March 5, 2014

Robbers Decoy Man to His Door and Kill Him, Rockcastle, 1922



[March 9, 1922] -


Boys Discover Murder Thirty-six Hours After Crime---Three Suspects Arrested

[Special to The Herald]

RICHMOND, Ky., March 8.-- News as brought here today from Rockcastle county that a man named Cornett had confessed to the murder of Isaac W. Coyle last Thursday night at Coyle's home, three miles from Big Hill, Madison county.  "Uncle Ike," as he as called, was called to his door, shot to death and robbed of between $600 and $700.  News of his murder did not become known for almost 36 hours.

Boys playing crawled under the floor of his house.  One noticed blood dripping through a crack in the floor.  Investigation showed Mr. Coyle lying dead on the floor.  A pillow had been placed under his head and a blanket thrown over his body.  Blankets had been hung in front of the window.

The news that came from Mt. Vernon today was that three men had been arrested for the crime.  Their names were said to be McQueen, Cornett and Bowman, by William Coyle, of Indianapolis, who attended his brothers funeral and was in Richmond today.  He came by here, accompanied by his sister, Mrs. David Grady, and Miss Florence Coyle, a daughter of the dead man.  Coyle's widow and three sons, Nathan, Curtis and Isaac Coyle, Jr., all of Indianapolis, also survive.

The murdered man conducted a small country store near Big Hill on the Rockcastle side of the line.  He was a native of Madison county. [1]


[March 11, 1922] - 


The young slayers of Uncle "Ike" Coyle killed at his store near Big Hill, were taken to jail at Mt. Vernon.  The Signal says of the crime and subsequent developments:

On last Friday morning, Isaac Coyle, an aged and respected citizen of the Big Hill section, this county, was found in his home dead from gunshot wounds, his head being partially blown off.  Chas. Hollingsworth, Stevie McQueen and Frank Cornett were arrested on suspicion and Tuesday the McQueen and Cornett boys confessed, giving the details of the crime.  They said they went to Coyle's home about 8 o'clock Thursday night and knocked on the door, the old man asked who it was and the Cornett boy told him it was Frank Cornett and he wanted some sugar.  Coyle then opened the door and as he did so, the McQueen boy shot him.  They then threw a quilt over the body and after ransacking the place, and finding something over $60 and two watches, left, locking the door from the outside.  They tell that they sat up at the old man's home the next night with others who watched with the corpse.  Hollingsworth was exonerated by them and was allowed to go.  Mr. Coyle was a first cousin of J. W. Baker, Sr. and Mrs. Henry Gentry, of this place, and was a member of the Masonic lodge here and of the Royal Arch chapter. [2]


[March 23, 1922] - 

Stevie McQueen and Frank Cornett, the two boys who confessed to the murder of Isaac Coyle of Big Hill section two weeks ago, are in Mt. Vernon waiting trial.  We were sorry to hear of such a tragedy, but seems like that is all that whisky and guns are good for. [3]


[April 27, 1922] - 


Stevie McQueen, who is alleged to have shot Isaac Coyle, near Big Hill, some time ago, sawed out of Mt. Vernon jail Thursday night.  It is thought that he received aid from the outside.  Cornett, who was in the same cell and charged with the same crime, was not able to escape because he was too large to get thru the opening, it is believed.

McQueen was captured by Charlie King, Saturday night when McQueen came to the door to get food.  King received the $300 reward that was issued for McQueen's capture. [4]


[May 22, 1922] -


Rockcastle Jury Sends Steve McQueen To Electric Chair For Murder of Isaac Coyle

What is said to be the first death sentence ever imposed by a jury in Rockcastle county was imposed upon Steve McQueen, who was convicted at Mt. Vernon of the murder of "Uncle Ike" Coyle.  Frank Cornett, accused with McQueen, will be tried June 5.  Both young men were taken from Mt. Vernon to Danville for safekeeping.  McQueen's attorneys, Judge William Lewis and Judge S. D. Lewis have filed notice of appeal of McQueen's sentence.

