Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Grand Jury Returns True Bill, Means to Stand Trial for Murder, 1917

“Gaston B. Means to Be Tried for His Life,” from the Monroe Journal, Nov. 2, 1917

Solicitor Clement Has Asked for a Change of Venue, Claiming That a Fair Trial Cannot be Secured in Cabarrus County

Concord, Nov. 1—The grand jury of Cabarrus County this morning returned a true bill charging Gaston Bullock Means with the murder of Mrs. Maude A. King, wealthy New York and Chicago woman, who was shot and killed at Blackwelder Spring near here on August 29. Immediately after the bill was returned, Means was arraigned in court and a special venire was summoned from which to select a jury to try him, but Solicitor Clement asked a change of venue and court adjourned until 2:30 at which time the defense will make its answer to the affidavit.

Means put in a plea of not guilty.

In asking that the trial of Means be removed to another point in this judicial district Solicitor Hayden Clement sets forth the prominence of the Means family during 100 years in this vicinity; that the defendant had employed practically all the lawyers in the city to defend him; that when he wanted to swear out a warrant charging Means with the murder of Mrs. King the officers were reluctant in issuing same, and that the feeling displayed against the New York witnesses and newspaper reporters, together with articles regarding them printed in a local newspaper and a newspaper at Kannapolis, made it difficult to properly try the case here.
The counsel for the defense asked to be given time to reply to the affidavit of Solicitor Clement and at 10:30 o’clock court adjourned until 2:30 this afternoon.

The indictment charging Means with the murder of Mrs. King came after the grand jury had examined witnesses for three days. Among those testifying before the jury were Dr. Burmeister, coroner’s physician of Cook County, Illinois, whose alleged discoveries at a postmortem examination of the body of Mrs. King at Chicago, where it had been carried for burial, was partly responsible for the reopening of the investigation into the case in this state. A coroner’s jury which investigates the circumstances surrounding the killing of Mrs. King returned a verdict the day after the tragedy at Concord that she had met death by an accidental bullet wound, self-inflicted.

Mrs. King was killed about 8 o’clock on the evening of August 29 at Blackwelder Spring, an isolated spot 10 miles from Concord, where she had gone with Gaston Means, Afton Means, a brother, and Carolyn Bingham, apparently for target practice. Mrs. King was a guest with her sister, Mrs. Mary C. Melvin, at the home of Gaston Means’ parents in this city. Means has maintained that he and Mrs. King left the automobile party and started for the spring, Means leading the way. According to his story, he was leaning over the spring getting a drink of water when he heard a shot, and whirling around he saw Mrs. King fall, some distance away.

Means is being defended by an array of leading lawyers of North Carolina and the state is being represented by Solicitor Hayden Clement and Attorney General James S. Manning.

When Judge Frank I. Osborne stood before Judge Cline this afternoon to oppose the removal of the Means case to Statesville or Salisbury, a bog preliminary battle began, for the defense, having shown its hand, now is ready to fight to a finish and the suspension and waiting of the last three days will be changed into spectacular happenings that promise to characterize the entire trial.

Solicitor Clement, in his affidavit this morning, included among his reasons for asking a removal, the prominence of the Means family, the universal discussion and forming of opinions by Cabarrus people, the employment of practically the entire Concord bar by Means, and last, certain editorials in the Concord Observer, which the solicitor declared were strong arguments in favor of the defendant.
Summing up, Mr. Clement said that he was satisfied a fair and impartial jury of men who had formed no opinion in the case could not be had in Cabarrus.

The arraignment of Means was the most dramatic spectacle in the proceedings of the morning. Hardly had Foreman C.S. Farrow of the grand jury announced the finding of a true bill, than Means was being conducted into the court room by Sheriff Caldwell from his cell hard by, where he has spent two months following his arrest on September 22. Mrs. Means, who had been on her daily visit to her husband’s cell, was with him when he received the discomforting news of the grand jury finding and she wept bitterly as she entered the little court room where only a few score citizens, urged on by curiosity, were keeping a silent vigil in hope of witnessing the grand jury return. Col. W.G. Means completed the family as represented at the court house this morning. Mrs. Mary Melvin was not present.

Means himself, despite his contagious optimism of past weeks, looked like a man suddenly shaken by some terrific emotion as he entered with his wife and the sheriff. When the clerk of court had uttered the words of arraignment, Means’ eyes were filled with tears and he showed far more emotion that he has ever displayed since the case had its beginning two months ago. His look was hard to interpret but there was disappointment and perhaps a suggestion of chagrin as if he felt the sting of some invisible lash and could offer no force to resist it with his own will or hands. When the clerk, a lifelong friend, had taken down Means’ plea of not guilty, and had uttered the solemn words, “And may God give you a true deliverance,” the dramatic elements of the tragedy of it all seemed to shoot home to Means’ consciousness and he fell for the moment under the sway of emotions that could not be controlled—perhaps the presence of the woman who had learned to love and trust him made the moment harder for him. And Colonel Means, the father and veteran lawyer of a thousand legal battles, became a chief actor in the scene which hundreds of times he has witnessed but only as an outsider and an uninterested witness. Judge Cline, it is probable, will grant the prayer for removal, but it is pointed out that the drawing of a jury from Rowan or Iredell would offer a ready compromise to the two pleadings, one for removal and the other against it, and many people here give this a likely place on the further program in this sensational case.

Since Assistant District Attorney Dooling and all of his aides are on the ground with the large contingent of Chicago men, the early hearing of the murder case will save these men form a great deal of inconvenience and, while their going and coming will not be material in setting the date of trial, there has been no hint that Judge Osborne or Mr. Cansler will ask for a continuance of the case, though a removal to Statesville or Salisbury would cause the case to await the next term of court in either town unless a special term is called and that would not head off a delay of 10 days or longer.

Therefore, it is believed that the trial will have an early opening. Not less than two days is the limit fixed by lawyers for selecting a jury to try Means.

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