Thursday, October 13, 2016

Richmond County Jury Declares Foster Parsons Insane, 1919

“Insane, Says Jury,” from the front page of the Oct. 16, 1919, issue of the Rockingham Post-Dispatch

Foster Parsons Declared Insane Last Friday Night by Jury Following Five Days’ Inquiry as to His Sanity. Carried an Hour Later to Aberdeen and Boarded Train There for Insane Asylum at Raleigh. Review of Trial. Also Review on Page 6 of the Famous George Nance Trial in 1913. Nance Now Raving Maniac.

The trial of Foster Parsons came to a close on Friday afternoon of last week at 7 o’clock with the verdict of the jury that he is insane. He was an hour or so later carried by auto to Aberdeen where the midnight train for Raleigh was boarded, and Sheriff McDonald placed him in the department for the criminal insane at the State Asylum a few hours later.

And so has ended what is probably the biggest criminal trial ever held in Richmond county. Every bit of testimony and every inch of ground was stubbornly contested by the State and the defense.

When the Post-Dispatch went to press last Thursday afternoon, the evidence was all in and three speeches had been delivered. On Friday morning Mr. Gibbons and Solicitor Brock spoke for the State, and the case was concluded by the speech of A.M. Stack for the defense. Court then recessed for dinner. Reconvening at 2:30 the jurors were given the charge and instructions by Judge Stacy, and this 25-minute presentation of the facts was very clear and forcible. It was taken down in short-hand by Mr. Jones, the Court stenographer, and we are publishing this in full elsewhere in this issue.

The jury took the case at 2:50, with the following issue submitted to them:

“Is the defendant, Foster L. Parsons, by reason of his insanity at the present time, incapacitated to plead to the indictment and stand trial?”

Shortly after four o’clock they reported they stood 7 to 5. At six o’clock they filed into the Court room again and requested Judge Stacy to inform them as to what would happen to Parsons were they to find him insane and he later should regain his sanity. The Judge told them that if they find he is insane, he would be committed to the State Insane Asylum; that if later he should regain his sanity, he would be brought back to the county and be placed on trial for the two murders with which he is charged. One of the jurors, Mr. John W. Stubbs, then asked His Honor if a shorter and simpler issue could not be submitted so the Judge tore up the first issue and in its place gave the jury the following:

“Is Foster L. Parsons insane at the present time?”

The jury again retired, but reappeared at 6:50 with their verdict, the issue being answered: “Yes.”

Immediately Solicitor Brock arose and addressing the Court asked that the verdict be set aside as being incompatible with the greater weight of evidence. Attorneys Stack and Jones replied for the defense, urging that the verdict of insanity be allowed to stand as rendered by the jury of 12 citizens.

Judge Stacy then made a very clear-cut statement. He said he would not set the verdict aside, and yet at the same time he felt very strongly that the defendant was sane and that if he himself had been on the jury he would have rendered his decision that the prisoner was sane and possessed of sufficient mind to stand trial. However, went the Judge, the jury of 12 men have decided that the man is insane and though he differed with their decision, yet he would let it stand. Therefore Foster L. Parsons stands committed to the State Asylum, there to remain until such time as his reason may be restored.

Court then adjourned, 7:15 Friday afternoon and as stated above, Sheriff McDonald a few minutes later carried the prisoner through the country to Aberdeen, caught No. 2 for Raleigh and had Parsons in the Asylum before the night was over.

Now that Parsons is in the State Asylum, and adjudged insane, the question one hears frequently is “what will be done with him should he at some future time regain his mind?” In event his reason is restored he would be brought back to Rockingham and placed on trial for two murders. He would doubtless plead insanity as his excuse for the murders, and if the jury should then find him as having been insane when he COMMITED the murders, the matter would end and he would be freed. If the jury should find he was not insane when he committed the crimes, he would be sentenced probably to the electric chair.