The killing of Coyle occurred several at his home and store not far from Big Hill in Madison county, and just over the Rockcastle county line.  Boys playing under the floor noticed blood oozing through a crack.  Investigation disclosed his dead body in a front room, prostrate on the floor with a blanket over  it.  He had evidently been called to the door and shot to death.  McQueen and Cornett were arrested shortly afterwards charged with the crime.  The claim was made that they were attempting to rob Coyle of his savings which he was supposed to keep in cash at his home.  He conducted a little mountains tore and was alone at the time the fatal attack was made on him.

McQueen sought to avoid the electric chair by claiming he is only 17 years of age, it is understood, but officials say he is 20 years old.  Friends of the two claimed that Coyle had reported them to the prohibition officers for violation of the liquor laws and that a difficulty arose over that.

The case of the commonwealth against Willie Parrett for the killing of his wife last January resulted in an acquittal on a defense of insanity.  Judge L. W. Bethurum and H. J. McClure defending. [5]


[Oct 27, 1922] - 

Court of Appeals of Kentucky.


Oct. 27, 1922.

Appeal from Circuit Court, Rockcastle County.

Steve McQueen was convicted of murder, and he appeals. Affirmed.

*682 Lewis & Lewis, of London, and S. D. Lewis, of Mt. Vernon, for appellant.

Chas. I. Dawson, Atty. Gen., and T. B. McGregor, Asst. Atty. Gen., for the Commonwealth.


Appellant and Frank Cornett were jointly indicted charged with the murder of Isaac Coyle. The first count in the indictment charges them jointly with the crime, and in another it is charged that Cornett shot and killed Coyle, and appellant was then present and unlawfully aided, abetted, and assisted therein. In a third count appellant is charged with the shooting and killing, and that Cornett was then present aiding, assisting, and abetting; and in another count it is charged that one or the other of the defendants shot and killed Coyle as the result of a conspiracy theretofore entered into between them, and in furtherance of such conspiracy, and while the same was in existence, and that the other was then and there present aiding, assisting, and abetting. Appellant, on his separate trial, was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death, and, the trial court having refused him a new trial, he has appealed.

In the summer or fall of 1921 as the result of some arrangement between Isaac Coyle and Robert McQueen, the father of appellant, there was erected on Robert McQueen's place in Rockcastle county, and about 100 yards from his residence, a small building of one room, which from that time to the 2d of March, 1922, was occupied by Coyle, a man 62 years of age, both as a residence and as a store, and he conducted a small country store therein. The storehouse was on what is referred to in the record as the “State Road,” which appears to be the dividing line between the counties of Rockcastle and Jackson; the storehouse being on the Rockcastle county side.

Coyle lived in this small house and operated his store therein from the time of its erection until the 2d day of March, 1922, and there lived with him most of that time a girl 18 or 19 years of age by the name of Mary Bowman, but on the 2d day of March, before the killing, she had gone to her father's home a mile or so away in Jackson county, and Coyle was the sole occupant of the house on that night. About 9 o'clock on that night, or thereabouts, a shot was heard, and on the next day the store was closed and locked on the outside with a padlock, and Coyle was not seen nor heard from. On Friday night some of the neighbors, becoming suspicious, went into the store, and there found the body of Coyle lying on the floor with a hole in his head, covering the left eye, and a quilt or covering of some kind spread over his body.

On Saturday an inquest was held over the body of Coyle, and late that afternoon or early that night, appellant and Cornett were arrested, charged with the murder, and early on Sunday morning were taken to the jail at the county seat of Rockcastle county, where they were, by order of the county judge, placed in separate cells or compartments, where they could not communicate with each other. Thereafter they were jointly indicted by the grand jury of Rockcastle county, and appellant at the May term of that court was placed on his separate trial with the result above stated.

