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Birth name: Joel Emmanuel Hägglund
A.K.A.: Joseph Hillström
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Labor activist, songwriter, and member of the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World, also known as the Wobblies)
Number of victims: 2
Date of murder: January 10, 1914
Date of arrest: 4 days after
Date of birth: October 7, 1879
Victim profile: John G. Morrison and his son Arling
Method of murder: Shooting (.38 caliber automatic revolver)
Location: Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
Status: Executed by firing squad in Utah on November 19, 1915
photo gallery
State v. Hillstrom

Joe Hill, born Joel Emmanuel Hägglund, and also known as Joseph Hillström (October 7, 1879 – November 19, 1915) was a Swedish-American labor activist, songwriter, and member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, also known as the Wobblies). He was executed for murder after a controversial trial. After his death, he was memorialized by several folk songs.

Early life and IWW activity

Hill was born in Gävle, a city in the province of Gästrikland, Sweden. He emigrated to the United States in 1902, where he became a migrant laborer, moving from New York City to Cleveland, Ohio, and eventually to the west coast. He was in San Francisco, California, at the time of the 1906 earthquake. Hill joined the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) or Wobblies around 1910, when he was working on the docks in San Pedro, California. In late 1910 he wrote a letter to the IWW newspaper Industrial Worker, identifying himself as a member of the Portland, Oregon IWW local.

Hill rose in the IWW organization and traveled widely, organizing workers under the IWW banner, writing political songs and satirical poems, and making speeches. His songs frequently appropriated familiar melodies from songs of his time. He coined the phrase "pie in the sky", which appeared in his song "The Preacher and the Slave" (a parody of the hymn "In the Sweet Bye and Bye"). Other notable songs written by Hill include "The Tramp", "There is Power in the Union", "Rebel Girl", and "Casey Jones: Union Scab".

Trial and execution

Joe Hill was an itinerant worker, who moved around the west, hopping freight trains, going from job to job. Early 1914 found Hill working as a laborer at the Silver King Mine in Park City, Utah, not far from Salt Lake City.

On January 10, 1914, John G. Morrison and his son Arling were killed in their Salt Lake City butcher store by two armed intruders masked in red bandannas. Arling had drawn a handgun from behind the counter and wounded one of the masked men before being killed. The police first thought it was a crime of revenge, for nothing had been stolen (the elder Morrison had been a police officer, possibly creating many enemies).

On the same evening, Joe Hill appeared on the doorstep of a local doctor, bearing a bullet wound. Hill said that he had been shot in an argument over a woman, whom he refused to name. The doctor reported that Hill was armed with a pistol.

Considering Morrison's past as a police officer, several men he had arrested were at first considered suspects; twelve people were arrested in the case before Hill was arrested and charged with the murder. A red bandanna was found in Hill's room. The pistol purported to be in Hill's possession at the doctor's office was not found.

Hill resolutely denied that he was involved in the robbery and killing of Morrison. He said that when he was shot, his hands were over his head, and the bullet hole in his coat — four inches below the bullet wound in his back — seemed to support this claim. Hill did not testify at his trial, but his lawyers pointed out that four other people were treated for bullet wounds in Salt Lake City that same night, and that the lack of robbery and Hill's unfamiliarity with Morrison left him with no motive.

The prosecution, for its part, produced a dozen eyewitnesses who said that the killer resembled Hill, including 13-year-old Merlin Morrison, the victims' son and brother, who said "that's not him at all" upon first seeing Hill, but later identified him as the murderer. The jury took just a few hours to find him guilty of murder.

A widely-circulated story, which was included in the 1971 movie Joe Hill, is that Hill was in bed with a married woman on the night of the murder. He refused to use this iron-clad alibi, because in Utah in 1914, it would have ruined her reputation and her life. His discretion ended his life. The story is the basis of several songs and at least one movie.

An appeal to the Utah Supreme Court was unsuccessful. Orrin N. Hilton, the lawyer representing Hill during the appeal, declared: "The main thing the state had on Hill was that he was an IWW and therefore sure to be guilty. Hill tried to keep the IWW out of [the trial]... but the press fastened it upon him".

In a letter to the court, Hill continued to deny that the state had a right to inquire into the origins of his wound, leaving little doubt that the judges would affirm the conviction. Chief Justice Daniel Straup wrote that his unexplained wound was "a distinguishing mark," and that "the defendant may not avoid the natural and reasonable inferences of remaining silent."

In an article for the socialist newspaper Appeal to Reason, Hill wrote: "Owing to the prominence of Mr Morrison, there had to be a 'goat' [scapegoat] and the undersigned being, as they thought, a friendless tramp, a Swede, and worst of all, an IWW, had no right to live anyway, and was therefore duly selected to be 'the goat'."

The case turned into a major media event. President Woodrow Wilson, the blind and deaf author Helen Keller, and people in Sweden all became involved in a bid for clemency. It generated international union attention, and critics charged that the trial and conviction were unfair.

