Biography - Benjamin Theron “Ben” Roberts
 

Benjamin Theron "Ben" Roberts
Navarro County, Texas


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Benjamin Theron “Ben” Roberts
Jan. 18, 1868  -  Jun. 19, 1922

Funeral This Morning.

The remains of the late Ben Roberts were interred in the old family burying ground, the Ward Cemetery, near Pursley at 10:30 this morning, Rev. Mr. Hellums of Dawson officiated and there was a large attendance and numerous floral offerings.

Notes:


ROBERTS DIES AS RESULT OF WOUNDS RECEIVED SATURDAY

TOM STEWART IN THE COUNTY JAIL WITH TWO CHARGES AGAINST HIM

Ben Roberts, age near 50, is dead;  his son Aaron Roberts, age 26, is in the hospital wounded and Tom Stewart, age 43, is in the county jail charged with the double shooting as a result of an affray which occurred at about 8:30 o’clock Saturday night near Pursley, 12 miles southeast of here,’

Steward, in an interview with a representative of the Sun, gave his version of the affair and outlined some of the difficulties leading up to the fatal shooting, Steward, who is a brother-in-law of Roberts, said that the trouble was a culmination of trouble of fifteen years standing.

Tells of Trouble.

“My wife (Roberts’ sister)and I have been having domestic difficulty for some time and a suit is now pending for divorce,”  said Stewart. “On occasions of trouble between Lyda and myself, Roberts would always take a hand in the affair.

“The trouble which began Saturday night and ended in the shooting was started when Roberts and his son, Aaron drove up before R. L. Cunningham’s house and Roberts started talking with Cunningham about a certain small tract of land which Cunningham had rented from Roberts.  I live only a short distance from Cunningham and am in the habit of spending my evenings there.  I went to his house just before dark Saturday and while after dark the car came up.

“Roberts and Cunningham argued a little about the way the land was being tended and when I spoke, he recognized by voice and started to fire on me and I---“

Stewart halted here and did not discuss the manner in which the actual shooting occurred.  He exhibited interest when he learned that Roberts and his son had been brought to the hospital and said that he did not know which one of Roberts’ son had been wounded until Sunday morning.

 Brought to Hospital.

The two wounded men were brought to the Physicians and Surgeons hospital Saturday night where examination proved that the older man’s wounds would probably result in death, while hope was held out for the recovery of the son.  An operation was performed on Roberts Sunday morning and his death came about 6:30 this morning.  Eight buckshot wounds were found about his legs, hand and side and the middle finger of the right hand was gone.  Two wounds were in the left leg and three were in the left side.

All the principals in the affair are farmers and have long been residents of this section.  Aaron is unmarried and reports from the hospital this morning are to the effect that he is resting fairly well.  Funeral services for the older man will be held at Ward cemetery near Pursley at 10:00 tomorrow morning.

When Stewart first surrendered himself and was lodged in jail he was charged with assault with intent to kill.  Since the death of Roberts the charge in this case has been changed to murder and the first charge still stands in the case of the shooting of Aaron.

County Attorney Tarver and Sheriff Hays conducted an investigation in the case early Sunday morning and after questioning the prisoner went to the hospital and took the depositions of the witnesses in the case.

The examining trial of Tom Stewart charged with the murder of Ben Roberts which was scheduled to have been held this afternoon at 2 p.m. has been postponed until Tuesday afternoon at 3:00 o’clock.

The postponement was made necessary because of the inability of witnesses for the state to be present this afternoon.

The Corsicana Daily Sun - Monday, June 19, 1922
Submitted by Diane Richards

 

 

EXAMINING TRIAL OF TOM STEWART NOT COMPLETED

At press hour the examining trial of Tom Stewart held in connection with the death of Ben Roberts and the wounding of Aaron Roberts, the shooting occurring Saturday night near Pursley, was in progress, with about twenty witnesses to testify.

At 4:30 the testimony of four witnesses had been heard including Susie Cunningham, the sixteen year old daughter of R. L. Cunningham at whose house the shooting occurred;  Dr. T. P. McClendon, who dressed the wounds of the injured men at the Physicians and Surgeons Hospital;  Jailer Tom Smith, and Ross Roberts, eleven year old son of the dead man.

Hon. Richard Mays is representing the defendant and County Attorney W. A. Tarver assisted by Callicutt & Upchurch have been retained by the State as special prosecutors.  The hearing will probably take several hours.

The Corsicana Daily Sun - Tuesday, June 20, 1922
Submitted by Diane Richards

 

WITNESSES TELL OF FATAL SHOOTING OF ROBERTS SATURDAY

YOUNG SON OF DEAD MAN IS PRINCIPAL WITNESS AT TUESDAY’S SESSION

CASE HARD FOUGHT

R. L. CUNNINGHAM, WHO WAS PRESENT, ON THE STAND THIS MORNING

Interest in the examining trial of Tom E. Stewart which has been in progress since 3 o’clock Tuesday afternoon, Wednesday morning centered around the testimony of R. L. Cunningham, at whose premises the fatal shooting of Ben Roberts and the shooting of Aaron Roberts took place about dark last Saturday night.

During the afternoon session Tuesday a great number of witnesses were called and testified.  Several were introduced by the defense as character witnesses.  A number of witnesses testified as to the alleged domestic trouble existing between Tom Stewart and his wife, in which it is claimed by Stewart that Roberts was the cause of.

Young Son Testifies.

Among the large number of deponents Tuesday was Ross Roberts, 11 years old, son of the elder Roberts who came to the Cunningham home in the car with his father and brother on the night of the shooting.   The little fellow told in concise answers to the many questions propounded to him by the attorneys in the case how his father and brother had driven in the car up to the Cunningham home, stepped in front of the gate and Cunningham was called out to the road to talk with them.  He said his father asked Mr. Cunningham concerning the planting of some land which he had rented from him.  While this conversation was taking place he heard some one from the porch say “move, move,”  and almost immediately a shot rang out.  His brother Aaron at that time, he said, was on the ground attempting to crank the car.  the shot knocked him over.  The second shot was fired in close proximity, the boy said, and following a brief interval he fled from the scene of the shooting and went to the home of his uncle.  He said he observed both his brother and father lying on the ground immediately following the second shot just before he fled from the scene.  the boy testified that his father had a rifle lying on the front seat of the car against the rear cushion and that when he saw his father on the ground he had his rifle in his hands indicating a half elevated position.

Cunningham’s Testimony.

Mr. Cunningham in his testimony Wednesday morning, in answering questions of the attorneys concerning the location of the gun which figured in the shooting, said that he had borrowed Stewart’s shotgun on Thursday for the purpose of shooting crows that had been making ravages on his watermelons, in borrowing the gun from Stewart he also borrowed four shells.  On Saturday night when he came home for supper Stewart was not at his house, although since the recent separation of Stewart and his wife, he (Stewart)  had been taking most of his meals at his house.  While eating supper he said some one came and stepped on the front porch, who he found to be Stewart when he had finished his meal and went out on the porch, Arthur Mobley, a cousin of Cunningham, was also there, he said.

Upon further examination he said as he went onto the porch and seeing Stewart, he remarked to him that his gun which he borrowed was standing in the corner on one end of the porch and that the two extra shells were on the floor just inside the door.  He said Stewart had told him previously he wanted his gun back, was why he made that statement as he came from the dining room.

Cunningham stated further that the trio had been sitting on the edge of the porch for a few minutes when a car passed by for a short distance east of his house and turned around and came back and stopped in front of the gate.  He then declared that some one from the car called for him to come out to the car.

Describes Shooting.

