The Christmas Murder, Part Eight: For the Prosecution

Lawyer arguing case

The men tasked with prosecuting Henry Wehrli were led by a member of one of Tuscarawas County’s most prominent legal families, James Graham Patrick. However had it not been for the participation of one man in the assisting the effort, Abraham W. Patrick, I may never have stumbled upon the odd case of the ‘Christmas Murder’ at all.

The Tuscarawas County Prosecuting Attorney at the time of Henry Wehrli’s trial was the grandson of one of New Philadelphia’s founding fathers and the son of a Tuscarawas County Judge. Prosecuting Attorney James Graham Patrick was the third generation to carry the James name. His father and grandfather had both been common pleas judges in Tuscarawas County, as had his uncle Abraham W. Patrick. James Patrick graduated from the New Philadelphia high school in 1872 and attended Franklin College in New Athens and then Wooster University. He studied law with his father and was admitted to the bar in 1877. James then partnered with his father until his election to the position of Prosecuting Attorney for Tuscarawas County in 1888.

Tuscarawas County Courthouse

One of James Patrick’s assistants on the prosecution was Alexander L. Neely. He was Ohio-born on February 10, 1828 and arrived in Tuscarawas County from Jefferson County in 1852. Neely subsequently read law with attorney J. C. Hance and was admitted to the bar less than two years later in 1854. Neely was elected as the county’s Prosecuting Attorney in 1864, but only served in the position for one year. In the years before the trial of Henry Wehrli, he had partnered with several different county attorneys and was well known and respected as a lawyer. Neely was respected enough in the community that his name was often floated for political positions and nominations, all of which he would decline in preference practicing law. By the time of Henry Wehrli’s trial, Alexander Neely had been practicing law in Tuscarawas County for over thirty-five years.

Abraham W. Patrick

Abraham W. Patrick, prosecutor James Patrick’s uncle, was born and raised in New Philadel­phia. His career began in the family printing business, then studying the law with Columbus Delano (who would later become Secretary of the Interior under President Grant), and W. R. Sapp. Their office was located in Mount Vernon, Ohio, where A.W. Patrick was admitted to the bar in 1855. Shortly after he returned to his hometown in 1857 he was elected Prosecuting Attorney for the county. Ten years later, in 1866, he was elected as a Probate Judge, served three years, and resumed private practice in 1870. A year later Patrick was elected to the Ohio State Senate, serving one term in that body before once again returning to private practice. Check out this post for more information on A.W. Patrick.

These were the men that Henry Wehrli’s defense team were up against in his murder trial. All of the attorneys were known to one another, socialized together, and had practiced law in Tuscarawas County for a number of years. I only stumbled upon Wehrli’s case because it is likely, if not probable, that the prosecution met in A.W. Patrick’s (and my) home to discuss the case.

The trial of Henry Wehrli will be the focus of the next post.

© Noel B. Poirier, 2020.


2 thoughts on “The Christmas Murder, Part Eight: For the Prosecution

    1. The details of the crime itself are taken from contemporary newspaper accounts. Details about individuals who were a part of the case come from a variety of historical and genealogical sources.


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