November 7, 2014

Man Kills Another In Argument Over Land Title, Laurel, 1917



[October 4, 1917] -

Simpson Thomas, who killed Tom Johnson, had his examining trial Friday and was held to Circuit Court without bail. [1]


[April 23, 1918] -

Court of Appeals of Kentucky.


April 23, 1918.

Appeal from Circuit Court, Laurel County.

Simpson Thomas was convicted of murder, and appeals. Affirmed.

*498 H. J. Johnson and Hazlewood & Johnson, all of London, for appellant.

Chas. H. Morris, Atty. Gen., Overton S. Hogan, Asst. Atty. Gen., G. I. Rader, of Annville, George G. Brock, of London, and C. I. Dawson, of Pineville, for the Commonwealth.


Appellant was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in the penitentiary for the murder of Thomas Johnson. He assigns two reasons for a reversal of the judgment: First, the admission of incompetent evidence; and, second, a separation of the jury.

[1] 1. J. B. Eberlein, the undertaker who prepared the body of Johnson for burial, testified that he found four pistol shot wounds in the body, one of which entered the right breast, one the left side of the abdomen, and the other the back near the spine; that the one in the back caused death. It is insisted that this is expert evidence, and that the witness did not qualify to give such evidence, which was therefore incompetent and very prejudicial, since it sustained the evidence of the two witnesses for the commonwealth who saw the shooting, and destroyed the evidence of defendant and his son. The witnesses for the commonwealth testified that, following a discussion of a previous business transaction, the defendant, without apparent reason, shot and killed decedent, who was unarmed and had both hands up when the second and third shots were fired and had turned from a position facing defendant as the shots were fired until, when the last shot was fired, he had his side or back to the defendant; while defendant and his son stated deceased did not at any time hold up his hands or turn from a position facing defendant, and that, after an insulting remark, he put his right hand to his breast in an apparent effort to draw a pistol from a holster, before defendant began shooting. All the witnesses agree deceased did not produce any weapon; that he was in his shirt sleeves, and, in fact, had no weapon.

Eberlein stated that he had been an undertaker since 1898, and had quite a bit of experience in examining gunshot wounds in the bodies of human beings; that a bullet made a small round hole entering a human body, and a larger and less even hole at the place of exit. Except as to his statement that the shot in the back caused the death, we do not entertain any doubt of the competency *499 of this evidence, based upon a knowledge acquired in nearly 20 years' experience in the undertaking business in a locality where, as he expressed it, he had “quite a little bit” of experience in examining gunshot wounds in the bodies of human beings. Moreover, he explained the difference, in his experience, in the kind of wounds made at the places of entrance and exit, upon which he based his opinion, and, if his reasons were unsound, witnesses could, no doubt, have been easily found to have exposed their fallacy, which was not attempted, as we apprehend, because what he said about the appearance of such wounds is a matter of common knowledge in that community. His statement that the wound in the back caused the death, if erroneous and incompetent, was not prejudicial, because it is immaterial which shot produced death, as appellant fired all of them, and it is not contended that death did not result from some one or all of the shots fired by defendant.

[2] 2. The affidavits with reference to the alleged separation of the jury show that, during a temporary lull in the court proceedings, in the courtroom and in the presence of the court, jury, counsel, and the defendant, one of the jurors got up from his seat in the jury box and approached an unidentified person who had possibly testified for the commonwealth, for the purpose of asking him to look after the juror's horse, and that, just as he began a conversation with this person, the sheriff put his hand on the juror's shoulder and told him he must not do that, when the juror returned to his seat, only about eight feet distant. This was in no sense a separation of the jury, and, as a ground for reversal, is so obviously void of merit as not to require discussion.

Upon the evidence of the commonwealth, defendant murdered deceased in cold blood, and was without justification even upon his own testimony.

Wherefore the judgment is affirmed. [2]


[May 18, 1919] -

Terms of Two Murderers Shortened by Governor

FRANKFORT, Ky., May 16-- Governor Stanley today commuted to life sentence in the penitentiary imposed on Simpson Thomas of Laurel county to eight months. Thomas killed Thomas C. Johnston in a quarrel over a title to land.

The Governor commuted the ten years sentence in the penitentiary to Robert Bruce Evans of Lee county for murder to three to ten years. Evans killed John Jewell.  In his petition Evan claimed that Jewell was trying to shoot him and that he killed him in self defense. [3]


[ November 16 1931] -


Simpson Thomas, 55, Fatally Shot Near London; Roosevelt Carrell, 21, Critically Wounded in Fight


Thomas Carrell Surrenders After Gun Battle and is Placed in Jail

[Special to The Herald]

LONDON, Ky., Nov. 15. -- A quarrel over the division of a corn crop caused the fatal shooting of Simpson Thomas, of Hazelpatch, 55 years old, and the critical wounding of Roosevelt Carrell, 21, at the Carrell home near Hazelpatch this afternoon at 2 o'clock.

Thomas, who first shot Carrell, was in turn shot by Carrell and his father, Tom Carrel, 50, while Milburn and Howard Carrell, brothers of Roosevelt, looked on. Thomas was instantly killed, and Carrell, who was taken to the Pennington hospital, is in serious a condition. The elder Carrell surrendered to police and was placed in jail.

Trouble between Thomas and the Carrels had been brewing for several months, following an argument concerning a corn crop which the Carrells were growing on Thomas' farm. They took their quarrel to court about a month ago and have since been reported carrying guns.

According to a story told police, the Carrells had harvested the corn and laid it in two piles. He refused to have anything to do with it, they said. The Carrells called a third party from London to see the corn was evenly divided and then loaded their share on a wagon and went home.

While they were storing the corn in a crib at their barn, Thomas appeared and opened fire on Roosevelt Carrell, a bullet entering the right lung and penetrating the liver.  The elder Carrell is said to have returned the fire with a rifle.  Roosevelt, critically wounded, raised himself to his knees and shot Thomas in the head with a shotgun.

Thomas came to Hazelpatch from Bell county about 20 years ago and obtained a large tract of land. About 16 years ago, officers said, he killed a man during a quarrel and was sentenced to life imprisonment but was pardoned 13 years ago. Four years ago he was shot from ambush but recovered. [4]


[1] Excerpt from "Laurel County." The Citizen, Berea, KY. October 4, 1917. Page 8. LOC.

[2] Thomas v. Commonwealth, 180 Ky. 288, 202 S.W. 498 (1918).

[3] "Terms of Two Murderers Shortened by Governor." Lexington Herald, Lexington, KY. May 18, 1919. Page 2.

[4] "One Killed in Quarrel Over Crop of Corn." Lexington Herald, Lexington, KY. November 16 1931. Page 1.

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