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My First Jury Case
by [?]


The court-house was crowded to its utmost capacity. Women as well as men were there to hear the arguments in the case of the Commonwealth against William Grant for the alleged murder of John Belt.

Grant was a young man of handsome exterior and pleasing manners. He sat in the prisoner’s box, and near him, closely veiled, was his beautiful girlish wife, with her arm around a fine, manly boy, and her head bowed upon his sunny curls.

Near the group were the surviving relatives of the dead man, consisting of the wife, mother and daughter. Their faces were heavy and stolid, and their whole appearance indicated not only the lower walks of life, but the existence of evil passions and aggressive natures.

Belt had owned a small grocery some fifteen miles from town, in a wild glen at the mouth of a shallow stream that flowed into the Kentucky river. The region was for a long time sparsely settled; but the establishing of a government distillery and a railroad station had led to an increase of population, so that young Grant was induced to locate there and open a shop for provisions and other supplies, that line of business having been the one chosen from his boyhood.

From the first Belt, who was one of the few German settlers in that part of the country, resented what he was pleased to call an encroachment upon his trade, and lost no opportunity of showing his ill-feeling. He was a heavy-set, sullen man of about forty-five years of age, and showed a dogged spirit even to his customers. In vain Grant strove, first to pay no attention to his enmity, and afterward to conciliate him. He continued obstinate, and his family were not behind him in giving insults and slights.

Time passed, and Grant prospered. He was obliging and agreeable, and people naturally patronized his store, which he rendered as attractive as his means and good taste would allow. His wife, too, charmed the community by her simple, sweet ways; and motherly old ladies took special interest in her and her babe.

Grant built a neat cottage, and this gave fresh offense. At last Belt, who was a drinking man as well as surly, swore that he would take Grant’s life if the latter persisted in remaining there. His trade was falling off, and Grant was the cause. Matters reached a climax then, and Grant armed himself in case of a surprise.

One morning Belt was missing, and his family raised a hue and cry that speedily brought a crowd about the house, just as Grant approached and made the startling announcement that he had shot at a man the night before, and was ready for such investigation as would be proper under the circumstances. He stated that he had been aroused by a filing, grating sound at his bedroom window, which was on the ground floor, and that he sprang from his bed, threw open the front door, and fired upon a figure that retreated rapidly and was soon lost in the darkness.

Upon this Grant was held in custody, while a party of men went in search of Belt. Hours were spent in vain, when it was suggested that Belt’s dog, a vicious mongrel-cur, should be put upon the trail. Accordingly the dog, which was usually seen at Belt’s heels, was given the scent of his master’s coat, and started rapidly down the road, his nose to the ground. The testimony as elicited at the trial showed that the brute had bounded along to the Grant cottage, leaped upon the window sill, sniffed eagerly about the spot, then ran down the path to a clump of bushes on the river cliff. Here the creature stopped and set up a piteous howl. The pursuing party hastened to the spot, and there lay the body of Belt, who had fallen and died, as the autopsy revealed, of internal hemorrhage produced by a pistol shot. As if to corroborate Grant’s statement, a chisel and a pistol were found in the grass under the window of his bedroom.