Hill was executed by firing squad on November 19, 1915, and his last word was "Fire!" Just prior to his execution, he had written to Bill Haywood, an IWW leader, saying, "Goodbye Bill. I die like a true blue rebel. Don't waste any time in mourning. Organize... Could you arrange to have my body hauled to the state line to be buried? I don't want to be found dead in Utah."

His last will, which was eventually set to music by Ethel Raim, founder of the group the Pennywhistlers, reads:

My will is easy to decide,
For there is nothing to divide.
My kin don't need to fuss and moan,
"Moss does not cling to a rolling stone."

My body? Oh, if I could choose
I would to ashes it reduce,
And let the merry breezes blow,
My dust to where some flowers grow.

Perhaps some fading flower then
Would come to life and bloom again.
This is my Last and final Will.
Good Luck to All of you,
Joe Hill

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the execution of Joe Hill, Philip S. Foner published a book, The Case of Joe Hill, about the trial and subsequent events, which concludes that the case was seriously miscarried.


Hill's body was sent to Chicago where it was cremated. His ashes were purportedly sent to every IWW local. ("every state but Utah," according to the AFL-CIO biography, "as well as to supporters in every inhabited continent on the globe. According to one of Hill's Wobbly-songwriter colleagues, Ralph Chaplin, all the envelopes were opened on May 1, 1916, and their contents scattered to the winds")

In 1988 it was discovered that an envelope had been seized by the United States Postal Service in 1917 because of its "subversive potential". The envelope, with a photo affixed, captioned, "Joe Hill murdered by the capitalist class, Nov. 19, 1915," as well as its contents, was deposited at the National Archives. A story appeared in the United Auto Workers' magazine Solidarity and a small item followed it in The New Yorker Magazine. Members of the IWW in Chicago quickly laid claim to the contents of the envelope.

After some negotiations, the last of Hill's ashes (but not the envelope that contained them) was turned over to the IWW in 1988. The weekly In These Times ran notice of the ashes and invited readers to suggest what should be done with them. Suggestions varied from enshrining them at the AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, DC to Abbie Hoffman's suggestion that they be eaten by today's "Joe Hills" like Billy Bragg and Michelle Shocked. Bragg did indeed swallow a small bit of the ashes and still carries Shocked's share for the eventual completion of Hoffman's last prank.

The majority of the ashes were cast to the wind in the US, Canada, Sweden, Australia, and Nicaragua. The ashes sent to Sweden were only partly cast to the wind. The main part was interred in the wall of a union office in Landskrona, a minor city in the south of the country, with a plaque commemorating Hill. That room is now the reading room of the local city library.

One small packet of ashes was scattered at a 1989 ceremony which unveiled a monument to IWW coal miners buried in Lafayette, Colorado. Six unarmed strikers were machine-gunned by Colorado state police in 1927 in the Columbine Mine Massacre. Until 1989 the graves of five of these men were unmarked. Another famous Wobbly, Carlos Cortez, scattered Joe Hill's ashes on the graves at the commemoration.

Influence and tributes

  • Hill was memorialized in a tribute poem written about him c. 1930 by Alfred Hayes titled "I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night", sometimes referred to simply as "Joe Hill". Hayes's lyrics were turned into a song in 1936 by Earl Robinson.

  • Paul Robeson and Pete Seeger often performed this song and are associated with it, along with Irish folk group The Dubliners. Joan Baez's Woodstock performance of "Joe Hill" in 1969 is one of the best known recordings. She also recorded the song numerous times, including a live version on her 2005 album Bowery Songs. Scott Walker recorded a version for his album The Moviegoer.

  • The Swedish socialist leader Ture Nerman (1886–1969) wrote a biography of Joe Hill. For the project, Nerman did the first serious research about Hill's life story, including finding and interviewing Hill's family members in Sweden. Nerman, who was a poet himself, also translated most of Hill's songs into Swedish.

  • Ralph Chaplin wrote a tribute poem/song called "Joe Hill" and referred to him in his song "Red November, Black November."

  • Phil Ochs wrote and recorded a different, original song called "Joe Hill", using a traditional melody found in the song "John Hardy", which tells a much more detailed story of Joe Hill's life and death, and includes the lines that have since been associated with Ochs' own life and death, "It's the life of a rebel that he chose to live; It's the death of a rebel that he died". Ochs' song concludes with Hill's words, "This is my last and final will; Good luck to all of you, Joe Hill, Good luck to all of you."

  • Singer/songwriter Josh Joplin wrote and recorded a song entitled Joseph Hillstrom 1879-1915 as a tribute to Joe Hill for the self-titled debut album of his band, Among The Oak & Ash.

  • Frank Tovey sings about Joe Hill in his song 'Joe Hill' from the 1989 album Tyranny and the Hired Hand. In this song he uses some of the words from the Alfred Hayes poem.

  • Bob Dylan claims that Hill's story was one of his inspirations to begin writing his own songs. His song "I dreamed I Saw St. Augustine" is loosely based around the story and Robinson's version.

  • Chumbawamba's song about Joe Hill, "By and By", appears on the 2005 album A Singsong and a Scrap. It incorporates the first stanza of Alfred Hayes' poem.

