June 25, 2013

Attorney Kills Another Attorney Inside Laurel Courthouse, Laurel, 1907


LAUREL BARRISTERS IN FATAL AFFRAY

Robert Boyd, Jr., Shoots and Kills Former County Attorney James Sparks.

COURT HOUSE IS SCENE OF TRAGEDY

Trouble Arose Over Suit Filed to Set Aside Will.

LONDON, Ky., Nov. 18.---The most sensational tragedy in the history of Laurel county occurred here at 10:30 o'clock a. m. today.  James Sparks, former County Attorney, now candidate for Commonwealth's Attorney, and one of the best and most widely-known lawyers in Kentucky, was shot and instantly killed.

The shooting was done in the Circuit Clerk's office in the court house by Robert Boyd, Jr., Master Commissioner of the Laurel Circuit Court and one of the most prominent young attorneys in this part of the State.

Circuit Court is in session, and hundreds of people swarmed around the dead man and created a panic.  An old grudge had existed for some time between them.

The shooting is said by eyewitnesses to have been on slight provocation and the result of a petty quarrel over a settlement Boyd was making as Master Commissioner in a suit in which Sparks represented one side.

Sparks took exceptions to Boyd's official conduct in selling the land in litigation and over fees which he contended Boyd was not entitled to.  Sparks is said to have been unarmed.

Boyd fired at short range, Sparks falling at his first shot.  Boyd fired three shots into his victim's body after he was on the floor.  Sparks and other attorneys had brought suit to set aside the will of the late Judge Robert Boyd, young Boyd's uncle, in which young Boyd was made administrator and had received a good share of an estate valued at about $200,000.

The suit was brought for Lilly Hubbs, an illegitimate and only child of Judge Boyd, who was left nothing, and seeks to break the will.  Boyd promptly surrendered to Sheriff Swanner, and is now in jail. [1]



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[November 22, 1907] -

A special from London dated the 18th. says: -- The most shocking tragedy in the history of London occurred at 10:30 a.m. here to-day. Robert Boyd, Jr., Master Commissioner of Laurel county and a prominent attorney, shot and instantly killed James Sparks, one of the ablest and most prominent lawyers in Eastern Kentucky. Sparks was formerly County Attorney of Laurel county and was a candidate for Commonwealth's Attorney. The tragedy occurred in the Circuit Clerk's office, where Boyd as Commissioner, was making settlement in a case in which Sparks represented one side. Bad feeling had existed between the two men for some time, Sparks having taken exception to some of Boyd's official conduct in the same suit.

Sparks also represented Lillie Hubb, who claimed to be the daughter of Judge Robert Boyd, deceased, in which the woman seeks to break the will of Judge Boyd, which made young Boyd, his nephew, the administrator, and gave him a large part of his estate of nearly $200,000. Eye witnesses say that only a petty quarrel had occurred before the shooting began.

Sparks is said to have been unarmed. Boyd fired four shots, three of them being after Sparks fell.

John C. McKee, a prominent London citizen, stated to the Evening Post reporter that Sparks walked into the Clerk's office, where Boyd was making a settlement in the case of "Tip Sparks against Jordan Smith. "Tip" Sparks was writing checks. Spark said to Boyd: "You have taxed more cost than you are entitled to, and I will see that the proceeds of sale do not pass through your hands, and you will not get the 2 per cent. commission." Boyd said that the sale bond was made payable to him, and that he would be entitled to collect the money and have the commission.

The two men were standing on opposite sides of the table. Both men walked the floor, talking and watching each other. Both men had their hands in or about their front pants pockets. Boyd quickly drew a thirty-eight revolver and fired. Sparks fell, crying "Don't do that; you have killed me." Boyd fired three more shots. All took effect in Sparks' breast and he died instantly. Sparks had abused Boyd on various occasions when Boyd was unarmed. Boyd is a peaceable, quiet citizen.

