Abraham Lincoln as Counsel for a Murder Defendant, William "Duff" Armstrong,
circa A.D. 1858
Summary of Events
In 1858, William "Duff" Armstrong was tried in the
Circuit Court of Illinois, Cass County, Beardstown, for the murder of James
Metzker on the night of August 29, 1857. James Norris had already been
convicted of a partner to Duff Armstrong, for the murder. His conviction was
for manslaughter. The State's star witness was Charles Allen, who testified on
direct examination that he had seen Armstrong strike Metzker in the eye with a
slingshot. According to one young lawyer present in the courtroom, Lincoln sat
with his head thrown back, his steady gaze apparently fixed upon one spot of the
blank ceiling, entirely oblivious to what was happening around him, and without
a single variation of feature or noticeable movement of any muscle of his face.
Finally, Lincoln stood and began his cross-examination of Mr. Allen.
The setting for this play is in the courtroom with the lawyers, jury,
defendant and crowd sitting patiently waiting for Judge Davis to arrive and take
his seat. The crowd is very excited. Everyone is also excited about getting to
see and hear the very entertaining Abe Lincoln.
CHARACTERS: William “Duff” Armstrong; Hannah Armstrong (Duff’s mother);
Judge James Harriot; Charles Allen; Watkin (actual owner of the slingshot); Dr.
Charles Parker (defense witness); the Baliff; the 6 jury members; William
Walker and Abraham Lincoln, Duff’s defense lawyers; Cass County Sheriff; Hugh
Fullerton (prosecuting attorney); members of the audience.
SPECIAL SET ITEMS: Farmer’s Almanac, slingshot and rocks,
BAILIFF: Here ye, Here ye, the 8th Circuit Court of Illinois
is in session. Please rise, remain silent for the honorable Judge James
Harriot. (Judge Harriot walks in and takes his seat).
Judge Harriot: You may be seated. Bailiff, would you tell the jury and
this court the nature of this case?
BAILIFF: William "Duff" Armstrong is being tried in the Circuit Court
of Illinois for the murder of James Metzker on the night of August 29, 1857.
The prosecution is wanting a finding of Murder with the death penalty.
JUDGE DAVIS: Mr. Fullerton, you may start your case.
Mr. Fullerton: Your honor and members of the jury. On the night of May
27, 1857, about 10:00, this man (pointing to Duff Armstrong) used a slingshot
and killed James Metzger. We have witnesses that will describe of the
“meanness” of Duff Armstrong, and how he and his partner James Norris terrorized
and then murdered James Metzger. We have the weapon for you to see and an
eyewitness that actually “saw” under the bright full moon the whole event. The
people of Cass County needs to put Mr. Armstrong to death, and stop these acts
of violence for good. I would like to call my first witness, Mr. Charles
Allen. (Mr. Allen takes the witness chair).
BAILIFF: (takes the big Bible, faces Mr. Allen and says) Mr. Allen, do
you solemnly swear to tell the whole truth, nothing but the truth, so help you
Mr. Allen: I do.
Judge Harriot: You may be seated. Mr. Fullerton please begin your
Mr. Fullerton: Mr. Allen, where were you on the night of May 27, 1857?
What was it like that night: the weather and the moon?
Mr. Allen: I was on a trail heading toward town. The night was very
clear and cool. The moon was as full as it could be. It was straight up toward
the heavens, and lit everything up like the sun.
Mr. Fullerton: Mr. Allen, what did you see on the trail that night?
Tell us what happened.
Mr. Allen: Well, your honor I heard a ruckus on down the trail. I
couldn’t tell what was going on, so I rode on down there to see. There was Mr.
Metzger riding on his horse while two men were beating on him. Mr. Norris was
hitting Metzger with a big stick on the head. Then Duff Armstrong took his
slingshot and shot a rock at Metzger striking him in the eye. Metzger fell off
the horse. He wasn’t moving. The two roughens ran off laughing and yelling. I
stayed back until they were gone then I checked over poor Mr. Metzger. I
thought he was dead. He wasn’t breathing or anything. Those two boys killed
Mr. Metzger. They need to be strung up.
Mr. Lincoln: (who was intently staring at the ceiling looking at
something) said “objection.” It is not up to Mr. Allen to judge and put Duff
Armstrong in the gallows.
Judge Hannah: Mr. Lincoln, you are correct. The objection is supported.
Mr. Fullerton would call other witnesses against Duff Armstrong telling
of how he was terrorizing the neighborhood. Actually there were some 25
witnesses called. Mr. Allen was the most important witness, and Abraham Lincoln
would recall him later.
