Notorious outlaw Jesse James was killed by Robert Ford 126 years ago. On April 3, School of Law students brought to justice the man responsible, former Missouri governor Thomas Crittenden. The School of Law’s Historical and Theatrical Trials Society (HATTS) presented a historical mock trial of Gov. Crittenden for his role in the murder of Jesse James. In 1881, Gov. Crittenden began strenuous efforts to rid Missouri of James’ gang of criminals and, as part of his efforts, allied with railroad companies to circulate a $5,000 reward poster for James’ apprehension “dead or alive.” Robert Ford infiltrated James’ gang and killed him on April 3, 1882. HATTS presented the trial of Gov. Crittenden for solicitation of murder through the reward poster and an alleged meeting with Ford.
As part of the trial, MU law students and members of the Columbia community portrayed characters involved with the James murder, with Prof. Greg Scott portraying Gov. Crittenden. The case was tried by two teams comprised of one MU law student and one experienced attorney each. The State of Missouri was represented by Professor Frank Bowman and Carrie C. Moreland, ’08, while the defense was represented by Christopher A. Slusher, ’91, and Joshua M. Jones, 3L. Jay Atkins, ’08, former president of HATTS, says that one of the most important elements of the event was its historical accuracy. “All participants dressed in period costumes and acted in ways appropriate for the time period, which made the trial both realistic and very entertaining,” he says.
Prof. Steve Easton, HATTS’ faculty advisor, says that the trial was meant to appeal to more than just legal scholars. “The way we put together this event, we involved not just the School of Law, but also the greater university and Columbia communities,” he explains. “We had local high school students and members of the state archives involved this year, so it was really a community event.” The Crittenden jury ended up hung, seven to two in favor of conviction.
HATTS is a group of students and faculty dedicated to exploring the intersection of law, history and theatre. Each year the society selects an event from history that represents a potential cause of action but was never tried in its own time. Members then research the event and stage a mock trial in which they apply modern law to the historical facts.
Watch the Trial