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There has been exhibited from time to time, in this country, and that far too often, a maudlin and uncalled sympathy for criminals of certain class. If a man commits some common crime, like larceny or burglary, but little notice is taken of the affair. Let a man, however, commit a murder, in which a woman is in some way involved, or any matter of a sensational nature be connected therewith, at once a wave of unreasoning sympathy sweeps over the land. The newspapers are filled with it. The criminal is represented as the victim of moral insanity. He is more sinned against than sinning. He is undeserving of punishment, he becomes a hero in his own estimation and a martyr in the eyes of his maudlin sympathizers. Courts and juries are condemned because they have found him guilty, and governors are chased if they do not commute his sentence or pardon him entirely. [2]




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[November 28, 1907] -

One of the most sensational shooting affrays in the history of Laurel County occurred in London last week when Jas. Sparks, former county commonwealth attorney and one of the best known lawyers in the state, was shot and instantly killed. The shooting was done in the Circuit Clerk's office by Robert Boyd, Jr., Master Commissioner of the Laurel Circuit Court, and one of the rising young lawyers of the state. Court was in sessions and hundreds of people swarmed around the dead man and created a panic. The shooting is said by eyewitness to have been on slight provocation, due to a petty quarrel over a settlement Boyd was making in a suit in which Sparks represented one side. Boyd surrendered to the sheriff and was taken to jail. [3]









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[December 3, 1907] -

The special grand jury at London returned an indictment against Robert Boyd, charging him with the willful murder of James Sparks. Circuit Judge Faulkner declined to sit in the case and on a writ of habeas corpus, tried before Circuit Judge Moss, Boyd was admitted to bail in the sum of $10,000. No date has been set for the trial. [4]





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[December 13, 1907] -

Mrs. Rachel Sparks, widow of the late James Sparks, who was shot and killed Nov. 18, in the London courthouse, has filed suit in the Laurel circuit court against Robert Boyd, Jr., the slayer of her husband, for $30,000 damages. The suit was brought by Attorneys E. H. Johnson and D. K. Rawlings, who have also been employed by Mrs. Sparks to assist in the prosecution of Boyd, who is indicted for murder. [5]






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[February 18, 1908] -

Acting Gov. Cox has appointed Attorney John W. Tuttle, of Monticello, special judge of the Laurel Circuit Court in the case of the Commonwealth against R. Boyd, indicted for the killing of James Sparks at the last September term of the court. Judge Tuttle will also sit in the civil action brought by the widow of Sparks against Boyd for $30,000 damages for the killing of her husband, and in the case of Lillie Hobbs against Boyd as the executor of the estate of the late Judge Robert Boyd to recover a portion of the estate. [6]




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[February 20, 1908] -


Trial of Boyd Begins.

London, Ky. -- Attorney John W. Tuttle, of Monticello, Wayne county, as special judge of the Laurel Circuit Court, will begin the trial of R. Boyd, indicted for the killing of Attorney James Sparks. He will also hear the civil action brought by the widow of Sparks against Boyd for $30,000 damages. [7]




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[March 3, 1908] -


The case of Robert Boyd, for killing James Sparks at London, will likely go to the jury this morning. Saturday and yesterday were devoted to speaking. [8]




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[March 6, 1908] -

Robert Boyd was acquitted at London on the charge of killing James Sparks. The case went to the jury at 8:35 Tuesday morning and a verdict was rendered 1 o'clock.  Boyd killed James Sparks in the Circuit Clerk's office during the last September term of court. The shooting ended a dispute over certain commissions amounting to $5 or $6.  Sparks had previously publicly abused and cursed Boyd and threatened him. [9]



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[March 10, 1908] -


Mrs. Rachel Sparks was arrested at London on the statement of Felix Beatty, a Negro, that she had given him a gold watch and a gallon of coal oil to burn the livery stable of Tip Sparks for his alleged friendship to Robert Boyd, Jr., who was acquitted of the murder of James Sparks, her husband. She denies the charge. Mrs. Sparks was released on $1,000. [10]







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[September 25, 1908] -

Court of Appeals of Kentucky.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
BOYD.

Sept. 25, 1908.

Appeal from Circuit Court, Laurel County.

“Not to be officially reported.”

Robert Boyd was acquitted of murder, and the commonwealth appeals to obtain a certification of law. Opinion certified to the lower court as the law of the case.

[*605] Jas. Breathitt, Atty. Gen., and Tom B. McGregor, Asst. Atty. Gen., for the Commonwealth.

SETTLE, J.

The commonwealth prosecutes this appeal to obtain a certification of the law as to certain alleged erroneous rulings of the circuit court made upon the trial of appellee under an indictment charging him with the murder of James Sparks. The trial resulted in a verdict and judgment of acquittal.