Five reasons are relied upon as ground for reversal: (1) Because of the error of the court in overruling a demurrer to that part of the indictment charging Cornett with the killing and appellant with aiding and abeting; (2) because of the error in the admission of incompetent evidence prejudicial to appellant; (3) because of the court's alleged error in admonishing the jury with respect to certain evidence of the witness Mary Bowman; (4) because of alleged error in overruling defendant's motion at the close of all the evidence to discharge him on the ground that he was an infant under 17 years of age at the time of the trial and at the time of the commission of the crime; and (5) error of the court in instructing the jury and in failing to properly instruct the jury. We will proceed to discuss these questions in the order named.

 1. The alleged defect is in the second count of the indictment, wherein Cornett is charged with unlawfully, feloniously, and maliciously shooting and wounding Coyle, from which he died, and that at the time appellant was then and there present and near enough so to do, and did unlawfully, willfully, and feloniously aid, abet, assist, encourage, advise, and command Cornett to so shoot and wound Coyle in the manner and form set forth. The contention is that as there was a failure therein to allege that appellant aided, abetted, etc., the shooting and killing of Coyle maliciously or with his malice aforethought, that this count is only good against appellant as a charge of manslaughter, and authorizes his conviction only of that crime, and not of murder. But from the evidence in this case it is wholly unnecessary to consider whether that count of the indictment would support a conviction for murder, for the whole evidence shows that appellant himself did the shooting of Coyle, and his conviction therefore necessarily rests upon and was found under another and different count in the indictment. It results, therefore, that even if the court erred in overruling the demurrer to the count in question it could not possibly have been prejudicial to appellant's substantial rights.

2. In considering the alleged error in the admission of incompetent evidence, it will be *683 necessary to sufficiently go into a statement of the evidence upon which the conviction rests to elucidate the competency or incompetency of the evidence objected to. The witness Mary Bowman stated that she had lived a part of the time with Coyle at the store where he resided since he had been living there, but that at the time of the killing she was not there, but had been there the afternoon before for about an hour and a half; that she left there about half past 3, and left appellant and Frank Cornett both there; that appellant lived with his father and mother only a short distance from the store, and Cornett lived with his father about a quarter of a mile away in Jackson county. She also identified one of the watches, which had been found in a rock pile near the home of Robert McQueen, as her own property, and stated that for about two weeks before the killing it had been in the possession of Coyle, and she likewise identified a chain attached to the watch as belonging to Coyle. The other watch, however, she failed to identify, and said, in substance, that she was familiar with Coyle's watch, and that she did not believe that to be the same watch, although the general appearance of it was the same, but it did not have certain distinguishing marks that were on his watch. She further stated that on the afternoon before the killing when she was at the store Coyle had two rolls of money in bills; that he had one of them in his pocket, and went to a flour barrel for the purpose of putting the other, a larger roll, therein, which was his custom; that she did not know the denominations of the bills, nor how much was in the two rolls, and that decedent lived about 10 miles from the nearest bank. She stated that on the Thursday afternoon she was at the store there had been some trouble between the McQueen family and Coyle, but she never heard either appellant or Cornett say they did not like Coyle, or that they had anything against him.

The witness was then interrogated outside of the presence of the jury, and stated, in substance, that several times about two weeks before he was killed she had heard Coyle say he intended to “turn up” these two boys for moonshining, and that upon one of those occasions the mother of appellant was present, but that upon none of them was either appellant or his codefendant, Cornett, present. After this interrogation of the witness in the absence of the jury the court announced that he would permit the commonwealth to show by the witness that Coyle was talking generally to the effect that he was going to report McQueen to the authorities for moonshining, and that such a talk was had in the presence of McQueen's mother. The witness was then again taken before the jury and permitted, in substance, to tell the things heretofore recited, and that he had also told her, in substance, the same thing on the afternoon before he was killed, and that he was going to town on the next Friday week, and would then report them, but this did not occur in the presence of any other person. The court, however, admonished the jury that this evidence of what Coyle had said to the witness, threatening to inform the authorities that they were moonshining, was admitted for the purpose of showing motive on the part of the appellant to commit the crime charged, if it did show such motive, and for no other purpose, and directed the jury not to consider it as substantive evidence against the defendant.

