The trial of Stuart and Windred

Samuel Brannan

The most vocal member of the citizens committee that had been formed to deal with the issue of justice for Stuart and Windred, both accused of the brutal assault and robbery of Charles Janson in his store, was Sam Brannon. When it was proposed to try the two men in the regular way he opined that he was surprised to hear people talk of grand juries, mayors and recorders. He was tired of such talk. The prisoners were murderers as well as thieves. He knew it, and he would either die or see them hung by the neck. It was time that the people asserted their authority, he said. There had never been a single man hung by the courts in California yet every day there were accounts of more murders and robberies. He wanted no more technicalities with the law, as they were only devised to shield the guilty.

John W. Geary, 1st Mayor of San Francisco

However, the rest of the committee was not willing to go along with the fiery Brannon and instead they agreed to adjourn until the following afternoon when they would report their proceedings to the people in the plaza. By the next morning a crowd of eight thousand people had already gathered and were addressed by Mayor John Geary who pled that the courts should try Stuart and Windred right away and promised that the verdict would be carried out without delay. But the crowd had had their fill of empty justice from the corrupt courts and insisted that the prisoners be tried before and among the people. They did allow that if the regular courts wanted to participate then they were welcome, but under the circumstances the public authorities declined and withdrew from the proceedings.

Hall McAllister Statue

A judge and jury were chosen, prosecutors picked and a defense team of D.O. Shattuck and Hall McAllister appointed. The trial got underway at once and, after the evidence was presented and the testimony of the witnesses given, the jury retired to deliberate. They remained out until nearly midnight and when they returned declared that they had been unable to reach a verdict with nine guilty votes and three undecided. A roar came from the crowd; the excitement and dissatisfaction clear from the cries to ‘hang them anyway’ that could be heard all around. But cooler heads prevailed and order was restored, and about one in the morning the meeting broke up.

Portsmouth Square, 1850

Stuart and Windred were later tried and convicted by the courts. But the people had made a point. Both men were given fourteen years, the maximum sentence under the law. Windred, after a short stay in prison, managed to cut a hole through the floor of his cell and escaped. Stuart, however, was sent to Marysville and tried for the murder of Sheriff Moore. He was convicted and sentenced to death. Meanwhile the criminal affairs in San Francisco grew worse.

 

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