Numerous errors were assigned in the motion and grounds for a new trial filed in the court below, but only one of them is discussed in the brief of counsel representing the Commonwealth in this court, and, as to it, he merely expresses a doubt, frankly admitting that in other respects the record seems substantially free from prejudicial error. We therefore deem it only necessary to consider this single complaint, which is as to the refusal of the trial court to give instruction No. 3, asked by counsel for the commonwealth. That instruction reads as follows: “If you shall believe from the evidence that at the time the defendant, R. Boyd, Jr., so shot at and wounded James Sparks as to cause or hasten his death within a year and a day thereafter (if you shall believe from the evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that he did so do), he believed, and had reasonable grounds to believe, that he was then and there in danger of immediate death, or the infliction of some great bodily harm, at the hands of the said James Sparks, and that it was necessary or was believed by the defendant, in the exercise of a reasonable judgment, to be necessary, to so shoot at and kill deceased in order to avert that danger, real or to the defendant apparent, then you ought to acquit the defendant, upon the grounds of self-defense or apparent necessity therefor.” This instruction properly expresses the law of self-defense, but the giving of it was unnecessary as the court on its own motion had previously given the following instruction on that aspect of the case: “Although you may believe from the evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant, Robert Boyd, Jr., did, in Laurel county, Ky., and before the finding of the indictment against him willfully shoot and wound James Sparks, so as to cause or hasten his death within a year and a day thereafter, yet if you further believe from the evidence that the defendant, in the exercise of a reasonable judgment, believed, and had reasonable grounds to believe, from all the facts and circumstances proven in this case, that said James Sparks, just preceding the firing of the first shot by the defendant, was about to make an attack upon the defendant, and that by reason thereof the defendant, in the exercise of a reasonable judgment, believed, and had grounds to believe, that he was then and there in danger of suffering loss of life or great bodily harm at the hands of said James Sparks, and that it was necessary or believed by the defendant, in the exercise of a reasonable judgment, to be necessary to so shoot at and kill said James Sparks, in order to avert that danger, real or to the defendant apparent, then you ought to acquit the defendant upon the grounds of self-defense or apparent necessity therefor.” This instruction, though in some respects differing in language from instruction [*606] No. 3, is substantially like it and equally correct. Indeed, in view of the peculiar nature of the facts and circumstances leading to and attending the homicide, we incline to the opinion that it was more appropriate than the one refused. The killing was but the culmination of a hostile attitude maintained by deceased for a long time toward appellant, which seemed to have manifested itself in numerous insults, threats, and demonstrations, which in connection with the declaration and actions of deceased at the time of the killing were reasonably calculated to induce appellee to believe, and have reasonable grounds to believe that he was then in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm at the hands of the deceased. The law of self-defense has time and again been stated in the opinions of this court, but without always employing the identical words. While the instruction given by the court may not precisely conform in verbiage to others that have received its approval, it is in language and meaning a correct exposition of the law of self-defense, as applied to the facts of this case.

It is therefore ordered that this opinion be certified to the lower court as the law of this case. [11]



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[October 30, 1908] -

We are authorized to announce

ROBERT BOYD, of London, Laurel county, as a candidate for Commonwealth's Attorney, subject to the action of the Republican primary, December 5, 1908. Your vote and influence is earnestly solicited and will be appreciated. [12]



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[November 19, 1908] -

VERDICT FOR $5,000

MRS. LILLIE HOBBS GETS JUDGMENT AGAINST BOYD ESTATE.

Famous Suit, Decided at London, Which Brought About Killing Last Summer.

London, Ky., Nov. 19. -- A suit which was novel to its character, and one that has attracted wide attention, was compromised in the circuit court here today. Mrs. Lillie Hobbs, an undisputed, but illegitimate daughter of Judge Robert Boyd, deceased, received $5,000 in full settlement of her suit for $20,000 against Robert Boyd, Jr., as executor of the will of Judge Boyd, his uncle, and the woman's father.

The petition alleged that some thirty years ago, when plaintiff was born, Judge Boyd was a young lawyer of much wealth and prominence, and that he promised the plaintiff's mother that if no suit for maintenance was brought against him he would amply provide for mother and child.

It was alleged that he kept his promise until his death, some time last year, but failed to make any provision in his will which disposed of his estate worth more than $200,000, for plaintiff's support. Hence the suit, not as a legal heir, but on the contract of promise.

Some of the ablest lawyers in this section appeared in the case. The plaintiff was represented by Col. D. K. Rawlings and Judge E. H. Johnson, of this city, and Capt. B. B. Golden, of Barbourville, while the defendant was represented by Collector Joseph A. Craft, of Louisville; Judge J. W. Alcorn, of Stanford, and the Hon. H. C. Clay of this city [London]. 

