barn. Scrapings from these stains were taken for analysis. On the same day scrapings from several stains found at the Arthur residence were taken also. The chemists reported the specimen taken from the barn door was human and beef blood and that the specimens taken from the Arthur residence were not blood. Later more stains were found on the inside and outside of the barn. Specimens of them were taken for analysis. Most of them, according to the chemists, were human and beef blood, some of them were human blood only, some were animal blood, and some were not blood of any kind.

In this connection it is proper to note defendant's claim that, if there was blood in the car, it was put there after January 3. This contention is based on the proof that, when J. W. Arthur and his family left home for a visit on December 24, they were driven in the Ford touring car to the railroad station in Monticello by defendant. There was a comfort in the car, and Mrs. Arthur wore a stocking cap to the station, where she took it off and left it in the car. Some of the Arthur family testified these...

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