  • In 1990, Smithsonian Folkways released Don't Mourn — Organize!: Songs of Labor Songwriter Joe Hill. This compilation featured the likes of "Haywire Mac" McClintock and Cisco Houston performing his songs as well as narrative interludes from Utah Phillips, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, and others.

  • Wallace Stegner published a fictional biography called Joe Hill in 1950.

  • Authors Stephen and Tabitha King named their second child, Joseph Hillstrom King, after Joe Hill.

  • Gibbs M. Smith wrote a biography "Joe Hill", which was later turned into the 1971 movie Joe Hill also known as The Ballad of Joe Hill directed by Bo Widerberg.

  • A chapter of John Dos Passos's novel 1919 is a stylized biography of Joe Hill.

  • Robert Hunter wrote the opening verse about Joe Hill for the song "Down the Road" which he wrote for Mickey Hart's Mystery Box.

  • The Nightwatchman (a.k.a. Tom Morello, guitarist of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave) refers to Joe Hill in his song "The Union Song".

  • For Rage Against the Machine's second Album, Evil Empire, a suggested reading list was included. Included is the biography Joe Hill written by Gibbs M. Smith.

  • Joe Hill's name is invoked in Steve Earle's song, "Christmas in Washington."

  • Joe Hill is referred to in Justin Townes Earle's song, "They killed John Henry." (Justin Townes Earle is the son of Steve Earle.)

  • The Swedish punk rock band Randy refers to Joe Hill and the organization Industrial Workers of the World in a song called "If We Unite" on their album The Human Atom Bombs from 2001.

  • Kev Carmody's piece "Comrade Jesus Christ", includes the line "he'd fight with Joe Hill". Hill is also referred to in his song "Cannot Buy My Soul".

  • In his book An Undividable Glow , Robert Brady speaks about an area of Manchester, England as Cheetham "Joe" Hill.

  • Seattle composer and bandleader Wayne Horvitz created a musical tribute for Joe Hill in 2008. Joe Hill: 16 Actions for Orchestra, Voice and Soloist, which premiered at Meany Hall in Seattle, features the Northwest Sinfonia and guest soloists Bill Frisell, Robin Holcomb, Danny Barnes, and Rinde Eckert.

  • "Calling Joe Hill" by Ray Hearne is frequently performed by Roy Bailey, a British socialist folk singer.

  • In 1995 the first "Raise Your Banners" festival of political song was held in Sheffield, inspired by the 90th anniversary of the death of Joe Hill. Sheffield Socialist choir which was formed in 1988 organised the event and performed an arrangement by Nigel Wright of the Earl Robinson song about Joe Hill. Since then the festival has been held roughly every two years, being held in Bradford in November 2007 and 2009.

  • Pennsylvania based hardcore band Wisdom In Chains ended their album Everything You Know with a young voice reading "Joe Hill's Last Will".

  • Otis Gibbs made the "Joe Hill's Ashes " album in 2010

  • Hill's last will is the lyrics to a song entitled Good Evening Mr. Q, appearing in the 2002 album Memoirs by the Norwegian group The 3rd and the Mortal.

  • Folksinger Jason Roseboom recorded the song "Joe Hill" for his album "Talkin Gotcha Blues" 2010


The Joe Hill Project

The Case

The following is wholly from Gibbs M. Smith's Joe Hill-The Facts Re: Joe Hill's whereabouts during the murder of J.G. Morrison and its immediate investigation (all times are close approximations). Please note: this is a severely abbreviated account.

  • Saturday January 10, 1914


    1. 6-9:00 p.m. Joseph Hillstrom (a.k.a. Joe Hill) left the Eselius home, where he had been staying with friends (he met Edward and John Eselius earlier that year in San Pedro).


    2. 9:30-10:00 p.m. In the Nellie Mahan home, located across the street to the south of the Morrison store, Nellie heard a series of shots and hurried to her front room. Looking out the window to see if there was a light in the store, she saw a man wearing a dark coat and a soft hat run from the store to the corner of the curb on 8th South. The man uttered some words which she did not understand, then reportedly said "I'm shot." He stopped briefly on the corner, and then ran toward the alley in the back of her house.


    3. 10:00 p.m. John G. Morrison and two of his sons, Merlin and Arling, were in the process of closing the Morrison grocery store. Arling, a youth in his late teens, was sweeping; Mr. Morrison was pulling a sack of potatoes across the floor, and thirteen-year-old Merlin was moving toward the entrance of the store. Two men wearing red bandana handkerchiefs over their faces and soft felt hats entered. One was tall, the other short, and each carried a pistol. As they entered they shouted "We have got you now!" Merlin, the only living witness of the ensuing gunfight, recalled the following: The men advanced towards Morrison and a shot was fired; Morrison stood up from behind the counter with his back to Merlin. One of the men leaned over the counter and fired a shot. Morrison fell behind the counter out of Merlin's view. Immediately after the second shot several more shots were fired; the men then fled from the store. Merlin went to his father who was still alive but unable to speak. Merlin then saw his brother lying dead on his side with his right hand outstretched. Near Arling's hand was a pistol which Merlin had seen his father load and place in the ice-box that evening. The boy ran to the telephone and called the police.