[2][3][4] While this witness did not bring home to appellant knowledge or notice of the threats Coyle had made, yet it is in evidence by another witness, to whom appellant subsequently made a confession, that the killing was done partly because “old man Coyle” had threatened to have him arrested for owning a moonshining still, and this evidence, showing appellant's knowledge of these threats, is sufficient to make the statements of the Bowman girl competent as against him, if they are otherwise competent. The argument for appellant is, however, that this evidence was wholly incompetent against appellant because you cannot show that one accused of crime has committed other and distinct crimes from the one for which he is being tried. But this contention overlooks the well–known and oft–recognized exception to that rule that the commission of such other offenses may be inquired into where it is necessary to establish identity, criminal knowledge, intent or motive, or be so interwoven with other evidence of the crime charged that they cannot be separated, or where such independent offenses were perpetrated for the purpose of concealing the crime charged. Here the evidence in question, while not evidence of defendant's guilt of the murder, was unmistakably competent to show a motive upon his part to commit the murder, and, when the knowledge of those threats by Coyle was brought home to him, it certainly furnished evidence of such motive. Bullington v. Commonwealth, 193 Ky. 529, 236 S. W. 961; Bishop v. Commonwealth, 109 Ky. 558, 60 S. W. 190, 22 Ky. Law Rep. 1161; O'Brien v. Commonwealth, 115 Ky. 608, 74 S. W. 666, 24 Ky. Law Rep. 2511; Brashear v. Commonwealth, 178 Ky. 492, 199 S. W. 21; Choate v. Commonwealth, 176 Ky. 427, 195 S. W. 1080.

[5] In this connection there is some complaint by appellant's counsel of the admonition given to the jury, to which we have referred. That admonition was for the benefit of the defendant, and very properly said to the jury that they should not consider this as substantive evidence against him, but might consider it only for the purpose of showing motive on his part to commit the crime, if it did show such motive. The admonition was entirely proper, and gives no ground of complaint to appellant.

*684 Another complaint is that the court improperly permitted the commonwealth to show statements of appellant to the officials who were in charge of him while he was under arrest, alleged to have been made by him after a grilling or sweating as prohibited by our Anti–Sweating Act (Ky. St. §§ 1649b1 to 1649b5). The facts upon which this contention is based are that the two defendants were placed in jail on Sunday morning, and, according to the direction of the county judge, they were placed in separate cells or compartments; that beginning either Sunday or Monday the two defendants were separately brought out from the jail to an office in the courthouse, and there, in the presence of the county judge, the sheriff, the jailer, and sometimes the county attorney, they were separately questioned about their connection with or knowledge of the killing of Coyle, and were required to give a detailed statement of where they were on Thursday and Thursday night, Friday and Friday night, and a great many questions about other details were propounded to them. Upon each of these occasions each of the defendants denied his guilt of this murder or any knowledge of it. It appears from the evidence of the county judge and others that neither of the boys at the time of these grillings were represented by counsel, or relative, or friend, and they were each told it would be better for them to tell the truth, and that it might be easier on them if they did, and similar expressions, and upon one occasion one or both of them were told by some one present, in substance, that it would be better to tell the truth and go to the reform school then to submit to a trial and take the chance of being convicted. Finally, however, about Wednesday of the week beginning on Sunday, when Cornett had again been brought out for questioning and had again denied any connection with or knowledge of the crime, when he was taken back to the jail by the jailer he was falsely told by that official that he had as well tell the truth about it, that McQueen had already confessed, and said he (Cornett) had fired the shot which killed Coyle. When this false statement was made to Cornett he became angry, and promptly said McQueen was a liar, and that McQueen himself had shot Coyle. He was then asked by the jailer if he wanted to make that statement to the county judge, and he said he did, and then went before the county judge and made a statement of the whole thing. Thereafter McQueen also confessed, after being informed of Cornett's confession, and the two joined in a written confession, prepared by the county judge and signed by them, but that paper is not in this record, for the reason presumably that the lower court declined to permit it to be introduced against appellant.