Some folks have likely confused the hearing as to his sanity last week with an actual trial for the murders. Instead of a trial, it was a hearing by jury to determine whether he is sane or insane AT THE PRESENT TIME, and to see whether he has mental capacity enough to plead to the murder charge and make a defense for his life. The jury decided that he is insane and so is incapable of answering a murder charge AT THE PRESENT TIME.

Review of Parsons’ Trial
For the information of any readers who may not have seen last week’s Post-Dispatch and so are not familiar with the trial as given therein, we here briefly outline the case:

On August 1st Foster L. Parsons, a white man aged 23 of Richmond county, hired a Negro jitney driver at Hamlet to take him toward Hoffman. Before reaching that place Parsons shot the man through the head, hid the body in the woods, and carried the car to Durham where he sold it for $250.

Three weeks later, on August 20th, he again came to Hamlet, spent the night at Terminal hotel, next morning drove in a car to near Entwistle mill, where he bought $8 worth of gin, returning to Hamlet, hired a Negro jitney driver, Joe Wilson, to take him towards Aberdeen and when near Keyser he shot the man through the head and hid the body, as in the first case, in the woods. Buzzards later ate all the flesh from the bone excepting a bit in one shoe. He then went to Durham, got his wife and wife’s sister, and on Saturday started for Rockingham. At Sanford late Saturday afternoon he was arrested by Chief Braswell. He was lodged in jail at Rockingham, and upon being confronted with the facts, confessed to Braswell to the two murders.

A special term of court was ordered by the Governor for the purpose of trying him. It convened Monday of last week, October 6th, Judge W.P. Stacy of Wilmington presiding, and Solicitor W.E. Brock of Wadesboro prosecuting. Appearing for the defendant was W.R. Jones and Thomas & Phillips of Rockingham and A.M. Stack of Monroe. Assisting the State were L.P. Gibbons of Hamlet and H.F. Seawell of Carthage.

The Grand Jury, with C.H. Teague foreman, returned a true bill against him Monday afternoon and then the Solicitor began the trial by ordering Parsons to stand up and plead to his bill of indictment. At one his attorneys arose and requested the court to grant a preliminary hearing as to the defendant’s sanity, alleging their client was insane and therefore mentally incapable of conducting a defense. And so on this question the hearing was conducted, not as a trial for murder, but to find out whether he is insane AT THE PRESENT TIME.

Forty-four men were examined and excused from the jury box before a jury was finally selected; this was completed Tuesday morning, and about noon the defense opened the testimony by putting the mother of the man, Mrs. Allen Parsons, on the stand. She testified that when a baby he fell on his head and later had subsequent falls. She always thought him feeble-minded.

Others then testified as to his queer actions and inability to conduct a profitable business.

The star witness was Dr. J.K. Hall of Westbrook Sanatorium, Richmond, who testified that he spent two days in jail with Parsons, examined him, read up his family history that showed insanity in his family, and after all this gave it as his expert opinion that the man had DEMENTIA PRAECOX and is insane at the present time. Dr. Albert Anderson of the State Asylum, Raleigh, corroborated Dr. Hall’s opinion. Both of these experts wee agreed that the 23-year-old man, up until insanity developed this past winter, was possessed of the mind only of a 12-year-old boy.

Dr. James Taylor of Broadoaks, Morganton, on the other hand, testified for the State that he thought the man sane, though of an unusually low intellect and having the mind of a boy.

Dr. J.E.S. Davidson of Charlotte testified that in his opinion the man is sane. He examined him for 15 or 30 minutes in jail, and observed his demeanor in the court-room.

Other witnesses for the State testified as to their belief in his sanity.

The attorneys began arguing the case Thursday afternoon, W.R. Jones speaking first for 42 minutes, followed by H.F. Seawell for 40 minutes and Don Phillips for 30. When Court reconvened Friday morning, the other lawyers spoke, as detailed in the opening part of this recital, and after the Judge’s charge, the jury took the case and Friday afternoon at 6:45 reported their verdict of insanity.

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