    4. 10:15 p.m. The first policemen arrived on the scene of the Morrison murder. They took Morrison to the police station hospital where he died without making a statement about the killers. The police and neighbors made a thorough search of the area around the store-a search which yielded four suspects, who were duly arrested, and some rather curious evidence. It is not clear when these suspects were released, however, it is evident that Hill monopolized police interest after his arrest, and it is probable that other suspects were released shortly thereafter.


      1. Two policemen had to "empty their guns" to apprehend two suspects who were trying to board a freight train that was slowly leaving a railroad station not far from the store. The men, (1) C.E. Christensen and (2) Joe Woods, were jailed. The police discovered that they were wanted in Prescott, Arizona, for a $300 robbery.


      2. The man later identified as (3) W. J. Williams who was found walking near the Morrison grocery store and was arrested. A bloody handkerchief was found in his pocket, and the newspapers reported that the police suspected he was one of the killers and was looking for his companion when arrested. Williams told police that he was living at the Salvation Army House, but inquiries proved he was not known there. The only statement Williams made was that he was innocent.


      3. Nineteen-year-old (4) Oran Anderson became a suspect when he walked into the police station with a 38-caliber bullet wound in his arm. He claimed he had been held up by two gunmen in the vicinity of Eighth South and Sixth West streets. He was questioned extensively because of the possibility that he might have been wounded in the Morrison store.


    5. 11:30 p.m. Hillstrom visited the home of Dr. Frank M. McHugh on the corner of Fourteenth South and State street in Salt Lake City. Upon being received at the home, Hill said, "Doctor, I've been shot. I got in a stew with a friend of mine who thought I insulted his wife. When he told me I insulted his wife I knocked him down, but he got up and pulled a gun and shot me. I have walked a way up here so I guess it ain't serious because this fellow that shot me didn't really know what he was doing, I want to have nothing said about it. If there's a chance to get over it, it will be O.K. with my friend." It is later, after the arrival of Dr. Bird (a friend of McHugh), as he is examining Hill's bullet wound, that the Doctor notices Hill has a gun in a shoulder holster. Joe claimed to have been unarmed at the time he was shot, and offered no explanation as to why he had the gun upon his arrival.


  • Sunday January 11, 1914


    1. 12:30-1:00 a.m. Dr. Bird, at the request of McHugh, drives Jill home. On the way to the Eselius house Hill discards his fire-arm, and signals as they approach the house with two shrill whistles. Joe arrives at the Eselius house.

The Arraignment and Trial of Joe Hill, In Brief.

From Gibbs M. Smith's Joe Hill

  • Monday January 13, 1914


    1. Joe Hill was recovering from his gunshot wound at the Eselius home.


  • Tuesday January 14, 1914


    1. Hill was in jail. The police working from a tip-off from Dr. McHugh apprehended Hill (who's only action, for which he was shot in the hand, was to reach for a handkerchief).


  • Wednesday January 15, 1914


    1. According to Hill, when Merlin is brought to confirm or disconfirm Hill's identity as one of the men in the store he says, "No, that's not the man at all. The ones I saw were shorter and heavier set."


  • Monday January 20, 1914


    1. He was formally charged with Murder in the first-degree.


  • Monday January 27, 1914


    1. Hill enters a plea of Not Guilty at his arraignment appearance before Precinct Justice Harry S. Harper. He rejects counsel, on the grounds that he can't afford it (and likely doesn't trust a public defender, who is working for the same entity that is trying to convict him), and desires a Pro Se defense.


  • Tuesday January 28, 1914


    1. According to a statement of Hill's that was submitted to the Utah Board of pardons regarding the preliminary hearing, Hill, acting Pro Se, decided to "let them have it all their own way" and not ask any questions. Hill did, however, question Merlin about his earlier January 15th statement, the boy denied making the statement, in court. Mrs. Phoebe Seeley, a witness of sorts, was subjected to leading questioning by the county prosecutor. Hill states his belief that her testimony was particularly damning to his defense, although he didn't cross-examine her. Another important witness was Mrs. Vera Hansen, who saw 2 or 3 men fleeing the scene of the crime. She allegedly heard one of them say "Bob" or "Oh Bob". Hill inquired of her "Do you mean to tell me that you, though that single word Bob, your were able to recognize my voice?" The hearing resulted in Justice Harper's ruling that there was sufficient evidence against Hill to warrant a trial. Joe Hill would be tried in the courtroom of Judge Morris L. Ritchie. The trial was set for June 17, 1914. Hill was to be charged for only one of the murders, that of J.G. Morrison. Hill obtained legal representation for the trial in a rather unusual way. Shortly after the preliminary hearing, E.D. McDougall visited Hill and explained that he was an attorney, a stranger in town, and interested in the case. He offered to handle Hills case free of charge. Hill accepted. Shortly thereafter, McDougall became partners in defense with F.B. Scott.


  • Wednesday June 17, 1914


    1. District Attorney (D.A.) Leatherwood indicated that the state's evidence was only circumstantial and that he would not prove directly that Hill had killed Morrison, but would submit a chain of circumstances from which guilt would be inferred. The first state's witnesses were policeman who introduced routine material evidence relevant to the crime.