The sensational killing of Attorney Jas. Sparks, who assisted in bringing the suit by Robert Boyd, Jr., the defendant in the case, in the court house last year, grew out of trouble over this suit. It is understood that plaintiff's attorneys received one-half the amount recovered. [13]


(For more on Robert Boyd Sr.'s estate, see Court of Appeals opinions Boyd's Exor v. Laurel County, 1910Boyd's Exor. v. Commonwealth, By, et al., 1912 and Boyd, Jr., Exor. v. Commonwealth, et al., 1912)


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[November 20, 1908] -


Robert Boyd has withdrawn from the race for the republican nomination for Commonwealths Attorney of London district. [14]





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[March 6, 1909] -


CREATES SENSATION BY 
SETTLING OUT OF COURT


Mrs. Rachel Sparks Had Sued Slayer of Her Husband For $30,000 At London.

LONDON, Ky., March 5.-- A sensation was caused here when the case of Rachel Sparks, widow of the late Attorney James Sparks, against Robert Boyd, Jr., was called. Judge J. W. Alcorn, of Stanford, Boyd's attorney, produced a writing signed by Mrs. Sparks relinquishing her claim or damages and asking the court to dismiss the case.

The settlement had been made with Mrs. Sparks' direction and without the knowledge or consent of her attorneys, Judge E. H. Johnson and D. K. Rowlings, and, of course, they objected to such a step without having received their fee. The suit was for $30,000 damages for the shooting and killing of Mrs. Sparks' husband by Mr. Boyd, the master commissioner of the Laurel Circuit Court, in the court house here in November, 1907. [15]





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[June 1, 1909] -

Robert Boyd has resigned as master commissioner of the Laurel circuit court and J. K. Lewis has been appointed in his place. [16]





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[1] "Laurel Barristers in Fatal Affray." Lexington Herald, Lexington, KY. November 19, 1907. Page 1. Genealogybank.com.

[2] Columns 6 and 7. Mount Vernon Signal, Mt. Vernon, KY. November 22, 1907. Page 1. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86069561/1907-11-22/ed-1/seq-1/

[3] Excerpt from "In Our Own State." The Citizen, Berea, KY. November 28, 1907. Page 3. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85052076/1907-11-28/ed-1/seq-3/

[4] Excerpt from "In Neighboring Counties." The Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. December 3, 1907. Page 1. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85052021/1907-12-03/ed-1/seq-1/

[5] Excerpt from "In Neighboring Counties." The Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. December 13, 1907. Page 1. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85052021/1907-12-13/ed-1/seq-1/

[6] Excerpt from "In Neighboring Counties." The Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. February 18, 1908. Page 1. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85052021/1908-02-18/ed-1/seq-1/


[7] "Trial of Boyd Begins." The Citizen, Berea, KY. February 20, 1908. Page 7. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85052076/1908-02-20/ed-1/seq-7/


[8] Excerpt from "In Neighboring Counties." The Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. March 3, 1908. Page 2. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85052021/1908-03-03/ed-1/seq-2/

[9] Excerpt from "In Neighboring Counties." The Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. March 6, 1908. Page 3. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85052021/1908-03-06/ed-1/seq-3/


[10] Excerpt from "In Neighboring Counties." The Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. March 10, 1908. Page 3. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85052021/1908-03-10/ed-1/seq-3/

[11] Commonwealth v. Boyd, 33 Ky.L.Rptr. 993, 112 S.W. 605 (1908). Retrieved from Westlaw.com.

[12] Column 1. Mountain Advocate, Barbourville, KY. October 30, 1908. Page 2. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn87060032/1908-10-30/ed-1/seq-2/

[13] "Verdict for $5,000." The Paducah Sun, Paducah, KY. November 19, 1908. Page 6. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85052114/1908-11-19/ed-1/seq-6/

[14] Excerpt from "Political." The Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. November 20, 1908. Page 2. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85052021/1908-11-20/ed-1/seq-2/

[15] "Creates Sensation By Settling Out of Court." The Winchester News, Winchester, KY. March 6, 1909. Page 4. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86069133/1909-03-06/ed-1/seq-4/

[16] Excerpt from "In Neighboring Counties." The Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. June 1, 1909. Page 1. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85052021/1909-06-01/ed-1/seq-1/

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