The written confession of appellant was rule out, but the court permitted the county judge, in his evidence before the jury, to tell them in substance that he had had a conversation with defendant after the killing of Coyle, and that defendant had told him where certain money, watches, shotgun shells, and shotguns could be located, and that the watches he spoke of he said were the watches of Isaac Coyle; that he told witness the watches could be found in a rock pile at the back of his father's barn, and that there were two of them, and that witness went to the place, and found the watches as indicated in appellant's statement; that appellant had told him his mother had the money he got from Coyle after he was killed, and that he demanded of the mother certain money her son had given her the Friday or Saturday before, and the mother turned it over to him; he identified the watches as being the same found in the rock pile and the money as being the same given to him by appellant's mother. He was also permitted to state that appellant said he threw the shotgun hull down at the door, but as they left the building they picked it up and carried it across the road in the edge of Jackson county onto an old deserted road and threw it down, and that witness had found it at the place indicated in this statement of appellant, and it was an empty hull, meant for a 12–gauge shotgun, and then identified the empty shell; he then identified other loaded shells, which he says were like the empty hull, and came out of a shotgun which he had found at the residence of appellant's father. Evidence similar to this was also admitted from the sheriff and another official of the county.

[6][7] The earnest contention is made by counsel for appellant that all of this evidence is incompetent against him because of the provisions of our Antisweating Act, the evidence being, as contended by counsel, equivalent to an admission of the whole confession. We think the court erred in permitting the witnesses to state that the two watches found in the rock pile, and the whereabouts of which were disclosed in the statement of appellant, were the property of Isaac Coyle, or that the money which he said he had given to his mother was money he got from Coyle after he was killed. These two statements are so closely allied to and so intimately connected with the improperly obtained confession that they can hardly be separated from or said to be anything but a part of the confession itself, and were therefore incompetent evidence against appellant. But in the light of other competent evidence of confessions and statements made to two other witnesses, and of all the facts and circumstances so unerringly pointing to appellant's guilt, we are not prepared to say, under our Code provisions in this state, that there was such prejudicial error as will authorize reversal.

[8] While the evidence that the watches *685 and money were taken from Coyle after his death, or were the property of Coyle, was incompetent, any extraneous fact or circumstance disclosed to the officers by the confession, and the truth of which they thereafter verified, may properly be offered in evidence against the defendant, and the fact that he stated the watches, the empty hull, and the money would be found at certain places, when the truth of those statements was verified and the articles found at the places designated by him, was competent evidence against him if any of the things so found were identified as the property of Coyle.

[9] In this case we have the two watches found at the place pointed out by appellant, and one of those watches is identified as a watch which Coyle had in his possession the afternoon before he was killed; the money is found just where he said it was and is produced, and, while it is not identified as the same money which Coyle had the day before his death, taken in connection with the finding of the watch, which was identified, it was competent evidence for what it was worth, as was also the finding of the shell at the point where appellant stated it would be found. This evidence, so disclosed by appellant's statements, is not, strictly speaking, a part of his confession; it is, to be true, evidence the commonwealth was enabled to produce because of his statement, but is really evidence of extraneous facts which the commonwealth was able to produce by verification of defendant's statements, and which were not a part of the confession, and are therefore competent evidence. If one in custody makes an involuntary confession, or one which is extorted from him by duress, the confession itself is not admissible in evidence against him; but if in making the confession he makes statements of extraneous facts by reason of which there is thereafter produced against him evidence so disclosed, it is held to be competent if the thing in evidence is identified other than by the confession itself. As said in 9 R. C. L. p. 196:

“If one accused of crime in making an involuntary confession makes statements of extraneous facts, and, in consequence of the information thus obtained from him, any material fact is discovered, it may be shown that the discovery was made conformably with such information.”

And as said in 16 C. J. p. 731:

“Where an involuntary confession discloses incriminating evidence which subsequently, on investigation, is proved to be true, or where the confession leads to the discovery of facts which in themselves are incriminating, so much of the confession as discloses the incriminating evidence and relates directly thereto, but not the confession in tot[al], is admissible; and the facts discovered in consequence of such involuntary confession may be proved.” Rusher v. State, 94 Ga. 363, 21 S. E. 593, 47 Am. St. Rep. 175, and note; Whitley v. State, 78 Miss. 255, 28 South. 852, 53 L. R. A. 402, and note.