  • Thursday June 18, 1914


    1. Merlin Morrison testifies. Though his testimony did not hurt the state's case, he did not live up to the hype surrounding his status as a key witness. He failed to positively identify the accused as one of the men he saw, the night of the murder. This was due, mostly, to the fact that the murderers had been wearing hats, and bandanas over their faces.


  • Friday June 19, 1914


    1. Herman Harms, the state chemist, testifying that the blood found in the ally on the night of the murder was definitely of "mammalian origin" but that he could not determine whether it was human or not. At this point Hill stood and addressed the court. He proceeded to tell the Judge that he was firing his attorneys. There was some debate in the judge's mind as to whether or not to take Hill seriously. Eventually the judge rules that Hill could represent himself, but that Scott and McDougall were to remain on staff as amicus curiae (friends of the court) to assist Hill in his defense. This was a key event in the trial. Though the D.A. went through the rounds with many witnesses, and though the bulk of them saw Hill as resembling, in one way or another, the murderer, the testimony was not hard evidence. F.B. Scott, still bitter about the incident more than a year later, wrote the Salt Lake Telegram in August 1915:

        The foreman of the jury and several other jurymen tell me that we were conducting the defense so well that they were inclined to believe him innocent until the uncalled for outbreak…The jurymen say that had all the earmarks of guilt to their minds.

USC Appeal

With the backing of the Industrial Workers of the World, Joe Hill's murder conviction was appealed to the Utah State Supreme Court. Citing dozens of alleged errors in procedure and fairness, attorney O.N. Hilton called Hill's conviction "utterly lacking in the essential, fundamental elements of proof." The three member court listened to arguments, and in a matter of days handed down a unanimous verdict upholding the Hill conviction.

There is absolute,
And a complete disregard of those safeguards that at least tend to prevent an innocent man from being punished for the party actually guilty of the charge.

It is at such a time that the defendant realizes the protective power of the Supreme Court that, removed from the strife and contention of the court trial, can judicially and impartially declare and weigh the evidence in accordance with those principles that assure the defendant that his life shall not be taken from him in utter disregard of his constitutional rights and in a case where the defendant has been denied due process of law - that fair and impartial hearing of his cause guaranteed to him by the laws of his state.

Facts of the Case:

In and by the information, Joseph Hillstrom, the defendant, was charged with the murder of J.G. Morrison, at Salt Lake County, Utah, on January 10, 1914, by shooting the deceased with a revolver. That on the date mentioned, two men disguised with "red handkerchiefs tied around their faces," entered the store of the deceased, at about ten o'clock in the night, and exclaiming, "We've got you now" (Abs. 80), each man having a pistol in his hand, shot the deceased and at the same time killed the son, Arling Morrison, who, when his body was found, had a gun in his hand (Abs. 90).

Failure of Identification:

Under this head we desire to discuss assignments of error numbered 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 31 and 32, all of which go to the admission of improper evidence, the improper admission of exhibits with which the defendant was in no way connected, and the refusal of the court to strike such testimony from the record.

The objections made were timely, and it will be apparent, as the testimony is read, that the testimony offered was so disconnected, partook so much of conjecture and impression as to be worthless as a basis of proof.

Evidently the deceased had expected trouble, because Merlin Morrison, the younger son, says his father's revolver, which was kept in the ice box, "was loaded just before the men came in" (Abs. 86), and then in the following indefinite and uncertain manner proceeds to describe his impressions.

After the defendant was arrested, I saw him at the jail; his height "is the same as the man that fired the second shot at father;" could see the outlines of his body; defendant's size "compares just about the same as the man I saw;" he was slim; shape of head about the same (Abs. 92); couldn't tell his features because of handkerchief over his face; both men used the expression as they came into the store (Abs. 95), "we've got you now;" both used same words and spoke at same time; didn 't see the man's countenance nor the shape of his head; that it was a kind of guess with him; that he was excited and all his observations were made hurriedly....

The witness Carlson, who accompanied the witness Vance, said (Abs. 156) that there was some blood tracks and dog prints with blood drops that led to an old dairy house. It got so we could see where the dog had been going in the snow and dog tracks all over, in fact we found the dog that had a sore foot. We saw the blood in the dog's tracks, whether we concluded it was dog's blood or not. That they found no blood at the store, and the first he saw was on Eight South in the center of the street diagonally over to the alley. Witness Cleaveland recalled scraping up some of the bloody substance (Abs. 161), probably a teaspoonful. The blood spots were very bright, and others that did not look so bright. Chemist Herm Harms (Abs. 164) would only testify that the blood was of mamalian origin (Abs. 171).

Phoeboe Seeley (Abs. 177) was going home from the Empress Theatre; at Jefferson Street met two men going east (Abs. 182) on Eighth South, coming shoulder to shoulder, and were crowded off the walk; "one was slightly taller than the other," and the taller turned around, directing his gaze to witness (Abs. 183), and noticed red handkerchief on taller man's neck; his face was real thin; he had a sharp nose and large nostrils (Abs. 185) and a "defection" on the side of his face. This man (noticing the defendant) has a real sharp nose and his nostrils were large. I have seen the defendant standing, and the height of the defendant is "the same as the man that turned and looked at me" (Abs. 188).