Upon arriving at the car, the witness declared, he then fount that the occupants were Ben T. Roberts, Aaron, and the little boy.  They shook hands and were talking for just a few minutes concerning the planting of the land, which he had rented from Mr. Roberts, when someone from the porch, whose voice he recognized as being that of Stewart, called to him “Bob.”

Just at that time Mr. Roberts pulled a rifle from the rear seat of his car and Aaron got out and was going in the direction of the front of the car when the first shot was fired.” Mr. Cunningham said.

“At this time I threw up my hand to hold up the gun and yelled to Mr. Roberts, “My God, don’t shoot in the direction of my house, my little children are in there!”  the witness went on.

“Mr. Roberts then got out of the car and was near the front when the second shot was fired, but I had darted to the rear in excitement.  Following the second shot seeing both of the men on the ground I then ran into the yard and called to my daughter to telephone Mr. Payne to come down there.  I went back to the car and called to my cousin, Arthur Mobley, to come and help me put the two men back into the car.  I was so excited I hardly knew when the third shot was fired, but Mr. Roberts was near the front of the car at the time, as well as I could tell.

“When the shooting started I also yelled don’t shoot, Tom, and Mr. Roberts said if I would stop Tom he would get away from there.  We put the men in the car and cranked it and Mr. Roberts went away driving.  I thought the young man had been hurt the worst, as he had to be lifted entirely into the car.  I asked Mr. Roberts if he could make it, and he said he believed he could.  The fourth shot was fired as the car was leaving,” he said.

The witness in describing his relative position with the moving car as the fourth shot was fired said the machine was proceeding almost directly from him.

The court room is again crowded almost to capacity with eager spectators who are evincing much interest in the proceedings, among whom are relatives and friends of both the deceased and the defendant.

The Corsicana Daily Sun - Wednesday, June 21, 1922
Submitted by Diane Richards

 

 

TOM STEWART HELD WITHOUT BAIL ON CHARGE OF MURDER

LONG PRELIMINARY HEARING RESULTS IN VICTORY FOR THE PROSECUTION

MANY WITNESSES

EYE WITNESSES TELL STORY OF FATAL SHOOTING OF SATURDAY NIGHT

Following an examining hearing of a day and half, Tom E. Stewart, farmer, was ramanded to jail without bail in Justice of the Peace J. J. Sullivan’s court late Wednesday afternoon.  Stewart who had been in jail since Saturday night, was again locked up pending action of the grand jury on his case.

During the long proceedings the accused man sat in the courtroom with his attorneys in rather a meditative mood, but at times evincing considerable interest in the testimony as given by various witnesses concerning the Pursley tragedy of last Saturday night when Ben T. Roberts was fatally shot and the body of his son, Aaron was sprinkled with bird shot.

Many Witnesses.

Some twenty-five or thirty witnesses testified in the case.  The county courtroom was crowded to capacity throughout the hearing.  At the close of the testimony Wednesday afternoon the attorneys argued the question of bail.  Attorneys for the State, County Attorney W. A. Tarver and John S. Callicutt, and Fred Upchurch as special prosecutors, insisted that the defendant was not entitled to bail upon the triple theory that the killing of Roberts by Stewart was perpetuated upon express malice, that Stewart was the aggressor and that his mind at the time he fired the fatal shots was capable of cool reflection.

Mays Plead for Client.

The defendant’s attorney, Richard Mays, pleaded that his client was entitled to bail, relying upon the theory that inasmuch as there had for fifteen years existed an aggravated personal enmity between the principals of the tragedy in the light of which where figured serious and violent threats had been made by deceased against defendant coupled with the immediate circumstances, real of apparent to the defendant, the latter was justified in exercising the right of self-defense.

Exception to the court’s ruling was taken by Mr. Mays.

The firm of Gibson & Lovett has been employed as additional defense counsel it was made known Thursday morning.

Habeas Corpus Next.

If the present grand jury returns an indictment against Stewart the procedure for bail will be through a writ of habeas corpus in the district court.

In all the long testimony introduced by both sides of the case in the preliminary hearing but little was centered about the actual tragedy.

The State in presenting its case offered the testimony of Susie Cunningham, 16-year old daughter of R. L. Cunningham, at whose house the shooting occurred, W. T. Smith, jailor, Dr. T. P. McClendon, Ross Roberts, 11-years old son of Ben T. Roberts, W. H. Brewster and E. C. Carver.

Miss Cunningham testified she was in the kitchen washing the supper dishes when she heard two shots ring out at the front of the house.  She said she then retreated into the back yard with the rest of the children.  Her father then called to her to telephone Mrs. Payne of the shooting.  In a very little while she testified to hearing two more shots fired.  On cross examination she said she heard her father cry out, “My God, don’t shoot into my house, my little children are in there.”

Surrendered to Smith.

W. T. Smith, jailor, testified as to Stewart’s coming to the jail in company with Grover Chambers and Arthur Mobley Saturday night following the shooting when Stewart gave up.  He said there was a double barreled 12-gauge shotgun with four shells in the car.

Described Wounds.

Dr. T. P. McClendon, who was called to administer to the men described the location of the bullet wounds in their bodies.  He testified that the body of Aaron Roberts was sprinkled with bird shot along the left side and in parts of his neck and scalp.  He said there were eight bullet wounds in the body of the elder Roberts.  Entry of the bullets were along the left side thigh, hip bone and that one made lodgment in the spine, severing the spinal cord.  This wound he said, is what caused the death of Roberts.  He also testified there were two bullet wounds in the right wrist and that the middle finger of the right hand had been shot off.

Ross Roberts, 11-years old son of Ben T. Roberts, who was in the car with his father and brother at the time of the shooting began, said his brother was shot while in the act of cranking the car.  The first shot knocked his brother over on the ground, he said.  The second shot took effect in his father’s body while he was in the act of cranking the car.  He declared he fled from the scene of the shooting shortly following the second shot, and that his father and brother were both listless upon the ground.

W. H. Brewster, brother-in-law to both Stewart and Roberts testified as to certain threats alleged to have been made by Stewart against the life of Roberts.  E. C. Carver, also testified to having heard Stewart make serious threats against the life of Roberts.

Defense Testimony.

The defense offered the testimony of several witnesses to prove the general reputation of Stewart for being a peaceful and law abiding man in the community in which he lived, each testifying that such reputation was good.

The defense witnesses were in addition to Deputy Sheriff Warnell, S. L. Mann, L. S. Wright, W. S. Culverhouse, Alfred Smith, John McLean, Dr. Stephens, of Pursley, W. A. Murray, Miss Ebbie Crawfore, Mrs. Anna Willingham, John Tucker, E. W. O’Daniel, Will O’Daniel, R. L. Cunningham, Arthur Mobley, Tom Hardin, Jim Dascey, J. R. Castello and Grover Chambers.

Deputy Sheriff Warnell testified to having gone to the home of Stewart to serve a warrant on him for an alleged aggravated assault committed on his wife.  While there he said he saw Ben Roberts on the front porch with an automatic pistol drawn on Stewart.  He declared he prevented trouble by getting Roberts away from the house.  He said charges were afterwards filed against Roberts for carrying a pistol.

Several witnesses testified as to various threats made by Roberts against Stewart’s life.

Was Shot at Car.

The biggest contention over the testimony was centered about the immediate circumstances of the shooting, R. L. Cunningham, who was talking to Roberts in the car in front of his house, described the shooting during Wednesday morning.  He was not certain as to the whereabouts of the deceased when the third shot was fired, but believed he was near the front of the car.  Arthur Mobley, cousin of Cunningham, who came to the car a few minutes before the firing began and picked up the baby and returned to the porch with it, testified the third shot was fired after Roberts had been placed in the car by himself and Mr. Cunningham.  They both said the fourth shot was fired as the car was moving away.