We therefore hold that all of the evidence of the county judge to the effect that defendant told him where he would find the watches and the money and the shotgun hull, and the fact that he did find them where defendant said, was competent evidence against him.

But outside of the written confession and outside of the confession made to the officers, appellant made two other statements equivalent to a confession, the competency of which are not questioned. Lewis Brown states he was in the jail at the same time appellant was, and that in a conversation with appellant appellant said, in substance, that he and Cornett were drinking one night and went to the house of Coyle, and Cornett called Coyle to the door, and he (McQueen) shot him; that they went into the house and searched for the money, and got about $60, and covered Coyle's body with a quilt and locked the door as they came out, and that appellant had told him substantially the same thing upon two or three occasions, and had told him at one time that one reason he killed Coyle was that he had information Coyle was going to report him for having a moonshine still in his possession. On another occasion, when appellant had escaped from jail, he gave himself up to a man named Hollingsworth, who was not an officer, and Hollingsworth testifies that while appellant was thus in his custody he stated to him that he had reasons for killing Coyle; that he and Cornett went to Coyle's, not meaning any harm, but to get some sugar to make a mash, that Cornett called Coyle to the door, and Coyle asked who it was and when they told him he said, “Where is my woman?” and when they told him they did not know anything about his woman, Coyle said, “You are damned liars; you fellows have been out with my woman;” and that Coyle was by some means making a lick at appellant with a knife, and Cornett was right back of him, and he could not back off, and he shot and killed him. In the light of these two voluntary statements and of the other conclusive evidence to which we have above referred as competent, we are unwilling to reverse the judgment because of the incompetent evidence stated above.

3. In discussing the competency of the evidence of the witness Mary Bowman, we have already disposed of question No. 3, which is a complaint with respect to the admonition given to the jury.

[10] 4. This error involves the correctness of the action of the court in overruling defendant's motion at the close of all the evidence to discharge him because he was at the time of the trial and at the time of the killing under 17 years of age. This motion is predicated upon provisions of section 2095b13, *686 Kentucky Statutes, providing that when any boy or girl under the age of 18 shall be arrested charged with the commission of a crime which would subject him or her to imprisonment, the trial court may, by the consent and at the request of the accused or his or her parent or guardian, arrest the progress of the trial and commit the accused to the reform school. On the trial in this case the question of the defendant's age arose, and the court, in the absence of the jury, heard the evidence as to the defendant's age, which was to some extent conflicting, but which strongly tended to show that he was past 18 years of age at the time of the killing, and the court thereupon decided as a fact that he was over 18 years of age, and overruled the motion of appellant. Without going into the conflicting evidence, it is sufficient to say that the weight of it decidedly supports the finding of the court, and his action in disposing of it himself without submitting the question to the jury was entirely proper. Under the statute it was a jurisdictional fact, and was properly passed on by the court. Waters v. Commonwealth, 171 Ky. 457, 188 S. W. 490.

5. The only complaint of the instructions is predicated upon the same objection that was made to one count of the indictment, and what we have said with respect to the action of the court on the demurrer to that count of the indictment applies equally to the criticism of the instructions.

Finding no error prejudicial to the substantial rights of the appellant, the judgment must be affirmed. It is so ordered. [6]


[Nov 7, 1922] -


Executive Clemency Is Rockcastle Lad's Only Hope


[Special to The Herald]

DANVILLE, Ky., Nov. 6.-- Steve McQueen, 18 years old, who had been in jail here since May under sentence of death, is calmly awaiting the result of frantic efforts of his attorneys to secure executive clemency for the lad, since the court of appeals last week refused to grant a new trial in the case.

McQueen is charged with the murder of Isaac Coyle near his home in Rockcastle county March 2, 1922.  McQueen and Frank Cornett, 19, were indicted for the crime, after it was shown that Coyle had threatened to have them arrested for moonshining.  McQueen made an alleged confession of the crime, hen he was told that Cornet had confessed, implicating him.  Later he repudiated his confession and pleaded not guilty at his trial May 15.  Cornett pleaded guilty and was given a life sentence in the state reformatory.