At this point, with no counsel to guide him, the prosecuting attorney takes every possible advantage and puts in the mouth of the Seeley woman these words:

"Q. How does the nose of Mr. Hillstrom compare with the nose of the man you looked at there?
A. Very much the same.
Q. Have you had an opportunity of observing his neck and face since he has been in custody?
A. Not until just now.
Q. How do the marks, especially on the left hand side of his face and neck, that you have had an opportunity to observe, correspond with the marks on the man that you saw there at that time?
A. Well, they look 'a great deal alike' to me as on the same man that I saw.
Q. You simply say there was a scar, as I understood you to say, the man had scars on his neck?
A. Yes, he had what I call a defection in his face."

Was there ever a more flagrant disregard of the rights of a defendant than this third degree procedure, at the time when the defendant was sitting, helpless, without counsel, and not knowing when to object nor what to do, and the court letting the district attorney tell the witness what he wanted to get from her.

The witness, on examining the hat, exhibit 5 (Abs. 195), said it looked very much like "the hat that the man had on, and the handkerchief was red. That the coat, exhibit 6, didn't hardly seem like the coat; that the coat was lighter."

Here the court questions the witness (Abs. 199):

"Q. How does Mr. Hillstrom, as he sits here, compare in regard to his thinness with the man you saw that day?
A. His thinness is about the same, but his hair -
Just about as thin, had you finished your answer?
A. But his hair is entirely different.
How does he compare in thinness of the body wit the man you saw that day?
A. I never paid any particular attention.
You did not pay any attention to the thinness of his body, but the thinness of his face is just the same as the man you saw?
A. Just the same.
You say his hair is different?
A. Yes, sir.
In what respect is his different?
A. His hair has been cut.
A. His hair was bushy. The man I saw his hair was long and was real fluffy at the side of his hat."

Now, if this was not taken from the record of the case, if it had been related by word of mouth that any such suggestion and invitation of comparison and a searching of the witness's memory to invite her to say that Hillstrom was the man "who turned and looked at her," the party making the statement would have seriously invited the conclusion that it was forced from a witness who knew nothing of the facts. And yet upon this very vague, shadowy pretense of testimony, the defendant is convicted.

Later on, the same witness admits an honest doubt as to the identity of the man who stopped "and looked around at her" being the defendant (Abs. 204), saying:

At the preliminary hearing you were asked this question, and did you answer:

"Q. You want the court to understand you have an honest doubt as to the identity of this man and the one that was on Eighth Street, is that correct?
A. Yes.
Did you so testify?
A. Yes.
To show how completely this witness failed of any identification we will ask the court to read from 205 of the abstract to 217 inclusive, and on that reading, we will say to this court that the thoughtless, loose, flippant talk of this witness was such as ought to have compelled the trial court to order it stricken from the record.

Margaret E. Davis (Abs. 220) passed in front of Morrison's store, saw it lighted, saw "two gentlemen" on the northeast corner across from the store, standing still, and as she continued towards the store the men started across the street, walking west; that she passed the men standing on the corner, and as she got in the light (Abs. 224) they moved over by the poles on the corner. I saw the two gentlemen and was frightened of them; I noticed the general appearance. I thought one of them had a red sweater around his neck. One was "taller than the other" (Abs. 227); tall, thin man, slender, that is all she could say about him. Has seen the defendant in the hall of the court house; his height "corresponds very much with the height" of the taller of the two men I saw by the poles. At first the men had their faces in my direction, coming across the street (Abs. 227), but I was where I could not see them. As I turned from Morrison's store they were still near the two poles. I did not see them again; did not get a better view of one than the other. I think I could recognize the shorter of the two men if I could see his picture. I distinguished what seemed to be a red sweater; it was light; I saw nothing else red; if there had been I would have observed it, but I did not (Abs. 230); far as face and features were concerned, I took no particular note. One man (Abs. 231) had a cap; the other, a slouch hat; don't remember the colors. I have forgotten which wore the cap, "but I am quite sure it was the taller of the two."

Mrs. Lucy Williams (Abs. 268) was, on the night of January 10, 1914, about ten o'clock, sitting in her parlor, fronting on Jefferson street; attention was attracted by moaning; noise appeared to come right across the street; heard a cough like clearing the throat; did not look out nor make personal investigation. Next morning went across the street; saw a patch of blood that looked like it had been spit. Was foamy; was not a bit red.

Mrs. Vera Hansen (Abs. 275) lived directly opposite Morrison's store; was home on the evening of January 10; heard a loud noise like shots. Looked out (Abs. 275), saw a man stepping out of the door of the store; I ran out on the walk; watched the man, and he said "Oh, Bob," loud enough so I could hear it across the street; it sounded full of pain; had his hands drawn up and slightly stooped....

Thomas Higgs is produced. He was at the Morrison store (Abs. 416), picked up the revolver. One cartridge had been fired. "I smelled of it and it smelled the fresh smell of powder."