J. R. Castelow told of going out to the car when it had reached a point nearest his house and accompanied the men home.  He described the position of the men in the car, and the elder Roberts, he said told him, “he was shot all to pieces, but that my boy is dying;  save him, it doesn’t matter about me,” and asked me to take them home  “I did.”  I brought the young man here to the hospital that night, Castellow said.” 

The Corsicana Daily Sun - Thursday, June 22, 1922
Submitted by Diane Richards

STEWART RELEASED ON BOND ON CHARGE OF KILLING ROBERTS

BONDS COVERING BOTH MURDER AND ASSAULT CHARGES ARE QUICKLY MADE

Tom E. Stewart, charged by grand jury indictment with murder in connection with the fatal shooting of Ben T. Roberts and with assault with intent to kill, in connection with the shooting of Aaron Roberts, all residents of Pursley community, was released on bond in the amount of $7,500 in the first case and $1,000 in the second, following in habeas corpus proceeding held before Judge Hawkins Scarborough Saturday afternoon 

Friends of Mr. Stewart prepared the bonds which were approved by the sheriff and filed with the district clerk Monday morning.

Forty-seven names are signed to the bond as sureties.  They are:  W. B. Payne, B. F. Hatton, W. R. Leitch, T. L. Swink, L. R. McAfee, M. L. Hanks, Zeb Morris, W. F. Penn, C. M. Ellis, Chas. Bolden, O. E. Dill, E. L. Dupuy, J. L. Ballentine, T. N. Kelly, James D. Lee, James O. Pementer, T. M. Kay, L. W. Kideo, R. F. Johnston, W. J. Crossland, E. B. Ellis, Grover Hall, W. A. Bates, O. O. Wells, J. F. Tucker, Geo. Tucker, J. F. Lane, H. C. Graham, H. Pursley, W. S. Culverhouse, O. T. Nutt, R. W. Anderson, G. B. Moore, T. M. Copeland, J. F. McGee, Frank Cooper, A. L. Smith, J. C. Turner, J. W. Webb, L. A. Bennett, J. B. Robinson, W. B. Coker, W. Y. Bankhead, T. P. McLendon, A. D. Sanders, G. C. Workman and D. Molloy.

By agreement of attorneys the question of bail was submitted before Judge Scarborough on the written testimony given at the preliminary hearing last week by Susie Cunningham, R. L. Cunningham, Arthur Mobley and Ross Roberts, the four eye-witnesses to the shooting.

Stewart will be at liberty until his case comes up for trial in the district court.

The Corsicana Daily Sun - Monday, June 26, 1922
Submitted by Diane Richards

 

MURDER TRIAL UP IN DISTRICT COURT MONDAY MORNING

Tom E. Stewart charged by indictment with murder and assault with intent to murder, will be brought to trial in district court Monday morning. 

Stewart shot and killed Ben C. Roberts, his brother0in-law, near Pursley last spring and shot Aaron Roberts, who recovered from the buckshot wounds. 

A special venire of 75 talesmen have been summoned for jury service on this case, in addition to the 36 men on the regular panel for the week.  Subpoaenas have been issued for more than 100 witnesses, some of them living out of the county.

Following the tragedy Stewart was refused bail by Justice of the Peace J. J. Sullivan following a preliminary hearing.  The April grand jury was in session at the time of the killing, and indictments were returned against Stewart the day he was refused bail.

Stewart was later released on bond following a habeas corpus proceeding before Judge Scarborough.  He has been at liberty ever since living on his farm in the Pursley community.

The killing created a great deal of excitement, as the principals in the tragedy are well known, being long-time residents in the county. 

Stewart is represented by Richard Mays.  John S. Callicutt has been retained as special prosecutor by relatives of Roberts.

Trial of the case will probably be watched with wide-spread interest.

The Corsicana Daily Sun - Saturday, October 28, 1922
Submitted by Diane Richards

COURT HOUSE NEWS.

District Court

The Tom Stewart murder case was continued until next Monday morning at 10 o’clock.

The Corsicana Daily Sun - Oct. 30, 1922

 

STEWART TRIAL IS CONTINUED TO NEXT MONDAY MORNING

ATTORNEYS IN CASE MUST ATTEND GROSEBECK INJUNCTION TRIAL WEDNESDAY.

Trial of the Tom E. Stewart case was continued until next Monday morning following a motion by defendants’ attorneys in district court this morning.

Stewart, who has been at liberty on bond since his indictment by the grand jury charging him with murder in connection with the fatal shooting of Ben C. Roberts and the shooting of Aaron Roberts on the evening of June 17, appeared in court this morning.

A special venire of 75 men had been summoned for jury service in the case, in addition to the regular panel of 36.  A large number of witness for the State and for the defense were in attendance when court convened at 10 o’clock.

Stewart is represented by Richard Mays and the firm of Gibson & Lovett. John S. Callicutt is retained as special prosecutor by the relatives of Ben. C. Roberts.  County Attorney W. A. Tarver announced ready for trial.

Present Motion.

Defendant’s attorney immediately presented a motion to quash the venire on the grounds they had not been given the two days notice that such venire would be drawn, and raised some points with reference to the sheriff’s return of the venire summons.

The State was given permission to amend the return.  Following arguments bearing on the notice of the venire, attorneys agreed on the court’s own motion that this would be waived if the case should be re-set.

Attorney Gibson also pointed out to the court that Mr. Callicutt and Mr. Mays are connected with the Mayfield conjunction suit, which is set for hearing at Grosebeck Wednesday morning, and an opportunity was desired to have re-setting of the case in order that attorneys could attend the trial of that case and be back in time to proceed with the trial here.

He stated further that the defendant was not physically able to go to trial at this time.  Mr. Stewart has recently been suffering with dengue.

Court Room Crowded.

The court room was crowded almost to capacity when the case was called.  Stewart, in neat attire, with his little 10-year-old boy sat with his attorneys as the names of the jurors and veniremen were called.  He was apparently unconcerned.  Many were present from the Pursley community.  Among them were Mrs. Roberts, and Aaron Roberts, widow and son of the deceased.  Stewart is to face trial also for assault with intent to murder of Aaron Roberts.  Other relatives of both Stewart and Roberts were present.  More than 100 witnesses are expected to testify in the case.

Due to the prominence of the principals in the tragedy the case is being watched with considerable interest.

The Corsicana Daily Sun - Monday, October 30, 1922
Submitted by Diane Richards

 

MOTION FOR REHEARING CORSICANA CASE OVERRULED TODAY

WITNESSES AND SPECTATORS TO BE SEARCHED FOR WEAPONS WHEN ENTERING COURT ROOM

All witnesses and spectators attending the Tom E. Stewart murder trial will be searched for concealed weapons before being allowed entrance to the courtroom, according to instructions given the sheriff’s department by Judge Hawkins Scarborough Monday morning when the case was called in district court.

Judge Scarborough asked the jurors and special veniremen to retire from the courtroom in order that the warning might be sounded.  The judge declared from the bench that reported serious threats had been made by certain parties interested in the trial of the case, and as a matter of expediency in the interest of public peace and quietude, he directed that a deputy sheriff take charge of each door and make search of all persons entering.

The judge called special attention to the fact that the mere toting of a pistol was a violation of the law, which became aggravated by carrying such a weapon into a courtroom.  He pointed out that spectators had a right to attend the trial, but put emphasis in the words “leave your pistols at home.”

The district courtroom was crowded almost to capacity all during Monday.  Thirty-six men on the regular jury panel for the week, in addition to a special venire of 75 were present when the roll was called.  Fines of $50 were assessed against those not answering.  The court would grant no business excuse for not serving.  At least two hundred witnesses will testify in the case.  Attorneys predict trial of the case will consume an entire week.