Mr. Fullerton: Your honor, I would like to introduce this slingshot as
the weapon Duff Armstrong used to bring Mr. Metzger’s life to an end.
Judge Hannah: Very well, let
the jury inspect it. (the baliff hands the slingshot to the jury for
Abe Lincoln takes over. His
first witness is Dr. Charles Parker.
BAILIFF: Dr. Charles Parker
come forward. Put your hand on this Bible. Do you solemnly swear to tell the
truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
Dr. Parker: I do.
Judge Harriot: You may sit
down. Continue Mr. Lincoln.
Mr. Lincoln: After examining
Mr. Metzger, do you think that the blows that Mr. Norris hit Mr. Metzger could
have been the ones that probably killed him?
Dr. Parker: Yes, I think
those blows killed Mr. Metzer.
Mr. Lincoln: Thank you
doctor. That is all
Mr. Lincoln: I would like to
call Mr. Watkins.
Judge Hannah: Very well.
BAILIFF: Mr. Watkins, come
forward and put your hand on this Bible. Do you solemnly swear that you will
tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
Mr. Watkins: I do.
Judge Hannah: You may sit
Mr. Lincoln: I have this
slingshot in my hand. Do you recognize it?
Mr. Watkins: Yes, and it has
my carving marks. I made it and it was mine.
Mr. Lincoln: Did you have
possession of this slingshot the night of May 29, 1857?
Mr. Watkins: Yes Mr.
Lincoln. I had it until the next day, the 30th, when I decided to
throw it away. I don’t know what happened to it after I threw it away.
Mr. Lincoln: Your honor, with
this testimony, I would like to have this slingshot removed as evidence against
Judge Hannah: Very well. The
slingshot is not going to be allowed as evidence. The jury will disregard it.
Mr. Lincoln: I would now like
to call Mr. Charles Allen to the stand.
Judge Hannah: Baliff, will
you call Mr. Allen to the stand? Remind him he is still under oath.
(Mr. Allen walks up to the
witness chair and takes his seat)
Mr. Lincoln: So, Mr. Allen,
you were present at the scene of a crime on the evening of May 29th,
Mr. Allen: Yes. I saw a
Mr. Lincoln: Did you actually
see the fight?
Mr. Allen: Yes.
Mr. Lincoln: And you stood very near to them?
Mr. Allen: No, it was one-hundred fifty feet or more.
Mr. Lincoln: In the open field?
Mr. Allen: No, in the timber.
Mr. Lincoln: What kind of timber?
Mr. Allen: Beech timber.
Mr. Lincoln: Leaves on it are rather thick in August?
Mr. Allen: It looks like it.
Mr. Lincoln: What time did all this take place?
Mr. Allen: Eleven o'clock at night.
Mr. Lincoln: Did you have a candle there?
Mr. Allen: No, what would I want a candle for?
Mr. Lincoln: How could you see from a distance of one-hundred
fifty feet or more,
without a candle, at eleven o'clock at night?
Mr. Allen: The moon was shining real bright.
Mr. Lincoln: Full moon?
Mr. Allen: Yes, a full moon.
(At this point in the trial, Lincoln
withdrew a blue-covered almanac from his
back pocket, opened it slowly to the astronomy table for the night in
question and placed it before the witness. Lincoln then continued with
cross-examination ... )
Mr. Lincoln: Does not the almanac say that on August 29th the
moon was barely
past the first quarter instead of being full?
Mr. Allen: (No audible answer from the witness)
Mr. Lincoln: Does not the almanac also say that the moon had
Mr. Allen: (No audible answer from the witness)
Mr. Lincoln: Is it not a fact that it was too dark to see
anything from so far away, let- alone on
hundred fifty feet?
Mr. Allen: (did not answer this question)
Mr. Lincoln: Your honor, the defense has proven that Mr. Allen’s
testimony is a lie. He could not have witnessed anything with his eyes the
night of May 29th. The Almanac proves that it was pitch dark. I
would like for charges against Mr. Duff Armstrong be dropped.
Judge Hannah: You are right Mr. Lincoln . It is deplorable that Mr.
Allen would make up such a story. The charges are dropped against your client,
Mr. Duff Armstrong without predjudice.
THIS CASE IS DROPPED. (The judge then strikes his gavel loudly).
THE AUDIENCE AND MR. DUFF'S MOTHER cheers and hugs. Mrs. Armstrong gives
her old friend Abraham Lincoln a big hug. Duff Armstrong is now free.
You be the judge and/or jury.
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