The Christmas Murder, Part Six: Final Testimony and Charges

Henry Wehrli’s preliminary hearing continued on Tuesday, January 6, 1891 with the testimony of a few more minor witnesses. When the hearing concluded, Henry would learn what charges he would face when the trial began. What follows is the testimony of the other witnesses based on contemporary press accounts.

Four more witnesses, none of whom witnessed the murder itself, provided testimony in the preliminary hearing. The first of those was a neighbor, and relative of Mary Hart’s, named James Hart. Hart noted that he knew both James Booth and Henry Wehrli and that Booth had borrowed a horse from Hart Christmas Eve in his search for more whiskey. Hart went to the Booth house on Christmas morning to retrieve his horse and stated that he heard loud talk coming from the house. He witnessed James Booth run out of the house at the moment that Henry allegedly shot at him from the window.

Hart testified that he went home after retrieving the horse only to have William Gribble come to his home about a half-hour later to tell him that James Booth had been shot. He returned to the Booth house and saw “Jim lying on [the] hearth in a pool of blood and brains scattered about.”

Images of James Booth and Henry Wehrli
James Booth and Henry Wehrli as depicted in the newspaper, 1891.

The next two witnesses, Peter Gribble and William People, testified to conversations they had with Henry Wehrli regarding James Booth. Peter Gribble, William’s father, testified that he knew James Booth for several years and that James was “pretty rough when drinking.” He claimed that Henry had told him, at least twice, that if James called him “mean names again he would blow his heart out.” William People, a fellow miner who worked with Henry Wehrli, testified that on one occasion Henry told him, and four other miners, that if James Booth ever came into his room and “called him a son of a bitch” that Henry would shoot James.

Dr. John Goudy from Newcomerstown testified that he arrived at the house between 9 am and 10 am to examine the body. He stated that James’s gunshot wound started over his eye and extended backward across his head. Dr. Goudy said that he found wadding and shot inside James skull, but that he had not kept it. Interestingly, Dr. Goudy stated that the wound would be fatal but that he could not state definitively that it killed James, claiming that it could have been “heart trouble, died from fright, or a hundred other things.”

Following the witness testimonies, Henry Wehlri’s attorney made the argument to the court that the accused should be charged with homicide since, he argued, Henry did not shoot James with the intent to kill him. The prosecutor on the other hand argued for the charge of premeditated murder, claiming that Henry’s earlier threats constituted intent. In the end, after reviewing the testimony and evidence, Henry was charged with murder and was sent to the Tuscarawas County Jail to await his trial date.

Tuscarawas County Jail as depicted on Sanborne Insurance map, 1892.

The next part of this story will profile Henry Wehrli’s defense attorneys.

© Noel B. Poirier, 2020.

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