Stewart, who is charged with indictment with murder in connection with the fatal shooting of Ben C. Roberts, and with assault with intent to murder, in connection with the shooting of Aaron Roberts, sat in the courtroom with his attorneys all morning.  With him sat his little boy.  His wife was in the courtroom with the numerous spectators and witnesses.  Their two daughters sat with her.

Mrs. Stewart is a sister of the deceased Ben C. Roberts.

The tragedy occurred in the Pursley community on the evening of June 17.

Mrs. Roberts, widow of the deceased and Aaron Roberts one of the chief witnesses for the state, were also seated among the other witnesses.

At high noon court adjourned until 2 o’clock.

Attorneys for the defense made a motion to postpone the case on account of the absence of several important witnesses but the motion was overruled by the court and attachments issued for the witnesses.  At press hour the examination of the veniremen was in progress.

The witnesses in the case were dismissed until 10 o’clock Tuesday morning.  This, the judge stated, was in order that they might vote before coming to court. 

The Corsicana Daily Sun - Monday, November 6, 1922
Submitted by Diane Richards

 

KLAN QUESTION INDUCTED INTO MURDER CASE NOW ON TRIAL IN DISTRICT COURT

The Ku Klux Klan question was inducted into the Tom E. Stewart murder case in district court Tuesday morning, when Richard Mays, leading counsel for defendant propounded questions to various talesmen touching on juror qualifications.

The question came when Mr. Mays was interrogating W. D. Ragsdale of Barry.

Six jurors qualified during the afternoon session Monday.  They were put under the rule, and occupied the jury quarters at the court house last night under guard of a deputy sheriff.  They are Bob Campbell, Currie;  B. Ray, Emhouse;  W. L. Blackmon, Phillip’s Chapel;  W. H. McReynolds, Rodney;  R. L. Swink, Richland, and O. J. Barryman, Frost.

When court adjourned for noon Tuesday, three additional jurors had been obtained, with the exhausting of the special venire summoned for duty in the case.

The other jurors are besides Mr. Ragsdale, T. J. Adams, Currie and W. S. McCullock, Navarro Mills.

State’s attorneys made no objection to asking the talesmen concerning their Ku Klux Klan affiliation.

Judge Scarborough, in order to expediate the progress fo the trial had each man to occupy the witness chair with the other excluded from the courtroom and propounded the legal qualifying questions.  The questions put by the court ran about as follows:

“Have you any conscientious scruples against inflicting the death penalty in any case?”

Several disqualified themselves when this question was put.

“Have you any bias or prejudice in favor of or against the suspended sentence law?”

“Have you formed an opinion as to the guilt or innocence of the accused..”

State’s attorney entered no objection to the questions bearing on klan affiliation asked by Mr. Mays and they were permitted to answer.  Each answered in the negative.

In connection with this line of questioning, Mr. Mays would propound the following:

“Are you acquainted with W. H. Brewster, landowner and oil property dealer of Corsicana, formerly of Barry?”

“Are you acquainted with L. Q. White of Retreat?”

“Are you acquainted with Fred White, county tax collector?”

When any of these questions were answered affirmatively he would inquire further into the extent of that acquaintance, ending with the following question:

“Are you a member of or affiliated in any way with an organization known as the Ku Klux Klan?”

Noon-day adjournment was taken until 1:30 this afternoon.  Up to that time several challenges for cause had been exercised by attorneys on both sides.

Each side is allowed 15 peremptory challenges.  The state had exercised 7, and the defense 11 when lunch time arrived.

Afternoon Session.

Up to press hour two more jurors had been obtained.  these were selected from the regular week’s panel.  They are J. T. English of Frost and W. T. Stone of Rodney.  The twelfth juror will be gotten and the taking of testimony will probably be started before adjournment for the day.

The courtroom was crowded all during the day, despite the fact it was election day.  In excusing the witnesses in the case yesterday morning  until 10 o’clock this morning Judge Scarborough stated he was delaying court opening for one hour in order they might have an opportunity of voting before leaving home for court.

Deputy sheriffs stand guard at each door seeing that no one enters the courtroom with concealed weapons.

Attorneys in the care are County Attorney, W. A. Trever, J. S. Callicutt and Fred Upchurch as special prosecutors for the State.

Defendant’s attorneys are Richard Mays, El J. Gibson, T. B. Lovett and Wayne R. Howell.

Due to the large number of witnesses, trial of the case will consume the entire week.

The Corsicana Daily Sun - Tuesday, November 7, 1922
Submitted by Diane Richards

 

TAKING OF TESTIMONY IN STEWART CASE IS CONTINUED WITH NUMBER OF WITNESSES

Taking of testimony in the trial of the Stewart case continued throughout the day yesterday, the State temporarily resting its case about 4 o’clock.  Court adjourned at 5 o’clock till 9 Thursday morning.  No night session was held.

Following the testimony of Ross and Aaron Roberts during the morning,  J. L. Castellow testified as to bringing the two wounded men to the hospital in Corsicana where Ben Roberts died the following Monday morning.

Dr. McLendon, who attended the men, testified as to the location and nature of the wounds.  According to his testimony eight buckshot were found in Mr. Roberts’ body, and Aaron Roberts’ body was sprinkled with birdshot from the waist line up and in the scalp.  Dr. McLendon operated on Mr. Roberts and found one incision in small intestine and a post mortem examination revealed that the spinal cord was about two-thirds severed.  The latter wound was believed to be the fatal shot.

Eva Stewart, 13 years old, daughter of defendant, testifying also for the State, told of a separation of her father and mother, about May 1, approximately six weeks before the tragedy.  She told of having heard her father declare he “was going to get his gun and way-lay Ben Roberts.”

On cross examination she said she had never heard her father say why he was going to kill Roberts.

E. C. Carver testified that he met Tom Stewart at the Blue Corner Drug Store in Corsicana and Stewart showed him some shells of buckshot, remarking that “these would not miss old man Ben.”  The witness said he rode out home with defendant in the car on that occasion and that he carried a double-barrel shotgun.

W. H. Brewster of Corsicana, testified he had conversation with Stewart in which he said to him, “I ought to have short Ben’s G—d---- brains out.  This conversation was said to have occurred about May 15, this year.

Defense Presents Testimony.

The defense endeavoring to show that deceased was a dangerous man and had at different times quarreled with defendant and his conduct toward him had caused him to be in fear of his life, put a number of witnesses on the stand during Thursday.

John Turner, of Dawson, was the first witness for defendant.  He testified that he witnessed a difficulty which took place between Stewart and Roberts about 15 years ago.  Stewart at that time lived on Evon Roberts place.  He said Roberts came to the barn and raised a difficulty with Stewart, drawing a gun on him.  He said Stewart ran to the house.  He put Roberts in his buggy and started him away from the place.

Will Hammock then testified as to certain alleged threats claimed by defendant’s attorneys that Roberts made against Stewart’s life.

L. J. Webb testified that about two weeks prior to Roberts’ death, he heard him assert he would kill Tom Stewart, “the g-d----s—of a-- b, and would not be but a few days about it.”  The witness said he communicated these threats to defendant shortly afterwards.  On cross-examination by County Attorney W. A. Tarver, he said Roberts remarks about Stewart were made concerning money matters in connection with the sale of livestock by Stewart just after he and his wife were divorced.  He was questioned concerning reported family troubles between the parties.  He disclaimed knowledge of such trouble.

