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Friday, October 10, 2008

THE TRIAL OF GEORGE WALKER

George Walker initially left the party at the Land farm with Tom P on March 6, 1883. They headed north in the midnight darkness. The night was cloudy and vision had to have been fairly poor without starlight or the moon for guidance. The two men had to rely on the faint landforms and foliage for finding their way. Unable to go too far, they ended up at the home of G. W. McNeese. George and Tom P were close buddies and in all probability Walker wanted to stay with Tom P on the run. George does stay hidden for three weeks, probably to allow some of the furor to die down following the events that led to the death of Jonas Land. The following was published in the March 28, 1883 issue of The Waco Daily Examiner:

Varnell's Companion Surrenders

George Walker, the man who is indicted jointly with Tom P Varnell for the murder of J. H. Land at Hubbard city, some weeks ago, yesterday surrendered himself to the Hill county authorities. Walker is represented by Major C. B. Pearre, of this city, who returned home from Hill county yesterday morning. A writ of habeas corpus was at once sued out and the hearing has been set for Friday, April the 10th. Walker's surrender created quite a ripple of excitement and he is now in jail closely guarded. We are told that Tom Varnell will surrender himself also as soon as he can be communicated with. We will await with interest the trial of these two men.

BUT Tom P did not turn himself in. Why was the newspaper so sure he would? Was Tom P seriously thinking about turning himself in? If so, what caused him not to come forward as George Walker had? Was it the realization that the sensationalized news reporting irrevocably harmed his chances of a fair trial? A sign of that was what happened at Walker's habeas corpus (bail) hearing. Here is the article from The Waco Daily Examiner, April 11, 1883:

For Safe Keeping


George H. Walker, Varnell's companion and indicted as principal with him in the Land murder,.. [was] placed in the McLennan county jail yesterday by Sheriff Morrison of Hill county, for safe keeping...Walker is quite a young and very good looking young man, and seems to take his prison life easily and in good humor, and is in good spirits. He was slightly surprised that he should have been denied bail on the habeas corpus hearing.

A clue to how District Judge Hall was viewing this case is seen in the fact that he denied Walker bail, in essence keeping Walker in jail until his trial took place. The judge knew that it might be months or even years before this trial was on the docket. He wanted to make sure Walker was tried. He was convinced of Walker's guilt along with Tom P's. Hill County went forward with preparing for Walker's trial, calling for a special venire of 60 persons to possibly serve as jurors. The court quickly found out that those called to serve had all formed strong opinions as to the guilt or innocence of Walker (and Varnell). Because of this the case was moved to McLennan County (Waco) on a change of venue. Surprisingly, the case came up for trial almost immediately on the McLennan District Court docket. Here is what the Dallas Weekly Herald wrote about it:

WACO


Waco, Dec. 18 -- {Special}-- The trial of George Walker, charged jointly with Tom Varnell, as murderers of Jones Land, near Hubbard, Hill county, on March last, is in full blast. It was charged that Walker with Varnell, ravished Miss Ella Land. Testimony makes clear that she consented.

This article got it wrong that Walker was involved with any sexual relations with Ella Land but appellate records do reflect that whatever happened between Tom P and Ella was consensual. Since the outcome of the trial wasn't interesting to the newspapers, it got only a one sentence inclusion on the next to the last page of The Dallas Weekly Herald:

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