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Monday, September 10, 2012

Two Lives for Five Dollars - Part III
This is a guest post from an excellent author. It is a true story, originally published in 2009. It is quite a long piece for a blog and is a four part series, which I will post on consecutive evenings. At the conclusion, you will want to see more of her work and I will link you up and publicize her site. Enjoy!
Part III
Richard's defense team had grown by the trial's opening day, Sherman having been joined by attorneys Sam Schorr and Ray Hedman of Gary, who offered their services for free.* The defendant entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.

Richard had by this time added a little romance to his story about the murder by claiming he wanted to get money so he could marry the Valparaiso woman he'd been courting. Since he refused to name her, however, and since such a motive was irrelevant to the defense, this new angle was no more than spice for newspaper stories.
Jury selection took up the first day of trial. So many prospective jurors were dismissed, either because they had already formed an opinion about the case or because they were opposed to the death penalty, that Judge Murray had to order the sheriff to go out in the street and round up passers-by to be questioned as prospective jurors. By the middle of the second day the jury had been seated, and the trial proper could begin.
Although the defendant's plea technically admitted that he had done the crime, the prosecutor still called various witnesses to establish the facts connecting Richard with the murder. Among the law enforcement officials testifying were the Reynolds town marshal who found Henry's abandoned car, and the White County sheriff who joined in arresting Richard and heard his first confession. The night attendants at the Lincolnway Garage in Valparaiso also testified about Richard's bringing the Ford in shortly after the murder to get the headlights fixed.
The newspapers accounts don't always make clear which side called which witnesses, and reports of testimony are sometimes cryptic.
Nellie Chapman Fishback testified regarding Richard's "peculiar behavior during childhood." She had probably been called by the defense to help establish his insanity.
A "cronie" of Richard's by the name of Leonard Bowman was called for reasons unknown. The press found the salient point of his testimony in his claim that years ago Richard had said he'd sooner "pull the trigger" than "go hungry."
In remarks stricken from the record as hearsay, one witness said that Richard's biological father was currently in San Quentin serving a life sentence. The defense may have been trying to establish hereditary insanity. Louis Dunham, Richard's foster father, testified concerning the boy's early tendencies toward crime.
The prosecution called Frank Johnson, parole clerk at the reformatory in Plainfield, Indiana, where Richard had served three terms while in his teens. Johnson testified that Richard had scored 118 on an IQ test administered at the reformatory, which was 18 points above average.

The three doctors appointed by the court to determine Richard's mental condition all concurred: Richard was sane.
Throughout the trial, Richard seemed indifferent. He showed no emotion during his mother's testimony, or his foster father's. During recesses, he made wisecracks to Bailiff Ralph Pierce. "If they let me out, I'll do the same damned thing again," he told Pierce. Later, he said about his attorneys: "Those three fools out there are spending three days trying to prove me crazy, and they're crazier than I am." He offered to bet Pierce a beer that he'd "get the electric chair."
On Monday, February 4, after half-an-hour's deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of guilty.
Judge Murray asked Richard whether he wished to say anything before the sentence was pronounced. Richard's response: "I have nothing to say." As required by law, Judge Murray sentenced him to death, setting May 25 as the date of execution. In the audience, Nellie wept quietly, while Louis Dunham collapsed in a dead faint.

After he was taken from the court, Richard said to Bailiff Pierce, "That ought to be worth two beers, don't you think?"
The fight was by no means over. Richard's removal to the state prison at Michigan City was postponed 14 days, a standard delay to allow his attorneys to file a motion requesting a new trial; Sherman got to work preparing the motion, although he had little hope of its being granted. There was also a possibility of an appeal to the state supreme court, if money could be found to finance it; Nellie set about contacting friends in Chicago to try to raise funds. Richard could also appeal directly to Indiana Governor Paul V. McNutt for a commutation of his sentence from death to life.

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Richard found a way to pass the time as he waited in the Lake County jail — he came up with a new twist on his story. The motive now became not robbery but revenge. Henry Nolte had wronged Richard's sweetheart (said Richard), and he had sought only to avenge her honor.