In rebuttal to testimony of defense witnesses tending to show that unfriendly relations existed between deceased and defendant, State’s attorneys closely cross-examined, each apparently endeavoring to show that Roberts’ enmity towards Stewart was the result of mistreatment by defendant of his wife, deceased’s sister.

Further defense testimony was directed to an incident in which Roberts is said to have fired on Stewart in the big road near Pursley, when the two men came in contact.  This is alleged to have occurred along in the fall of last year.  Stewart on horseback is said to have passed Roberts’ car when fired on by Roberts as he galloped away a few hours later Stewart came to the cotton patch where Newburn Crawford and his brother and two sisters were picking cotton.

Miss Eva Crawford coroborrated the testimony of Newburn Crawford regarding the shooting incident.  Roberts was said to have fired with a pistol at Stewart as the latter galloped away coming down into the field.  On cross-examination Miss Crawford said Stewart upon reaching the field asked if they saw the shooting.

The testimony of Herman Wylie concluded the morning session. Noon-day adjournment was taken till 2 o’clock.

The defendant will take the witness stand to testify in his own behalf before the case is finally rested.  Richard Mays, leading counsel for Stewart announced at noon today.  The defense will also offer the testimony of at least four eye witnesses to the shooting, Mr. Mays said.

The shooting took place on the evening of June 17 at the entrance to the premises of Bob Cunningham’s residence, situated on the Pursley road about 100 paces on the opposite side of the road from Stewart’s house.

That Tom Stewart was justified in killing Ben C. Roberts because of an aggravated enmity existing between the two men for several years;  that the deceased was a man of violent temper, invariable went armed, had made threats against the life of defendant to divers persons, had attempted to carry those threats into execution on at least one occasion, and had caused his sister (Stewart’s wife) to separate from her husband, is the defense theory in the case.

Judge Scarborough announced today that a night session of court will be held tonight.  The judge stated he would exercise every effort at his command to dispose of the case this week. Attorneys are eager to get through with the testimony as early as possible.

The courtroom remains crowded almost to capacity.  Many witnesses as well as many relatives of Stewart and Roberts are in attendance constantly during the proceedings.

The Corsicana Daily Sun - Thursday, November 9, 1922
Submitted by Diane Richards

 

WITNESS TELLS OF SHOOTING OF ROBERTS AT CUNNINGHAM PLACE—EVENTS ARE DETAILED

Testimony for defendant in the Tom Stewart case in district court at Thursday night’s session centered about an alleged incident in which Ben Roberts attempted to take the life of defendant, on February 8, 1921.

Testimony during the day largely dealt with alleged threats that Roberts was said to have made against defendant’s life.  Several witnesses were heard on this point, as well as various other character witnesses testifying to the general reputation of defendant for peace and quietude.  Other evidence was directed to the general reputation of deceased for peace and quietude, and his ability to carry out threats in the event he had made any.

Mrs. Jim W. Higgins, Mrs. Annie Dillingham and Mrs. Nannie Eggleston, sisters of defendant, Wiley McElroy and J. R. Stewart, brother of defendant, were each put on the witness stand and questioned concerning the circumstance in which Roberts was said to have come to Tom Stewart’s house, drew a pistol in an attempt to kill him.

Mrs. Higgins testified of having a short conversation with Roberts in the Woolworth store in Corsicana shortly before in which he state (Roberts) “thought less of Tom than any man he ever saw in the world, and if his wife did not quit coming to him with a mess he was going to kill him, and that she would wind up her life in some insane asylum.”

In response to cross-examination question by State”s attorneys the witness said she never saw Stewart strike his wife, or in any way abuse her.

Mrs. Dillingham testified being at her brother’s house on Februrary 9, 1921, at the time Ben Roberts came there. According to her testimony Roberts alighted from his car at the front and approached the house, stepped upon the porch and drew his pistol.  He was prevented from entering the house by her mother latching the screen.  She said he asked where Tom was, and that he had come there to kill him.

Described Incident in Detail.

The witness described the incident in detail saying that when the automatic pistol was thrown into her mother’s face when she latched the screen she fainted.  She said Tom Stewart was in the house and went for his gun, but that it was hidden in a closet in the back room.  The Stewart family at that time lived where Cunningham now lives.  She told of how the next morning that Ben Roberts and Aaron Roberts passed their house in the car, that Aaron pulled up on the top windshield while his father pointed his pistol at the house as they passed.

Warnell and McElroy were at Stewart’s place on this occasion to serve a warrant on him for an alleged aggravated assault on Mrs. Stewart and an appearance bond for him to make.  The complaint making the charges against Stewart had been sworn out by Ben Roberts, the testimony showed.  The officers first came to the house served the warrant and left the blank bond form to be made out and signed by sureties.  They went then to Roberts’ house and notified him the case was set for hearing the next morning.  The officers then returned for the bond about thirty minutes later, and Ben Roberts accompanied them, or arrived there about the same time, it was said.

Mrs. Eggleston corroborated the testimony of Mrs. Dillingham, who was present at that time.  She said as soon as the officers had come and served the warrant on her brother, he came to her mother’s house to get her to sign it as a surety, and she, her sister, and mother accompanied him home and were there when the officers returned from Roberts’ place.  She said the officers were in the yard and that Ben Roberts drew his pistol and attempted to enter the house saying, “he had come to kill Tom.”  This witness reiterated the incident of the next morning with reference to Roberts’ passing her mother’s place with a pistol pointed at the house.

Complaint Dismissed.

Further testimony given by Bill Murray and Looney Webb was to the effect they accompanied Tom Stewart to Corsicana the next day when he appeared to make answer to the charge made against him by Roberts.  The complaint against him was dismissed by the county attorney’s office.

Wiley McElroy, an officer, who accompanied Warnell to the Stewart home to serve the papers said they went to the house and left the bond there and then went to Roberts’ house to notify him the case was set for the next morning and returned shortly to Tom Stewart’s place.  He said they stopped the car about 15 steps from the front porch.  He remained in the car and Warnell went into the yard.  He said he then saw Roberts on the porch.

“I stayed in the car and was fixing the storm curtain when Ben was on the porch.  He came on back towards the car and I got out and met him at the gate.”

J. R. Stewart was questioned concerning a conversation he is said to had with W. H. Brewster, who testified for the State to the effect that Stewart had made serious threats against Roberts, Brewster is a brother-in-law to both.

Stewart testified he had known Brewster for 22 years.  He declared he had a conversation with Brewster along last spring before defendant and his wife separated, and several weeks before the killing.  He declared Brewster made the statement to him that “if Ben Roberts did not quit fooling around Tom, Tom would have to kill him.

Friday Morning Session.

Defense attorneys resumed their testimony Friday morning by putting Deputy Sheriff Warnell on the witness stand. He was questioned in detail concerning the gun play of Ben Roberts at Stewart’s house.

The officer related his going to Stewart’s house to serve warrant and have him fix up his bond in the aggravated assault case filed by Roberts.  Judge L. B. Cobb, assistant attorney, he said, instructed him to summon the witnesses while out there in order to save an extra trip.

Leaving the bond with Stewart, he and McElroy went to Ben Roberts’ Place.  Warnell thinking Mrs. Stewart was at Roberts house made inquiry about her.  He said:  “Ben Roberts told us she was at her home and I said I had just come from there and I did not see her.  Ben said he would go back up to Tom’s house with us, if we had no objection, and see where she was, if she was not there.  We told him we had no objection to his going.  We drove back to Tom’s house.  I wanted to get the bond.  I went into the yard, two or three ladies came out of the house and met Ben Roberts behind me asking him, “Ben Roberts, what are you coming here for?  You are only here for trouble’  I went on into the hall and Tom Stewart came out of the room where I had left him about 30 or 40 minutes before into the hall.  Ben came on to the porch and asked ‘where is Lyda; that he had come after her;’ that he was tired of Tom whipping her.’  The ladies had come back through the front door and we were all in the hall.  They were all excited.