On being recalled, Dr. McHugh testified that there would be tendency to hemorrhage or to cough (Abs. 421)

We have here set out fully all the facts that can be gleaned from the evidence. This is the state's entire case.

At this point there was not a scintilla of evidence that in any way connect the defendant with the crime. The facts placed against each other are as follows:

There was an attempt made to hold up Mr. Morrison September 20th. That on the night of January 10, 1914, he loaded his revolver, placed it in the ice box near at hand. That about ten o'clock that night, two men, with red handkerchiefs on their faces, came into the store exclaiming "We've got you now," and commenced shooting. That Arling Morrison evidently got the gun and fired one shot from it.

That the defendant "looked like the man who ran from the store who was tall and thin." That the defendant was suffering from a gunshot wound.

Morrison prepared that night against known enemies. The defendant had never seen nor known Morrison, the deceased. ....

The officers came frequently, and one morning got a coat (Abs. 455), and then asked for a gun, asserting that the defendant said he had given it to Mrs. Olsen (Abs. 455).

While these officers are attempting to make a case, Mrs. Olsen is asked what was said about the gun (Abs. 457). This was proper for her to reply to, but the court holds that it is immaterial, and a great deal of light on this fact is denied to the defendant. The state had covered every possible ground of conjecture, and the evidence offered by the defendant was proper to explain what was said about the gun by the officers, representing the state (Abs. 457).

The court here makes the highly improper remark "that it would be remarkable if the state would be bound by every vagrant remark or act every executive officer might do or say," when as a matter of fact it was the essence of the defendant's case to show what they did say, and why they said it, and in denying the right to the defendant to show his side of the circumstances, he was denied a substantive and a valuable right. The testimony was relevant under all the authorities.

The defendant then offers to show by Lester Wire that it is the custom among police officers to load with five cartridges and leave the sixth empty for the hammer to rest upon (Abs. 482).

This was offered to rebut the inference, from the fact that one chamber in Morrison's revolver was found empty, that it had been fired at the hold-ups by Arling Morrison. The state laid great stress on the fact that Morrison's revolver, which had been loaded and placed in the ice box, was found to have one empty cartridge, and it was sought to trace this cartridge to the wound suffered by Hillstrom. It was proper for the defendant to show that the revolver had never been fired; that Mr. Morrison had been connected with the police force and would naturally follow the custom of loading five shells and leaving the sixth empty.

This then denied to the defendant the right to show that the empty chamber in the Morrison revolver was there by intent, and that the empty chamber was not because the gun had been fired.

It was then sought to show by Hardy K. Downing (Abs. 485) that on the 20th of September there was an attempt to hold up Mr. Morrison and that the witness had called upon him and talked it over, and that Mr. Morrison had stated to the witness (Abs. 485) that the attack on him was not for the purpose of a holdup, but an attempt to kill him, and that he knew who the parties were (Abs. 486).

It is testimony by Merlin Morrison that the first thing, the gun was loaded in the evening before the men came in; that it was placed in the ice box in the upper part of the ice box, the door being off; that the first words he heard from both of them, "We've got you now," and the shooting began. Had the witness Downing been permitted to testify to the facts communicated to him, there is no question but it would have shown who Morrison feared and why he feared them, and why he took the precautions that he did.

This right was denied to the defendant (Abs. 487.) ..... The defendant calls M.F. Beer, a physician (Abs. 527), that he had seen a number of experiments as to the effects of bullets on the human body; that he examined Hillstrom on June 10, 1914, and found where a bullet or hard substance had penetrated his body, and another scar where some instrument had entered or left the body, and as to the relative position of the holes in the coat and in the body, that the scar said to be the bullet hole was four inches higher, and when defendant's hands were raised at extreme length over his head, and he was in an erect position, that the hole in the coat exactly corresponded with the hole in the body (Abs. 534).

It was then sought to ask this question:

"Q. Would you then say, doctor, that it was possible for the bullet to have struck him with his arms in any other position than directly over his head and himself in a perpendicular position?"

It was objected to and sustained.

This certainly was error - there may have been some criticism of the question as leading, but in a matter of this importance, the defendant should not have been bound by quibbles and technicalities as to the nicety of the phraseology of the question.

The witness continued that the hole in the back (of the coat) corresponded with the wound in the back of the defendant's body with his hands in an erect position. ....

Carl A. Carlson, for the defendant, testified that they were looking for Frank Z. Wilson. The general appearance of Wilson is not the same as the general appearance of the defendant. It came to witness' attention that an abandoned automobile was found at the corner of Fourteenth South and the D.& R. G. crossing that night. Heard this a day or so after the shooting. That when he went down the machine was gone.

This was all the testimony.

Testimony Wholly Insufficient to Support the Verdict

As in the Hill case, the testimony is wholly insufficient to support the verdict. At the close of the testimony there was not even a suspicious circumstance left, not a thing to connect the defendant with the case.

The rule always is that

"If there be a verdict of guilty in a capital case, and the court have strong doubts whether the testimony supports the verdict, a motion for a new trial should be sustained."

