|Click to See Larger Image|
Many legal proceedings resulted from the killing of John Walter (Chicken) Stephens (1834-1870) in the Caswell County Courthouse (Yanceyville, North Carolina). One case involved former Caswell County Sheriff Franklin A. (Frank) Wiley (c.1825-1888).
While not clear, this may have been a habeas corpus hearing to determine whether Wiley would be released or bound over for trial. Many witnesses gave testimony, including Doctor Preston Roan, M.D. (c.1842-1882). His testimony should be viewed as the definitive description of the death of John Walter Stephens (along with the much later "confession" of John G. Lea).
The attached photograph, while obviously not contemporaneous with the killing, shows the first-floor southeast room (including the single south window and the two east windows).
Dr. [Preston] Roan was then called as the first witness. He gave a description of [the] Court house building. He said that he was sent for on Sunday morning; went into [the] room where the body lay; the door was opened before he got there; the corpse was lying in a hollow in the pile of wood at the north side of the room; knees and arms were drawn up, three stabs were discernible, a rope was around the neck, known as a grass rope, drawn tightly in a noose, with two ends both hanging from behind; two of the stabs were in the neck, one severing the windpipe; another pierced the heart; a knife was lying near the body, it had a buck-horn handle, two blades, one of which was open, about 3 inches long and 3/4 an inch in width; the rope was drawn tightly around the neck, sinking into the skin; there were noticeable sighs of blood on the wood and plastering; the stabs had been inflicted rapidly, and strangulation was effected before the infliction of the wounds.
No portion of the body touched the floor; it lay in a space in the wood-pile, and could not have been seen during the night search, from the windows; a few sticks of wood were under it. The back was toward the east, the side towards the wall. There was no doubt that Stephens was killed in the room. Saw no signs of blood at the window till next morning, then saw a drop on the granite sill and on the box, as if it fell and split; it was florid and fresh. He [Dr. Roan] had ordered the use of the box at the window ledge for the night search. There was no blood on the floor. A servant got the box. One of Stephens' brothers made examination. A candle was used, for the night had set in. When the windows were down a stick was usually put up to confine them; the door of this room was bolted as he learned that night; there was a thumb bolt at the hasp.
He [Dr. Roan] was not present when the door was opened. No key was seen by him. The spot of blood on the window sill might have been made by the print of a finger, a step could have produced it, but there was no blood on the floor. The body might have been seen in the day. It was not discoverable by candle-light. Had been asked permission to search the Courthouse on the night of the murder. The South window was too high to make an examination, both windows on the East were used. Permission was asked for the search by Mr. T. Stephens and Cooke. Door was closed. Didn't know where the key was. Was not asked for it. Granite would not absorb blood as readily as wood, and stains upon it would appear more plain distinct.