“Tom said, ‘ I have not whipped her Ben since we talked or some certain conversation.  “Ben said ‘yes you have.’ “Tom said ‘your are a d---- liar’ and reached for his shotgun behind the door.  Ben drew his pistol.  The women grabbed Tom and I turned to Ben and got him away.  We got back to the car where McElroy was.  Ben said he ought to kill him and would if it was not for me.”

Warnell filed a pistol toting charge against Roberts following this incident.  He said he did not know what disposition had been made of the case.

Cunningham on Stand.

The morning session concluded with the testimony of Bob Cunningham, the first witness of the defense to the tragedy.  It was at his premises that the Roberts were shot.  Mr. Cunningham lives on the Stewart homestead.  With him lives Arthur Mobley, his cousin, jointly working the crop.  Mrs. Cunning died in the spring of this year leaving four children, the oldest, Susie, is 16 years old.  Since the separation of Stewart and his wife, Stewart and his 11 years old son had been taking meals at the Cunningham home.  Cunningham and Stewart had been swapping work during the crop time, and the three men had just finished supper that evening and were on the porch talking crops when Ben Roberts, Aaron Roberts and Ross Roberts drove by the house in a Ford car without head lights burning and turned around stopping in front of the house on the pike road, according to Cunningham’s testimony.

Answering further questions the witness said when the car stopped in front of the house, a voice called.  He answered and was asked to come out.  He went out and greeted the occupants of the car shaking hands with Ben Roberts.

He then asked me how I was getting along, and I told him I was pretty much in the weeds,”  Cunningham said referring to the crop situation.

Cunningham then detailed the conversation which ensued between them which concerned twelve acres of land he had rented from Mr. Roberts up to that time only a part of it he had been able to get planted.  According to further statements some little argument about the working of the land took place between them.  He said Roberts kept insisting that the land be planted, and the witness insisting that he desired to work out what cotton he had already up to a stand before planting any more.

“Mr. Roberts then asked me if he did not see my teams plowing in Tom Stewart’s field, and I told him I had been plowing for Tom paying him back for what he plowed for me, and that I would plant the rest of his land as soon as I could get to it.” Cunningham said.

Picked Up Little Girl.

Arthur Mobley came out to the car and picked up Cunningham’s little 7-year-old daughter, which had followed her father from the house, and returned to the porch with her.  A few minutes later, he said heard Stewart call him from the porch, saying “Bob.” I turned my head towards the house when I heard Tom call me, and Mr. Roberts was raising his gun from the automobile seat, and in just two or three seconds the other gun cracked down.”

Mr. Cunningham said there were a total of four shots fired.  The first one took effect in Aaron Roberts’ body, as he was leaving the steering wheel of the car getting out or was at the front attempting to crank it.  The witness yelled at Ben Roberts saying, “My God, do not shoot towards that house—my little children are in there.”

At the firing of the second shot, which took effect in the body of the elder Roberts,  Aaron Roberts had walked around towards the rear of the car.

According to the witness Roberts said to ‘make Tom stop shooting and I will get away from here.”  “I yelled to Tom not to shoot.  After the second shot Mr. Roberts was down on the ground.  The third shot fired after Mobley and I put the two men into the car and Mobley cranked the car and Mr. Roberts drive it off.”

The witness was closely cross-examined by J. S. Callicutt for the State with reference to the position of the men when each shot was fired.  Following the firing of the first two shots, the witness called to Arthur Mobley to come out to the car to help him place the men in.  This was practically simultaneous with his running into the yard to the porch and calling for his daughter to telephone Mr. Payne to com down there for Tom Stewart had killed both of the Roberts.”  He was not sure if this happened between the firing of the second and third shoots.  the car had started away at the firing of the last shot, he said.

Borrowed Gun.

Questioned about Stewart’s shotgun, the witness said he had borrowed the gun and four shells on Thursday, two days before the killing, for the purpose of shooting crows which had been making ravages on his watermelons.  He had not fired any of the shells at the crows, however and brought it in with the shells from the field and stood it down on the front porch at the side of the door entering the house.  It had two shells in it, and he laid the other two shells on the floor just inside the door.  He stated he intended to take the gun home immediately after supper.

The witness testified going into the house, eating his supper, and when he came out on the porch Tom Stewart was there.  He stated he spoke to Stewart and pointed to the gun saying “There is your gun, Tom.”

In placing the wounded men back into the car, Cunningham stated Mobley picked Roberts gun from the ground and laid it in the seat.  He did not see Stewart of Mobley again until some little time following the shooting when he saw them at Grover Chambers’ house.  Chambers and Mobley came with Stewart to town that night where he surrendered to officers.

Noon day adjournment was taken until 2 o’clock.

The Corsicana Daily Sun - Friday, November 10, 1922
Submitted by Diane Richards

 

TOM E. STEWART, DEFENDANT IN SENSATIONAL MURDER TRIAL ON STAND-TELLS OF SHOOTING

Tom E. Stewart, defendant in the sensational murder trial, took the witness stand and testified in his own behalf in district court last night.

In response to questions put to him by Richard Mays, leading counsel for the defense.  Stewart stated he had lived in Navarro county for the past 22 years, coming to Texas from South Carolina.  All of this time he has lived in the Pursley community.  He married deceased’s sister 17 years ago, to which union were born three children.  He gave their names and ages as follows:  Audrey, Ida and Evan, aged 15, 13, and 11 years, respectively.

Stewart testified that about 15 years ago while living on the Evan Roberts place a strained relation sprang up between himself and Ben rovers, his brother-in-law.  He told in detail that on this occasion Roberts made a gun play at him, which was testified about early in the trial by John Tucker.  defendant said this difficulty came up over deceased trespassing upon his premises and removing rails from his hog pen, against which he protested with the result that Roberts said to Tucker he was “going to fix the s—of—a—b--.  He said when he drew a pistol on him he ran to the house to get his gun, and when he returned to the barn lot Roberts was driving off through the pasture firing his pistol.

Some time later, according to defendant’s testimony, Roberts endeavored to have him indicted for an alleged incident of white-capping which he accused him of.

Barn Destroyed by Fire.

Defendant went on to relate incident when Roberts barn burned, and that he accused him of setting fire to it.  He told of having “trouble with Roberts” when he came to his house in February, 1921, and attempted to shoot him, but was prevented from doing so by the officers.  In giving his version of this episode, Stewart told about the officers coming to his place and serving him with a warrant for aggravated assault upon Mrs. Stewart, the complaint having been filed by Ben Roberts.

When the officers returned to the house about 30 minutes later for the bond, that Roberts came upon his porch and “said something to me about abusing my wife,” and I told him, “whoever said that was a d----liar.”

“He went for his gun and I went for mine.  When I found my gun and two shells Ben had got out into the front yard.”

Told of other Trouble.

The witness said the next time he had trouble with Roberts was when they met in the road Oct. 4, 1921, and Roberts fired his pistol at him when he was unarmed.  Another time he told of meeting Roberts in the road was when he was riding on a load of cotton with Grove Chambers near Ward Bridge.  He said after Roberts had driven his car about 75 yards passed he raised up in the seat and waved his hat around his head at him.

Stewart declared that Looney Webb and Henry Jayroe each at different times told him of threats that Roberts had made against his life.  He steadfastly denied making any threatening statements about Roberts to C. E. Carver, who testified for the State.

with reference to the testimony C. E. Carver, who testified about riding out with Stewart and Grover Chambers in an automobile from the Blue Corner drug store, when he said defendant showed him some buckshot shells and told him, “these won’t miss old man Ben” and that he carried a shotgun, defense attorneys put three impeaching witnesses on the stand.

