When a Sitting US Supreme Court Justice Was Charged With Murder


US Supreme Court Justice Had Troubles

US Supreme Court Justice Had Troubles

Sara Althea Hill

Sara Althea Hill

On This Date In History:

 US Supreme Court Justice Stephen J. Field was arrested for murder on this date in 1889 making him the only member of that body ever arrested for such a crime. The story goes back to a divorce case in which Justice Field ruled that the early 1880’s marriage between Sarah Althea Hill and wealthy mine owner and  US Senator William Sharon was invalid and she therefore was not entitled to any portion of his wealth of his estate following his death in 1885.  The court decision also declared the her new husband, David Terry, was also not entitled to the estate. David Terry was, like Justice Field, a former California Supreme Court justice. The courtroom erupted into a brawl with Terry at one point brandishing a Bowie knife.  Field ordered the couple jailed for contempt. The pair publically announced revenge on the Justice.

About a year later, Field and his bodyguard, US Marshal David Neagle, were riding on a train to San Francisco. Also on the train were Sarah and David Terry.  At a stop in Stockton, California the Terrys spotted Field in the station dining room. David approached Field while Sarah went back to the train. Dave slapped the Justice and Neagle identified himself as an officer, pulled his revolver and told Dave to stop . David Terry started fumbling with his jacket. Neagle fatally shot David Terry as his wife came running up with a satchel holding a loaded gun.  Neagle and Field were arrested on a murder charge.

Ironic End for David Terry

Ironic End for David Terry

Now, I’ve wondered why Field and Neagle would go for their guns so quickly over a slap. I mean, most men would’ve punch him out like John Wayne.  It’s because  Terry had a history of violent behaviour and this was not the first time that Terry had pulled a gun on a public official in the past and fatally used it.   Prior to the Terry pulling a Bowie knife in the 1888 courtroom incident, back in 1856 Judge Terry stabbed a city of San Francisco official (again using a Bowie knife) and then, in 1859,  Terry was arrested for  killing a United States Senator.  Terry had been the Chief Justice of the California Supreme court but  was ousted from the bench following an election loss.  Senator David C Broderick was a colleague of Terry’s in the Democratic party. But, David Terry was a Southerner by birth and was pro-slavery while Broderick was against that institution. Terry had some unkind things to say about the faction in the Democratic party whom he felt had kept him to win election as Chief Justice of the CA Supreme Court. Broderick responded by saying unkind things and the pair ended up in a duel, which the sitting US Senator being gunned down by the former state supreme court justice. Terry was arrested but later released.

Like Terry years before, California’s Governor ordered Field  released from jail but Field’s story proved more interesting. That’s because the case against Neagle ended up…in the US Supreme Court that ruled in a landmark decision that since Neagle was acting under federal authority, he could not be subject to California law. I suppose that is why no one ever asked the Texas justice system to charge the ATF agents with anything in the Waco/ Branch Davidian case several years ago. Field recused himself from the case but the court ruled 6-2 in his favor and it may be the only case in which a sitting Supreme Court Justice was actively involved in a situation that set a legal precedent.

Weather Bottom Line: I think that we may be seeing the first slight hint of the change in season approaching..but don’t shut down your air-conditioner just yet.  First,  a cold front that I expected to come through Saturday night will not do so for about 24 hours but a line of storms ahead of the front should come rumbling through here Saturday evening  or night and there may be some strong storms going on.  I believe that the SPC has us in a slight risk for Severe Thunderstorms on Saturday.  The drier, cooler air lags behind that line though so Sunday will again be hot and there will be scattered storms as the front itself comes through.  On Monday its far enough south that the rain chances abate and we knock about 10 degrees or so off the high and low temperatures.  Here’s where the hint of a season change comes…there is a secondary boundary that looks intersted in coming down our way behind the initial front.  We see that often in the winter time with a front followed closely by an arctic push. This ain’t arctic but it is drier and cooler air.

Trouble is, it’s still summer so the second push really won’t get too far through our area.  The first front will get caught up in the influence of what’s left over from Tropical Depression 5 which went in around New Orleans and will do a loop to the east then south and then along the Gulf Coast before showing up in NW Louisiana and interact with the frontal boundary.  It should help to toss up a bunch of moisture too that will over run the front.  The second push will approach our area and get hung up.  The old boundary and the remnant of TD 5 will move north and the two will merge as a stationary boundary.  What all of this means is that most of the week ahead looks like a week of highs in the upper 80s with a decent chance for scattered showers and t’storms after Monday.  At least we won’t be talking about 100 though…and  my sunflowers need the rain.

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2 Responses

  1. I had to read this one three times – not for any lack on your part, but only because of the complexity of the situation(s).

    For all of the mayhem, there’s something appealing about the story. They took their disputes “straight, no chaser”, didn’t they? None of this spin-meister stuff, no image consultants or pr flacks. A duel here, a pulled Bowie knife there, and life went on. Maybe the difference is that the rules were so clear – everyone knew when they’d been violated. (Even the rules for dueling!)

  2. It was pretty confusing. I probably could have written it better but wasn’t all that keen on writing today.

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