most famous of Lincoln's Woodford County cases is part of the local
On April 14, 1857, an argument between the
elderly Roswell Goings and wife Melissa turned violent. Defending herself,
Melissa picked up a piece of wood and struck two blows. Her husband
sustained a skull fracture and died a few days later. Mrs. Goings was
summoned to appear before a coroner's court on April 23 and ordered to post
Formal arraignment came on October 10,
1857, with the trial to begin later in day. When the case was called in the
Melissa Goings was nowhere to be found. What
happened is still unclear. According to the court's bailiff, Robert Cassell,
Lincoln took advantage of a private conference with his client to suggest
that she flee. Confronted by the bailiff when Goings could not be found,
Lincoln is reported to have said, "I did not run her off. She wanted to know
where she could get a good drink of water, and I told her there was mighty
good water in Tennessee." Another version of the affair has Lincoln telling
his client to prepare for the worst and, after suggesting that things would
be safer many miles away, leaving her to decide on a course of action. In
any case, community feeling seems to have been with Mrs. Goings, whose
husband was famed for his violent temper.
did Mrs. Goings go? Since she left the trial, the jury would have to make a
verdict. Do you think she was guilty of murder, or was it self-defense?
Should she get in trouble for leaving the county for drink?
You be the judge and/or jury.
Complete the Case Fact Box
Complete the Court Form
and render your decision.
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