McQueen, who was 17 years old at the time of his trial, is the youngest person ever sentenced to death in the state of Kentucky.  During his trial and later McQueen claimed that he was intoxicated at the time of the murder, but that he does not believe he could have committed the crime, as he did not have a weapon.

The boy's mother comes frequently to see him here at the jail.  He is one of a family of eight, six sisters and one brother being left at home with his parents. [7]


[Dec 8, 1922] -


Letters and petitions urging Gov. Edwin P. Morrow to commute to life imprisonment the death sentence imposed on Steve McQueen, 17-year-old Rockcastle county boy, convicted for the murder of Isaac Coyle, have been pouring into the governor's office for the last week.

Practically every State in the union is represented in the letters, according to Miss Goldie Raridan, secretary to Governor Morrow.  The boy is now confined in the Boyle county jail. [8]


[Dec 6, 1923] -

Youngest Boy Ever Sentenced to Death In State Weeps for Joy at Commutation

Prayer of Thanksgiving Uttered at Clemency Is Recieved; Grateful to Jailer for Tutelage


Sunshine in Heart Dispels Rainy Day's Gloom Outside--Life Sentence is Cheerfully Faced


DANVILLE, Ky., Dec 5. -- Drops of rain found their way between the iron bars that guarded a window in an upstairs cell room of the Danville jail and splashed against the glass pane.  Steve McQueen, 18 years old, who was convicted in the Rockcastle circuit court in May, 1922, for the murder of Isaac Coyle at Big Head, and who was given a death sentence, stood by the cell window, his face pressed against the pane.  His lips moved as he mumbled something inaudible to other prisoners in the ward.  The muscles of his face twitched slightly.  It was a half smile and tears trickled down his cheeks.

It was a prayer of thanksgiving for Steve had just been informed that his death sentence had been commuted to life imprisonment by Governor Morrow.  Seventeen months ago today the fair faced, blue eyed, light haired McQueen, illiterate and rough was brought to the Danville jail from Mt. Vernon for safe keeping.

Today he can read and write.  He has an unassuming manner and a rather bashful way about him.  He has spent many hours while in jail reading the scriptures.  The gray  haired jailer, Frank Timmoney, took a special interest in him the day he arrived and has been like a father to him during his stay here.

I'll never be able to let him know how much I appreciate what he has done for me. He taught me to read and write and study the Bible," said McQueen who seemed to worry more about his inability to express his gratitude to Mr. Timmoney than the life sentence that stands ahead of him.

McQueen joined the Christian church here more than a year ago and the pastor, D. Madison Hart, has visited him once or twice a week since that time.  McQueen's parents, five sisters and one brother are living.  A sister and his grandmother have passed away while he was confined here.  Every two weeks his mother has visited him, rain or shine.

In order to get to Danville she was forced to ride horseback over a twelve mile stretch of road, as rough as can be found anywhere in the state, from Big Head to Mt. Vernon in Rockcastle county.  Some times the roads were impassable for horseback riding but she never disappointed Steve, when the streams and creeks were too high to cross with a horse she would walk to Mt. Vernon, going over the streams on improvised rafts.

In the cell at the Danville jail she and Steve would kneel to the floor, their arms clasped around one another, and for hours they would bow their heads in prayer asking for forgiveness and for clemency.

"Tell mother I won't have to die; that our prayers have been answered," was one of the first expressions McQueen after he had been informed of Governor Morrow's action.  Because of the difficulty in reaching his mother it may be several days before she learns of the commutation.

McQueen and Frank Cornett, it was charged, were intoxicated on the night of March 2, 1922, and went to the home of Isaac Coyles at Big Head.  It is alleged that they called him to the door and opened fire on him, riddling his body with bullets, Cornett plead guilty to the charge in the Rockcastle court and was given life imprisonment.  Steve maintained from the first that he did not have a gun and did not fire on Coyles.  The jury decided against him, however, and the death sentence was passed.

