Politicians interfere with justice

Even though Judge Creaner was on the bench in Sonora, and not disposed to be unduly influenced by fancy talking lawyers, the fact that only one legal execution took place in several years did not induce the community to rely on the regular courts, considering the number and atrocity of the crimes committed there. When Peter Nicholas visited Columbia from his nearby mining site of Sawmill Flat, got drunk and picked a quarrel with Captain John Parrot of Pine Log and, with no cause whatever, stabbed him in the neck with his Bowie knife causing a fatal wound, he was promptly grabbed and thrown in the county jail.

Columbia Jail

The next morning Nicholas was hauled into a hearing before a Justice of the Peace but before he could be returned to jail a large crowd of miners, many from Pine Log, surrounded the Justice’s office and demanded Nicholas be turned over to them. They broke into the room, subdued the officers, freed Nicholas from his shackles, and passed him outside hand by hand over the heads of the crowd until he arrived at a nearby tree. A rope was thrown over a limb and Nicholas would have swung from it right away except for James W. Coffroth and a few others who called out for a trial. After some talk the crowd, now numbering in the thousands, agreed and Nicholas was moved to Gold Hill.

A jury of four men from Pine Log and eight from Columbia was chosen and Nicholas was tried. The jury soon came back and said that Nicholas was guilty of assault with intent to commit murder but that since Parrot was not yet dead the prisoner should be returned to the county jail to await the inevitable. A loud argument broke out with some men yelling to hang the lout and others to turn him back over to the sheriff. Just as calm was being restored Deputy Randell along with a number of other men charged the crowd, threw Nicholas on a horse and fled toward Sonora as fast as possible. The stunned crowd didn’t follow.

John Bigler

Later, after Parrot died, Nicholas was tried in district court and convicted of murder. Judge Creaner sentenced him to hang. But then the state governor, John Bigler stepped in and commuted Nicholas’ sentence to seven years in prison. This was not the first nor would it be last time a clearly guilty man was saved from execution by Governor Bigler.


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