Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Both Sides Ready in Gaston Means' Murder Trial, Jury Selection Comes Next, 1917

“Gaston Means On Trial for Murder of Mrs. King,” from the Monroe Journal, Nov. 27, 1917

Both Sides Are Ready, and Special Venire of 150 Men Summoned…Interest in Case Still Intense

The trial of Gaston Means, charged with the murder of Mrs. Maude King, the wealthy New York and Chicago woman, started yesterday morning. A special venire of 150 men have been summoned, and the court is occupied with the drawing of the jury. The prosecution, as far as has been outlined, relies on the mass of circumstantial evidence to fasten upon Means the charge of murder, and, it is understood, will seek to show that a fortune of $2,000,000, which Mrs. King might have inherited through a second will of her husband, the last James King, of Chicago, provided the motive.

Means, a native of Concord, had been the woman’s business agent for some time before she met death while here on a visit to his relatives, and according to statements made by District Attorney Swann’s office in New York, evidence has been brought to light to show that a second will was to be offered for probate. Mrs. King had inherited more than a million through the first will.

Only Means Was There

No one except Means was present when Mrs. King was killed at Blackwelder Spring near here, according to the statement Means made to a local coroner’s jury. The coroner’s verdict was that Mrs. King accidentally shot herself with a small pistol with which he had intended to practice target shooting. To refute this, the prosecution, in the preliminary hearing which was ended by Means agreeing to be bound over to the grand jury, endeavored to show by expert witnesses that it would have been physically impossible for the woman to have held the weapon which inflicted a wound in the back of her head.

Counsel for the defense declined tonight to discuss their line of defense, but it was intimated from a source close to the defendant that its contention would be that Mrs. King accidentally was killed in handling the pistol which she had picked up while she and Means paused at Blackwelder Spring, near the target field, for the latter to get a drink.

Suicide Theory

One theory discussed again in Concord tonight as witnesses and officials gathered from New York and Chicago to aid the prosecution, was that the defense might contend that Mrs. King committed suicide. Little credence, apparently, was placed in this, but those who mentioned it held that Means at the inquest might have wished to shield the name of the dead woman from the stigma of suicide. 

Means’ counsel would not discuss the defense plans and the latter in jail, here, refused to see newspaper men. His wife and child spent the afternoon with him, and a member of his counsel said he was bearing up well.

Little chance was seen tonight of selecting a jury before Tuesday or Wednesday at the earliest, and attorneys generally had that the 36 jurymen automatically called with the issuance of the order for a special term of Cabarrus County court to try the case would be exhausted before 12 acceptable men were found. In that case, the court probably would adjourn while a special venire of 150 men were summoned, their names being drawn from the jury list, according to North Carolina law, by a child unable to read.

State at Disadvantage

In choosing the jury the defense has the advantage in that it has 12 peremptory strikes, and the state only four. Another feature of the jury selection that has attracted attention here is that the defense has retained all the principal attorneys in Concord, and the State, as far as known, is without a local attorney to aid in choosing jurors. Knowledge of this led to reports that the state again would seek trial in another court.

Change of venue was denied once when Judge E.B. Cline, who will preside at the trial, ruled against the state’s contention that a fair trial could not be had from a jury of Cabarrus County men. Either side, however, can renew its plea up to the time trial actually starts.

Solicitor Clement, who held a long conference today at his home in Salisbury, Rowan County, with John T. Dooling, assistant district attorney of New York, stated that thus far the prosecution has no intention of making another attempt for a change. Mr. Dooling, accompanied by other New York officials, who worked on the case from that end, arrived early today. L.C. Cline, a Statesville attorney, formerly of Concord, and an acquaintance of the Means family, came here today, having been retained, he announced, to aid the prosecution, and is expected to give much time to jury selection.

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