His attorneys seized on the wronged sweetheart as a shipwrecked sailor might clutch at a floating plank. There was the explanation, they said, for what had puzzled them about Richard's confession — why would anyone lie in wait for almost 11 hours just to rob a man? There had to be a stronger motive, and here it was. This new evidence was their best hope for winning Richard a new trial.
Richard refused to name the young woman who was allegedly carrying Henry Nolte's child — and she apparently did not wish to come forward, though her sweetheart's life was at stake. Sherman filed the motion for a new trial, relying on the story of revenge and hoping Richard would come around in time to produce the woman in question at the hearing, which was set for March 14. But when Sherman pressured his client for the woman's name, Richard responded only with abusive letters.
On March 14, the mystery woman was still a mystery. The motion for a new trial was denied.

Richard was transferred to Michigan City. Nellie went to visit him there, and came back with yet another story, which she recited to his attorneys and to the press. She claimed her son had told her that he did not commit the crime alone: there were two other men and a woman involved. As usual, nobody had a name. Sherman told the press that he would investigate the story, and "if it sounds reasonable and can be proved," he would use it in Richard's petition to the Governor for clemency.
Weeks went by as Sherman worked to prepare the petition, trying to get evidence to back up either of Richard's concurrent stories, while Nellie engaged in fund-raising and publicity efforts.
On May 11, Richard celebrated his 21st birthday.
*Schorr would continue to work with Sherman on Richard's case for many months, but we hear no more of Ray Hedman after the initial trial.
Shortly after his 21st birthday, Richard got word that Governor McNutt would hear his clemency petition on May 21, three days before the scheduled execution.

After weighing what little evidence he could turn up, attorney Sherman decided to stick with the story that Richard had acted out of vengeance coupled with mental instability. There was nothing substantive to back the co-conspirators story, and while the vengeance story had no greater factual support (since Richard still refused to name the wronged woman), Sherman seemed to think that common sense made it plausible. Richard had embroidered it with convincing details, such as Henry's callous response when confronted about the young woman's plight ("She's your girl, not mine. Why should I worry about her?") Furthermore, it had support from a surprising source — Henry's cousin and neighbor, Herman Harms, who wrote a letter for Sherman to present to the Governor in which he declared his belief that Richard had acted from a greater motive than robbery.
This little piece of cousinly back-stabbing surprised me at first. Henry's other neighbors had liked and respected him; did Herman really know him better? — for the obvious implication of the greater-motive theory is that Richard genuinely believed Henry had done someone wrong. And yet, in a way, I can understand why Herman might have found some comfort in that notion: though it blackened the murdered man's name, it also saved his death from utter senselessness. That is the most charitable interpretation I can put on Herman's letter.
Sherman would supplement the vengeance/insanity angle with a more general appeal to Governor McNutt's mercy. He had a petition for clemency signed by the twelve jurors who had convicted Richard, and another signed by Nellie.
When Sherman arrived at Governor McNutt's office for the May 21 hearing, he found his credibility badly wounded by friendly fire. Nellie had got the jump on him; she and several friends were already in conference with McNutt and had warned him not to believe anything Sherman said. Nellie insisted that her son was both sane and innocent, that another man was the real killer (although it doesn't appear from the reports that she had come up with the culprit's name). Sherman had to do some persuading just to get McNutt to hear him, and even then he was in the awkward position of contradicting the prisoner's mother.
Ultimately, the Governor was unsympathetic. Nothing presented to him that day rose to the level of new evidence. He believed the doctors' report finding Richard sane. He dismissed the jurors' petition as "passing the buck." His only concession was a promise to grant a reprieve if, in the next three days, someone could show him actual evidence of any other person's involvement in the crime. Otherwise, Richard would be executed as scheduled. (The usual practice was for execution to be carried out a few minutes after midnight; thus, an execution scheduled for the 24th would technically take place on the 25th.)
The next day two ministers from Gary visited Richard on Death Row. They said he appeared calm. To guards, he seemed impatient to get it all over with.
On the day set for the execution, Sherman's persistence bought him another audience with Governor McNutt and again he used all his powers of persuasion, and all the slender evidence he could muster, to try to change the Governor's mind. The warden and deputy warden of the state prison also spoke with McNutt on Richard's behalf.
In the evening, the Governor granted Nellie another interview. As late as 11 p.m. she was still in his office pleading for her son's life.
In the face of imminent death, Richard finally recanted the vengeance story, calling it "a pack of lies." Henry Nolte had done nothing wrong, he now said; his motive had been robbery, pure and simple, and he had acted alone. As midnight drew near, his nerves were on edge. Under the guard's eye he rocked back and forth silently, then burst out: "When in hell are they going to get about it?"
Far down the corridor, the guard heard the slam of a door and the sound of approaching footsteps.
Can you guess what happened next? Conclusion tomorrow!

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