Jerry vs. State, 1 Blackford (Ind.) 395
Allen vs. State, ------ 40 So. 744......

Taller of the two might have been or looked like the defendant, having had no previous acquaintance with them, and never having seen them before, might have been mistaken in their identity; and those who saw a man running across the street had less opportunity of observing them and were still more likely to be mistaken. On the other hand, the witnesses who had seen a wounded man late at night were no more likely to be mistaken than the others and they positively say that the defendant was not the man they saw. We think that safety and justice require that the cause should be again tried."

William Lincoln vs. People, 20 Ill. 367.

It is clear, then, that the court should have carefully weighed this evidence, and when it was so incomplete as to be open to serious question, he should have granted the motion for a new trial, and a failure to do so is, in our view, prejudicial and reversible error.

Error in Admitting Expert Testimony

We now come to other serious errors, and this is in permitting matters of fact, matters of common knowledge, to go before the jury, with the force of what is loosely termed "expert" evidence. This is comprehended under assignments Nos. 7 and 8 as to the testimony of Doctor Sprague, and under No. 30, as to the testimony of Higgs, as to the condition of the gun. ...

Direction, was a fact to be found by the jury from the evidence of the circumstances in which the homicide was committed, or to be inferred from the relative position of the parties at the time the shot was fired; it was not such a matter of science or skill as required the opinion of an expert. People vs. Smith, 4 Pac. C.L.J. 213'"

People vs. Westlake, 62 Calif. 303 (309).

Dr. Sprague had no right to pass upon the question of the size of bullet not the calibre of the gun with which the shooting was alleged to have been done. His duty was finished when he stated the wounds, their nature and size.

The harm done was this: It was sought to show that the bullet that killed Mr. Morrison was a 38; it sought to show that the defendant's gun was a 38. Now, to allow Dr. Sprague to pass upon the size of the bullet and the kind of a gun, was to add "expert" testimony and so force the jury to conclude that if Dr. Sprague said, from the nature of the would, it was a 38 bullet, it would be conclusive with them.

And these observations are especially applicable to the testimony of Thomas Higgs that he had "smelled the revolver and it smelled fresh, the fresh smell of powder" (Abs. 416). This is directly contradicted by the man who did have experience, Emerson John Miller (Abs. 487), who very truly said that no one was competent to tell when a revolver was fired. ...

Certainly a man whose father had been killed would have a prejudice against any person accused of a like crime, in spite of all protestations of fairness, and when this matter appeared, it was the duty of the court to sustain a challenge for cause as set out in 4834, for it is clear that having "a small opinion" and also having his own family the death of his father by the same means as that of Mr. Morrison, it would be mentally impossible for a person, having passed through such experience to have heard the case fairly and impartially. His own experience would always rise up and persuade him to resolve every circumstance against the defendant.

Defendant Without Counsel

Exceptions 18 and 19 go to the fact that the defendant was without counsel, contrary to the provisions of the constitution contrary to the provisions of Art. I, Sec. 12, of the constitution and of Sec. 4513 of the Compiled Laws of 1907.

"The defendant (Abs. 171): May I say a few words, Your Honor?

The Court: You have the right to be heard in your behalf ordinarily.

The defendant: I have discovered that I have three prosecuting attorneys here. I intend to get rid of two of them, Mr. Scott and Mr. McDougal. Will you stay over there, you are fired too, see, and there is something I don't understand -

The Court: Mr. Hillstrom, you need not carry out in detail any difference you may have had with your counsel if there is any -

The defendant: I wish to announce that I have discharged my counsel, my two lawyers."

His counsel then announced that if they were discharged that was there was to it, and the defendant said:

"If the court will permit, I will act as my own attorney, and cross-examine all the witnesses, and I think I will make a good job of it, etc.

The Court: I think until the further order of court, counsel who have been representing the defendant may proceed, etc.

The defendant: Haven't I right to discharge my own counsel?

The Court: The court will make due inquiry into that, Mr. Hillstrom, and if the court is convinced that you really mean what you say, the court will accord you that right.

The defendant: Yes, sir; I mean what I say.

The Court: At present counsel may proceed, etc.

The defendant: Without my permission?

The Court: We will see that the orders of court are carried out.

The defendant: I am the defendant in this court.

The Court: The court directs you to sit down now. The court will give you an opportunity if you want to cross-examine this witness, after counsel who have been representing you have completed."

The case then proceed a little further, when the following occurred:

"The Court: I wish to say to both counsel who have been representing the defendant that the court requests you to remain, for the present at least, and take such part in the trial as may seem advisable. The court will accord to the defendant the right to examine and cross-examine the witnesses himself. It is a constitutional right."

And again:

"The Court: I think the request of the defendant justifies the court in requesting counsel to remain at least until the further order of the court. They will at least have the status of amicii curiae if nothing more. The court requests you to use your best efforts for the protection of the defendant's interests, and the court will also accord to the defendant the right to cross-examine the witnesses or examine the witnesses or take any part in the trial that the defendant may under the constitution. (Abs. 176).

The Joe Hill Project is created and maintained by Professor Ron Yengich and his students in Honors



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