• Rifle Regiment arriving at Belle Point, 1817. Artwork by Michael Haynes

    Fort Smith

    National Historic Site AR,OK

Parker's Sentencing of William Jackson Whittington, June 1875

This sentence was handed down at the end of the May term of court in 1875, and is one of the the first death sentences handed down by Judge Parker. Far more emotion is shown in this sentence as compared to later sentences handed down by the judge.


John Whittington: you have been indicted by the Grand Jury of this district for the murder of John J. Turner in the Indian country. You have had a fair and impartial trial in which you have been aided by faithful and intelligent counsel who have done all for you during the progress of the trial that would or could have been done under the terrible state of facts which surrounded your case.

After a patient and deliberate investigation of your case by the petit jury which tried you, they have been constrained by their conscience and oaths as honest men and good citizens to pronounce you guilty of a most foul and aggravated murder.

Have you anything to say why the sentence of the law should not now be pronounced against you? The feelings and emotions with which I enter upon the discharge of the serious and important duty which devolves upon the court and which I am now about to perform are too painful to be expressed.

To pronounce the dreadful sentence of the law which is to cut a fellow being off from Society, to deprive him of existence and to send him to the bar of his Creator and his God where his destiny must be fixed for eternity, is at all times and under any circumstances a most painful duty to a court.

But to be compelled in the discharge of my duty to consign to the gallows a young man who but for his crime might have been a useful member of society who has but just entered upon a vigorous manhood standing as you do to others in the delicate relation of husband and father, presses upon my feelings with a weight which I can neither resist nor express. If in the discharge of this most painful duty I should in portraying some of the horrid circumstances of this case make use of strong language to express the enormity of your guilt and the deep depravity which it indicates, I desire you to rest assured it is not with any intention of wounding your feelings nor for the purpose of adding one pang to your afflictions which the righteous hand of an offended God is pressing so heavily upon you but it will be for the purpose if possible of awaking you to a proper sense of your awful situation and to prepare you to meet the certain death which in my opinion awaits you.

It is to endeavor if possible to soften your heart and to produce a reflection in your feelings that by contrition and repentance you may be enabled to shun a punishment infinitely more dreadful than any that can be inflicted upon you by human laws - the eternal and irretrievable ruin of your soul. From the testimony which was given on the trial in your case there is no room to doubt the certainty of your guilt or the aggravated circumstances attending the commission of the bloody deed.

The man you murdered was your friend, you had spent most of the Sabbath day upon which you killed him in his company. In an unsuspecting hour when he no doubt was treating you as a trusted friend you stole upon him unperceived, you aimed the deadly weapon at his head and with the fatal knife you literally hacked his throat to pieces and with these fatal instruments of death you mangled, you murdered your victim.

But your guilt and your depravity did not stop here. Scarcely had you committed the bloody deed before you entered upon the commission of another crime, you converted to your possession as spoils of the murder your victims money.

To the crime of murder, you added that of larceny or at common law robbery.

The punishment of death has been pronounced against the crime of murder not only by the laws of all civilized nations but also by that law which was written by the pen of inspiration under the dedication of the unerring wisdom of the Most High. And as God himself has prescribed the righteous penalty for this offense, so there is a strong reason to believe that very few murders are committed which are not ultimately discovered and the wicked perpetrators finally, if not by the law by some other agency, brought to merited punishment. I must say to you, debased and unfortunate man in vain was this most foul and horrible deed perpetrated where no human eye saw it. In vain did you try to get away from the mangled body of your victim with out being discovered.

You forgot that the eye of your God was fixed upon you; the eye of that God who suffers not even a sparrow to fall without His notice.

You forgot that you were in the presence of Him to whom the light of day and the darkness of night are all the same; that He witnessed all your movements, that by His undeniable will it is that this dark and bloody deed has been portrayed to the minds of men. His vengeance has at last overtaken you. The sword of human justice trembles over you and is about to fall upon your guilty head.

It will not be long until you will be compelled to take your leave of this world and enter upon the untried retributions of a never ending eternity.

And I beg of you not to delude yourself with the vain hope of pardon or escape from the sentence of the law.

In my judgment, your destiny in this world is fixed and your fate in inevitable.

Let me therefore entreat you by every motive temporal and eternal to reflect upon your present condition and the certain death that awaits you.

There is but One who can pardon your offenses, there is a Savior whose blood is sufficient to wash from your soul the guilty stain even of a thousand murders.

Let me therefore beg of you to fly to Him for that mercy and that pardon which you cannot expect of mortals.

When you return to the solitude of your prison let me entreat you by all that is still dear to you in time, by all that is dreadful in the retributions of eternity, that you seriously reflect upon the conduct of your past life. Bring to your mind all the aggravated horrors of that dreadful hour when the soul of the murdered Turner was sent unprepared into the presence of its God where you must shortly meet it as an accusing spirit against you. Bring to your recollection the mortal struggles and dying prayers of your murdered victim.

Recollect the horror that seized after you had committed the deed and were getting away from the place where it was committed, when you beheld the son of that victim.

Remember the terrible agony of the soul when with the dead father in sight you met a son with a falsehood upon your lips.

Think of the dreadful agony of the unnatural widowhood to which you have reduced the unfortunate partner of bed and board. Think upon the poor orphan child which is now to be left fatherless to the mercy of the world.

And when by such reflections as these your heart shall become softened let me again beseech you before your blood stained hands are raised in supplication before the judgment seat of Christ that you fly for mercy to the arms of the savior and endeavor to seize upon the salvation of His cross.

Listen now to the dreadful sentence of the law and then farewell forever until the court and you and all here today shall meet together in the general resurrection.

The sentence of the law as pronounced by the court against you is that you, John Whittington, for the crime of murder by killing one John J. Turner in the Indian country and within the jurisdiction of this court of which crime you stand convicted by the verdict of the jury in your case be deemed, taken and adjudged guilty of murder and that you therefore for the said crime against the laws of the United States be hanged by the neck until you are dead. That the marshal of this court, the District court for the Western district of Arkansas, by himself or deputy or deputies, on peril of what may befall them, at some convenient place in the Western District of Arkansas cause execution to be done in the premises upon you on Friday, the third day of September, A.D. 1875 next ensuing between the hour of nine o'clock in the forenoon and five o'clock in the afternoon of the same day.

And that now you be taken to the jail from whence you came, there to be closely and securely kept until the day of execution appointed as aforesaid then to be hanged by the neck aforesaid until you are dead.

And may that God, whose laws you have broken and before whose dread tribunal you must then appear have mercy on you.


As reported in the Weekly New Era, June 30, 1875.

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