Stewart also told Carver tried to trade him a 308 high powered Savage rifle.  This is the type of gun that Roberts owned and had in the car with him the night of the killing.

Testimony shows Roberts got such a rifle from Carver.

Defendant denied steadfastly of ever mistreating or abusing his wife at any time or in any manner.  He said her health became impaired about three years ago and that he employed various physicians to treat her in an effort to restore her.

Tells of Shooting.

Getting down to the time and scene of the fatal shooting, the witness told of being at the house of Bob Cunningham on the evening of June 17 this year, when Roberts drove up in his Ford car.  He said they had been working crops together, and he with his little boy, Evan, had been taking most of their meals at Cunningham’s house.  Sometime he would eat at Grover Chambers’ house just across the field.  He said he did not eat supper with Mr. Cunningham that evening.  He had been to Pursley and bought bread and canned goods and he and Evan ate it at home before going to Cunningham’s house.  When they got there Mobley and Cunningham were in the kitchen at supper.  He announced his presence from the front and took a seat on the porch and waited for his host to come out.

When they had finished the meal both came out and all sit on the porch swinging their feet off smoking cigarettes.  In a few minutes Roberts car drove past the house and turned about and stopped in front of the gate and someone called.  He said he recognized it as Roberts voice.  The car was unlighted.

Mr. Cunningham went out and began talking with Roberts.  He declared he did not know if any one else was in the car with Roberts.  Closely questioned concerning the incident when he called “Bob” just before the fires shot fired, the witness said he was calling Mr. Cunningham for the purpose of asking his permission for his little boy, Raymond to go home with his little boy to spend the night.  According to his story the two boys were discussing his going home with him, and he was endeavoring to ask his father’s permission when he called.

Continuing with his story he said as he uttered “Bob” in calling Mr. Cunningham, without getting and answer he heard him cry out “My God, don’t shoot into that house—my little children are in there.”  He then became excited and ran back onto the porch and grabbed his shotgun, walked back into the yard, and saw a man jump out in front of the car and turn around, thinking it was Ben Roberts he fired and the bulk in the dark apparently disappeared.  In the next instant another bulk appeared in front of the car, still under the impression that was only one man in the car and that was Ben Roberts, he fired again.  He said after firing three shots Cunningham yelled at him to stop shooting and he did.  This fourth shot he claimed went off accidently, and was after he lowered his gun and was not shooting at anybody.

Thought Life in Danger.

Defendant said he opened fire on Roberts when he heard Cunningham exclaim not to shoot towards the house.  Believing his own life was then in danger he fired.

J. S. Callicutt for the state, for thirty minutes put the witness to a severe cross-examination and when court adjourned at 11 o’clock he had not finished.  Adjournment was taken till 9 Saturday morning when the State took up its examination.

During Friday afternoon Arthur Mobley, and eye-witness to the tragedy testified.  Evan Stewart also testified, as well as Raymond and Susie Cunningham.

Considerable significance is centered about the occurrence of the four shots.  the State insists that the first two shots fired by Stewart were in close proximity, and an interval of some length intervened before the last two, with the reference that a man would have to just about sufficient time to re-load his gun between the pairs of shots.

Defense attorneys insist the first three shots were in close proximity, and the defendant ceased to fire when called to stop.

Judge Scarborough expects to complete the testimony today, he announced last night.

Cross-examination of Stewart was resumed at 9 o’clock Saturday morning.  His testimony was finished in a short while.

Defense then offered the testimony of several witnessed in support of contention that Roberts had made serious threats against the life of defendant, and these threats had been communicated.  Additional witnesses were also introduced in impeaching the testimony of C. E. Carver.

Court adjourned from 11 o’clock till 1:30 in observance of the Armistice Day ceremonies.

The Corsicana Daily Sun - Saturday, November 11, 1922
Submitted by Diane Richards   

 

STEWART CASE IN HANDS OF JURY-ARGUMENTS WERE COMPLETED THIS MORNING

At press hour the jury in the Tom Stewart case had not returned a verdict.

The case of Tom Stewart, charged with the murder of Ben Roberts went to the jury shortly after 12 o’clock Wednesday noon.

Arguments of counsel which began at 2:20 o’clock Tuesday afternoon, were closed this morning.

In adjourning court for noon-day, Judge Scarborough suggested that they go to dinner, and upon return to the jury rooms they would begin deliberations for a verdict.

The court gave the necessary instructions to the jury, telling them he would hear the verdict at any hour of the day or night they wished to return it.

Judge Scarborough particularly cautioned the jurymen with reference to secrecy of their deliberations, telling them not even the sheriff or himself had a right to know anything about what transpired in the jury room with reference to the case.

Arguments in the Stewart murder case continued in district court Tuesday night with Fred Upchurch speaking in the behalf of the State followed by Wayne R. Howell, associate defense counsel.

County attorney Tarver, in the opening argument for the prosecution, and El J. Gibson for the defendant finished their oral arguments to the jury in the afternoon.

Richard Mays made the final argument for the defense Wednesday morning with J. S. Callicutt closing for the State.

Each attorney spoke for an hour, consuming the entire six hours equally divided between both sides of the case.

In presenting the case with powerful eloquence the prosecution relied on its testimony bearing about the immediate circumstances of the shooting, and the causes of personal enmity between the principals, which they urged Stewart was responsible.

The defensive arguments featured the alleged intermeddling of the deceased in defendant’s family affairs, and for fifteen years had hounded him by imposition and by making serious threats of bodily injury, and that the fatal shot was fired on the defensive.

Making reference to the long years standing of bitter feeling.  State’s attorneys urged that Stewart had been guilty of cruel and unwarranted inhuman treatment of his wife, and that it was to protect here that Roberts intervened, and that the immediate circumstances of the tragedy showed that deceased lost his life while on a lawful mission in which Stewart had to concern.  It was argued also the fatal shooting was done on the offensive.

Each attorney reviewed the mass of evidence produced from the stand for the last seven days in the long drawn out trial.

Court Room Packed.

The courtroom was packed during Wednesday morning while the concluding arguments were made by Mr. Mays and Mr. Callicutt.  Each lawyer was given an extension of time in which to present both sides of the sensational case.

Seated just inside the railing during the hours filled with the dramatic analysis of the case were the widow of the deceased Ben Roberts.  At her left side say Josie Roberts, her daughter, 20 years old and pretty, and on the other sat Ben Roberts’ sister, Mrs. W. H. Brewster, Ross, Aaron and Arthur Roberts, sons of Ben Roberts.  Near them were seated Mrs. Stewart, Iva and Audrey, her and defendant’s two daughters.  Evan Roberts, brother of Ben Roberts sat near the counsel table and at time whispered to attorneys of the prosecution.

On the other side of the court scene sat Stewart lounging carelessly in his chair.  By his side was Evan, his 11 years old son, and nearby sat three of Stewart’s sisters, Mrs. J. W. Higgins, Mrs. Nannie Eggleston and Mrs. Annie Dillingham.  Other relatives as well as a number of close friends to both families were present.

Mr. Mays, in presenting defendant’s version of the case, made a masterful argument.  He stressed the contention that for more than 15 years deceased had been the aggressor in the enmity that had maintained between them.  That Stewart had never been the aggressor in any of the difficulties, with the exception of the time when deceased attempted to attack him in his own home in the presence of officers.