The sentence was affirmed by the Court of Appeals in July.  McQueen was but 17 years old at the time and was the youngest person who had ever been sentenced to death in Kentucky.

A petition signed by hundreds of citizens of Boyle county, requesting executive clemency was taken to Frankfort a year ago.  A second petition asking that McQueen's sentence be commuted to life imprisonment, which was signed by members of the jury that convicted him and by officers of the Rockcastle court, was carried to the governor by Steve's mother.

"I have not slept soundly since the jury said I was guilty back yonder months ago," said Steve.  "Frequently, I have gotten up during the night and walked the floor, just a wondering if I would be living another week, but now--"  here he paused and gazed out the window.  It was still raining, but Steve was unmindful of the rain.  There was sunshine in his heart.


FRANKFORT, Ky., Dec. 6.--Following almost a year's consideration of the case of Steve McQueen, sentenced to the electric chair in Rockcastle circuit court for the murder of Isaac Coyle, Governor Edwin P. Morrow today commuted the sentence to life imprisonment in the penitentiary. 

"There is a voluminous record before me," Governor Morrow declared.  "In the appeals that have been made for me to spare this boy's life.  I know that I hear the voice of humanity, and through this voice, perhaps I am hearing the voice of God."

McQueen and another boy, a few years older than McQueen, named Cornett, killed Coyle.  The two were told the state would be satisfied with imposition of life sentence upon plea of guilty.  Cornet accepted this, but McQueen did not do so.

McQueen was 17 years of age at the time of the commission of crime, the governor learned, and since incarceration in jail has learned to read and write.

Hundreds of people living outside the county and hundreds of men and women in the county petitioned the county the governor in behalf of McQueen. 

"I cannot believe that the good of the commonwealth requires the death of this 17-year-old boy," Governor Morrow concluded.  "I cannot believe that Kentucky desires, nor  do I believe the facts justify the death of McQueen in view of the life sentence given Cornett." [9]


[April 3, 1930] -

In 1930, Frank Cornett and Stephen McQueen are both inmates at the Kentucky State Reformatory in Frankfort, KY. (click to enlarge) [10] [11]


[March 2, 1922] -

Isaac W. Coyle's death certificate. (click to enlarge) [12]


[1] "Slayer of Rockcastle Man Confesses, Report." Lexington Herald, Lexington, KY. March 9, 1922. Page 2.

[2] "Confess To Murder of Isaac Coyle." Richmond Daily Register, Richmond, KY. March 11, 1922. Page 1. LOC.

[3] Excerpt from "Disputana." The Citizen, Berea, KY. March 23, 1922. Page 7. LOC.

[4] "Boy Who Broke Jail in Mt. Vernon is Re-Captured." The Citizen, Berea, KY. April 27, 1922. Page 1. LOC.

[5] "First Capital Sentence Imposed." Richmond Daily Register, Richmond, KY. May 22, 1922. Page 1. LOC.

[6] McQueen v. Commonwealth, 196 Ky. 227, 244 S.W. 681 (1922). Retrieved from

[7] "Faces Electric Chair." Lexington Herald, Lexington, KY. November 7, 1922. Pages 1 and 7.

[8] "Boy's Plight Stirs The Nation." The Bourbon News, Paris, KY. December 8, 1922. Page 5. LOC.

[9] "Youngest Boy Ever Sentenced to Death In State Weeps for Joy at Commutation." Lexington Herald, Lexington, KY. December 6, 1923. Pages 1 and 5.

[10] United States Federal Census, Year: 1930; Census Place: Frankfort, Franklin, Kentucky; Roll: 745; Page: 2B; Enumeration District: 0006; Image: 708.0; FHL microfilm: 2340480.

[11] United States Federal Census, Year: 1930; Census Place: Frankfort, Franklin, Kentucky; Roll: 745; Page: 3A; Enumeration District: 0006; Image: 709.0; FHL microfilm: 2340480.

[12] Kentucky, Death Records, 1852-1953 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2007.

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