Thurston-Lewis-Mason Central Labor Council
The Centralia Massacre Part 8
Updated On: Nov 19, 2021

The Snohomish County prosecutor must have had a difficult time preparing his case for trial, because of the number of parties involved and the knowledge that there would be much contradictory testimony. It would unduly lengthen this discussion to go into detail about where people were standing and where the shots were fired from, but it was controversial. The point is that this was no longer a simple matter of giving a businessman a badge and a gun and a club and telling him to beat someone. This was a first-degree murder case, and the prosecutor’s presentation would be countered by two unusually able attorneys. As it turned out, the trial took about nine weeks, and it is difficult to imagine a nine week trial being required for each of the other 73 defendants. It would tie up the court system for years.

The trial was moved to King County, and the judge appointed was J.T. Ronald. Judge Ronald was very liberal in allowing testimony with regard to the events leading up to the Everett Massacre. Not only did much testimony come in about the episode of IWW members being forced to run the gauntlet in Beverly Park, but at a later time the judge actually had the jurors transported to Beverly Park so that they could see the actual scene where this took place. They were also transported to the very dock where the massacre occurred, and the Verona was navigated into the same position it was in when the shooting took place. The jury undoubtedly began to form opinions about the lines of sight from the steamboat to the dock, and whether it was possible for a person in a certain position to fire at the men on the dock. They were shown where the sheriff and the deputies claimed to be standing when the shooting took place.

It should be emphasized that when first-degree murder has been charged, the defense is usually given considerable leeway in the introduction of evidence.

After all of the weeks of trial, and after the testimony of countless witnesses, the jury deliberated for less than 24 hours to find the defendant not guilty. One can imagine the shock that this acquittal caused the business community and the lumber interests.

As will be seen, the case arising from the Centralia Massacre was also a case in which the defendants were charged with first-degree murder as a result of conspiracy, or, in the case of Elmer Smith, being an accessory. Unlike the Everett case, however, it was difficult or impossible for the defense attorney, Mr. Vanderveer, to introduce evidence which tended to show a conspiracy on the part of some members of the parade, including Warren Grimm. Again and again, his attempts to introduce such evidence were objected to and the objections were sustained by the judge. It seems very probable that the reason for the restrictive approach to the attempted admission of evidence by the defense to show a conspiracy by the Legion members arose from the acquittal involved in the Everett case. Judge Wilson and the prosecution were not going to follow the path of Judge Ronald in the case that arose in Everett.

Not surprisingly, the prosecution did what it could to discredit the labor jury, even before it rendered a “verdict.” One of the members of the “labor jury” was called as a witness by the defense counsel to corroborate some testimony of another witness. The state revealed by cross-examination that this member of the labor jury, the one from Centralia, had located at least one witness useful to the defense. There was an attempt to show partiality as a result of this action. It could, however, be argued that although it would be highly improper for a real jury member to suggest a witness for either side, these men were, in fact, not genuine jurors, but ordinary citizens, and each citizen has not only the right, but the duty, to provide the name of a witness which he feels would be necessary to do justice in the case involved. A labor juror was asked by the press if he felt the trial was fair, to which he replied in the affirmative. This was allegedly changed by the newspaper to read that the entire labor jury found the trial fair so far, even though it was the opinion of a single member. Nevertheless, the “labor jury” did render its “verdict” at the close of the case at about the same time that the official verdict came in. “The labor jury found the defendants not guilty.”

Contact Info
Thurston-Lewis-Mason Central Labor Council
PO Box 66
Olympia, WA 98507

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