The Christmas Murder, Conclusion: The Verdict

The evidence and testimony had been presented and heard by the jury. Judge Pearce provided his instructions to the jury and Henry Wehrli’s fate was in their hands. It would not take them long to decide his guilt or innocence.

It was at 2 pm on Wednesday, May 27, 1891 that the jury in Henry Wehrli’s murder trial was given their instructions by Judge Pearce. It took the judge the better part of an hour to explain to the jury what they needed to do, and to determine, according to the law. The twelve men then retired to the jury room to begin their deliberations.

The first step for the jury was to determine just how close they were to a verdict already. The first poll of the jury determined that eight members were convinced of Wehrli’s guilt of murder in the first degree, two members favored conviction on a charge of second degree murder, one wanted him convicted of manslaughter and one juror was in favor of acquittal.

Discussion and argument went on until supper time, after which the jury were permitted to take a walk around town prior to returning to the jury room to continue their deliberations. It was around 9 pm that the jury conducted another poll to see if they had gotten any closer to a unanimous decision. The vote of the jury was now eleven for conviction in the first degree and one for acquittal. This juror believed that, without a direct eyewitness, a conviction of murder in the first degree would be impossible.

The jury continued their deliberations throughout the night, not resting until they could come to a unanimous decision. At 3:30 am Thursday morning, after nearly twelve hours of discussions, the jury informed the judge that they had finally reached a verdict. The court staff and parties were informed that they should convene at 5:00 am to hear the verdict.

Jury verdict as reported in the 4 June 1891 New Philadelphia The Ohio Democrat.

The jury had found Henry Wehrli guilty. As the verdict of guilty of murder in the first degree was read, Henry’s attorney’s requested a poll of the jury. Each of the jurors affirmed their verdict. James Edie, the oldest juror, openly wept as the verdict was read and, according to the newspaper, showed far more emotion than the defendant. After the verdict was read, the defense announced their intention to appeal and request a new trial. Henry Wehrli was transferred to the county jail to await his sentencing.

Headline of the 4 June 1891 New Philadelphia’s The Ohio Democrat newspaper.

Henry Wehrli was spared capital punishment, instead being sentenced to life in the Ohio State Penitentiary. However, after ten years, and due to arguments about the fairness of his trial (including from prosecutors like A.W. Patrick), Wehrli was granted parole in 1902. As part of his parole he was prohibited from drinking alcohol of any kind. He never married and would eventually settle in Mineral City with his brother and return to the work of mining. Henry Werhli died in 1929 and is buried in East Avenue Cemetery in New Philadelphia.

© Noel B. Poirier, 2020.


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