That deceased not only intermeddled in defendant’s domestic affairs, but had gone so far as to interfere with his property rights, by making of certain declarations with regards to the sale of some cattle by Stewart.  In referring to Roberts’ going to the home of Cunningham on the fatal night, he challenged the reason of his going there, when he could have telephoned, and that had the trip been necessary, the taking of his two sons and a high powered rifle with him was unwarranted, had his mission been a peaceable one.  The whole trouble, he declared, grew from the efforts of Stewart to be the head of his own family, which he had the God and man given right to do, and to dictate the policies of his household, and that Roberts tread upon dangerous ground the minute he put his hand into the affairs of another’s family.

Callicutt Closed For the State.

Mr. Callicutt, in closing for the State, very ably presented his side of the case.  He ridiculed the arguments of the lawyers of the defense saying they had hedged about and steered clear of the actual killing in an effort to lose the jury on collateral issues.  Referring to Roberts’ alleged interferences of defendant’s domestic affairs, Mr. Callicutt very forcefully pleaded it was time for him to do so, when he had been abusing, whipping and threatening his sister.  At length he went into the testimony given from the stand criticizing the evidence of Mobley, Cunningham and of Stewart himself.  He took up the tell-tale evidence of the bullet holes in the car door and steering wheel, and said that according to Stewart’s own testimony he had fired three times on a man who was offering no resistance.  He contended that Tom Stewart sought protection in the friendly darkness under the big shade trees as he fired.  That Roberts raised his gun after his son had been shot down but it was tenderness in the heart of a brave man that caused him to lower it when Cunningham at the car cried out; “My God don’t shoot into that house—my little children are in there.”

“Roberts lowered his gun when Cunningham yelled that, although his son had been mercilessly shot to the ground, and told Cunningham to make Tom quit shooting and he would leave there.”  Mr. Callicutt said in pleading that Stewart was the aggressor.

Mr. Callicutt in urging against the suspended sentence pleaded that the evidence and circumstances showed “malice aforethought” on the part of defendant, and was the aggressor, and at the time he fired the shots that besprinkled the left side of Aaron Roberts’ body, and two discharges of buckshot that took effect in Ben Robert’ body which caused his death, his mind was capable of cool reflection.

The Corsicana Daily Sun - Wednesday, November 15, 1922
Submitted by Diane Richards

 

JURY RETURNS VERDICT OF NOT GUILTY IN STEWART CASE AFTER BEING OUT 20 HOURS

After being out for twenty hours, the jury in the case of State of Texas vs. Tom E. Stewart returned a verdict of not guilty in district court at 10 o’clock Thursday morning.  Stewart was charged with murder in connection with the fatal shooting of his brother-in-law, Ben T. Roberts.

The case has been on trial for the last ten days.  More than one hundred witnesses testified.

Judge Scarborough had convened court at 9:30 o’clock, and was engaged in the hearing of a civil action when notified that a verdict in the sensational case had been reached.

Seated in the jury box, which they had occupied for more than a week, Judge Hawkins Scarborough asked:

“Gentlemen of the Jury, have you arrived at a verdict?

“Yes, sir,” the jurors answered in a chorus.”

Forman W. T. Stone handed the court copy of the verdict, which read;  “We the jury, find the defendant not guilty, as charged in the indictment.”

Judge Scarborough warned spectators against demonstration saying the verdict was the opinion of the jurymen formed from the evidence submitted before them in the trial of the case.

Stewart, and his little boy were seated near the counsel table and received the verdict with calmness.  Among Stewart’s relatives present were Mr. and Mrs. J. W. Higgins, Mrs. Frank Reed of Dallas, Mr. and Mrs. Grover B. Chambers, of Pursley.  Mrs. Stewart, her two daughters, Mrs. Ben Roberts, Aaron Roberts and other relatives of the deceased appeared in the court room about five minutes after the verdict was received, and the jury had been excused.

Judge Thanks Jury.

Judge Scarborough in discharging the jury expressed his appreciation of their services in the case, saying it had been the hardest murder case tried in Navarro county from the standpoint of hard work and tedium for court and jury, because of the fact so many witnesses were heard and so many collateral issues brought up, which necessitated so much time.

As the jurymen filed out of the courtroom Stewart and his sisters and his brothers-in-law, J. W. Higgins and Grover Chambers stood at the door and shook hands with each as he passed.

In expressing his gratitude to each when shaking hands Stewart for the first time since the fatal shooting showed signs of emotion.

His face brightened. In his eyes glistened tear drops of unrestrained joy.

“I was not at any time uneasy about the verdict of twelve honest men,” he told them, “and I want to say that I am at peace with the world and happy.”

Members of Jury.

The following composed the jury;  Bob Campbell, Currie, farmer;  D. Ray, Emhouse, farmer;  W. L. Blackmon, Phillips Chapel, stationary engineer;  W. H. McReynolds, Rodney, farmer;  R. L. Swink, Richland, farmer;  O. J. Barryman, Frost, farmer;  T. J. Adams, Currie, farmer;  W. S. McCullock, Navarro Mills, farmer;  J. T. English, Frost, farmer;  W. T. Stone, Rodney, merchant;  W. D. Ragsdale, Barry, carpenter;  W. B. Jackson, Kerens, blacksmith.

Stewart is also charged by indictment with assault with intent to murder in connection with the shooting of Aaron Roberts, son of deceased Ben T. Roberts.

This is a companion case of the one of which he has just been acquitted.  In his testimony given in the trial he stated Aaron Roberts was shot by him through mistaken identity.

All parties to the tragedy were well known citizens of the Pursley community.  Much interest was shown in the case.

Shooting Occurred June 17.

The shooting occurred on the evening of June 17 at the premised of R. L. Cunningham, the Stewart homestead.

Stewart came to Corsicana following the shooting and surrendered to officers.  He was lodged in jail for the night and gave bond the next morning on a charge of assault with intent to murder in both cases.

Ben T. Roberts succumbed to the wounds received, dying about 6 o’clock Monday morning.

Stewart was re-arrested and charged with murder.  Stewart appeared before Justice of the Peace J. J. Sullivan June 20, and following several days hearing was remanded without bail.

The grand jury was in session at that time and the two indictments were returned against him shortly afterwards.  He was allowed bail in the sum of $7,500 in one case and $2,200 in the other by Judge Scarborough in a habeas corpus proceeding.  Bail was granted upon the transcribed testimony of witnesses given in the preliminary trial.  His bond was signed by about 50 citizens of Corsicana and Pursley, as sureties.

During the ten days of the trial the court room has been crowded to capacity by relatives and friends of defendant and deceased, as well as many disinterested spectators.

Two days were required in which to get the jury.  The regular petit jury panel of 36 men, and a special venire of 75 men were exhausted in obtaining the jury.

When the trial opened Nov. 6, Judge Scarborough issued an order that the doors to the court room be guarded by a deputy sheriff to search all persons for concealed weapons before permitting them to enter.

The Corsicana Daily Sun - Thursday, November 16, 1922
Submitted by Diane Richards

 

COURT HOUSE NEWS

District Court.

The divorce case of Mrs. Tom E. Stewart vs. Tom Stewart was set for trial in the district court today.  Attorneys and interested parties to the suit are negotiating a settlement out of court.

Both Mr. Stewart and Mrs. Stewart, together with their attorneys and relatives of the Stewarts and Roberts were at the court house practically all day negotiating a settlement of the case. This case figured to a considerable extent in the recent killing of Ben T. Roberts by Tom E. Stewart, for which the latter was acquitted by a jury recently following a sensational trial lasting ten days.

The Corsicana Daily Sun - Friday, December 22, 1922
Submitted by Diane Richards

Notes:
  • h/o Nancy Teresa Alice (Scogin) Roberts; s/o Evan Roberts & Mary Lucinda (Ross) Roberts

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