Martin C. Golden
Court Saved Shimmel
Grand Haven Daily Tribune - November 15, 1907
Judge Padgham Set Aside Jury’s Verdict of Guilty in Shimmel Case.
“We find the respondent, William Shimmel, guilty of murder in the first degree.” were the words of the verdict of the jury which tried Wm. Shimmel for the murder of Martin Golden. Wm. VanKovering, the foreman who answered the query of County Clerk McEachron produced a decided sensation in the sparsely filed court room at 8:30 this morning. But the first sensation was a mild one when compared with the one which followed a few minutes later, when Judge Padgham turned to the jurors and in a few words, told the twelve men who had convicted Wm. Shimmel, what he thought of their verdict. “Gentlemen,” he said solemnly, “In all my thirty years or more in practice on the bench, I never have seen a man convicted of murder in the first degree, on such flimsy evidence as that upon which you have convicted Wm. Shimmel.” (A few?) in the court room were electrified by the words of the presiding judge, although there were a few who expected it if a verdict of conviction were returned by the jury. Judge Padgham then went on with a speech which, while it was short but full of rebuke, in terms, which were not mistakable. At the conclusion he turned to County Clerk McEachron, and quietly gave orders that the verdict be set aside and the respondent given his liberty upon furnishing bail to the amount of $500.
The bulk of public sentiment in Grand Haven seems to be with Judge Padgham and while many make no comment as to whether Shimmel was guilty of the murder of Martin Golden or not, they believe that the evidence against Shimmel was not strong enough for conviction and the jury had nothing upon which to send a man to prison for murder. There was always a chance for a reasonable doubt and the bulk of those who have followed the case cannot understand how the jury reached their decision.
One man who followed the case closely to the end, and who heard W. I. Lillie’s great plea last night gave his opinion today that it was Mr. Lillie’s argument that swung the jury to the verdict and not the evidence.
In discharging the jury Judge Padgham also dismissed the three members of the regular panel and informed them that they need not report again during the term for duty.
After working until after ten o’clock last night Judge Padgham delivered his charge, giving the jury a clear illustration of what circumstantial evidence was and what would be necessary under the evidence in order to convict the respondent. The jury got the case at shortly before eleven o’clock and retired immediately to the jury room. The court was cleared in a short time and the jurors were locked up in their room where they discussed the case and finally reached a verdict at two o’clock this morning. The court was notified that the jury had reached a verdict and at shortly after eight o’clock Judge Padgham appeared in the court room and he was followed shortly by William Shimmel; who took his accustomed seat inside of the rail. His attorneys, M. S. Sooy and W. W. Turner, who worked so hard to save him, were with him and Prosecuting Attorney Coburn sat a his seat at the state’s table.
On account of the early hour there were not many spectators in the court room. Shimmel’s face was a xxxxx, yet there was not a great deal to his countenance which would give an inkling of his real feelings. His eyes were fixed upon the jurors as they filed into the room and a slight paler seemed to spread over his features. Both of his attornies were wrought up to a high pitch and although they are both practioners of considerable experience, their intense anxiety was pictured in their faces.
When the verdict came William Shimmel received it without moving a muscle although an expression of helplessness spread over his face. Mute appealing helplessness was marked in every xxx of his countenance. Slowly he transferred his agonized gaze from the jury to the court, with the air of a man who had given up all hope. Then came Judge Padgham’s sharp words to the jury. It could be easily seen that something out of the ordinary was coming. Without any preliminary words the judge opened up with the following:
“Gentleman of the jury, I have practiced law for nearly thirty seven years as attorney and upon the bench. I never saw a murder case disposed of on so slim a state of facts in my live. Never expect to again. It seems to me, gentlemen of the jury, that you did not discuss this matter, that you did not discriminate between testimony that was given by fair truthful reputable witnesses, and that of barroom loafers and selfconfessed criminals. It does seem to me that you did not discriminate at all. I might say to you that in my judgment there was not one incriminating fact against this man at all. I attempted to describe to you what circumstantial evidence was. I see that you have miscarried upon that subject. You do not seem to understand what was necessary to connect a man with the murder. It does not seem to me that you got down to the weighing of this testimony in a reasonable, logical way at all. Your verdict is against the great weight of evidence in this case. Mr. Clark, you will set aside. This man, Shimmel will be allowed to go out upon bail upon giving a bond in the sum of $500. Gentleman, you will be discharged for the balance of the term.”
The words came like an electric shock. Attorney and prisoner stared at the court as he spoke in a low, even tone, displaying no emotion whatever. Shimmel watched him with the look appeal in his eyes more like that of a dumb animal than a man in a terrible position. He seemed to only half understand that he had been saved at the last instance from spending his life in prison.
Judge Padgham makes no criticism of the prosecution’s attorneys nor the xxxx in the matter. He believes that they acted within what they believed to be their duty and his remarks to the jury were in no way directed toward any one else. However, he regarded the case as altogether too slim upon which to send any man to prison for life. He did not regard the case as complete, and he could not realize how a jury could place the testimony introduced by the state into a convincing case. In the idea of the court the state had proved nothing against William Shimmel. They had introduced a great deal of evidence but it was not convincing enough to remove a reasonable doubt from any man’s mind.
Judge Padgham had very little to say when he left the bench this morning. He did say however, that he never could have allowed an innocent man to have stood convicted of murder in the evidence introduced by the state. “Before I could have sentenced that man, convicted as he was under such evidence, I should resign from the bench.” said the court privately. He comes out strongly and stands squarely upon his position regardless of the sensation it may create or the opinions it may oppose. It was a strong stand to take, but when Judge Padgham decided that a man’s life had been wrongly placed in peril by incompetent handling of the case by the jury, he took that stand without faltering or hesitating. He acted firmly in what he regarded his duty to the people and to William Shimmel after a jury had skimmed through two weeks evidence in a few hours, and pronounced him guilty upon a shaky chain of evidence.
While Prosecuting Attorney Coburn refused to discuss the matter at any length, he would have been better satisfied had the court taken the case from the jury earlier in the trial. He will not say as yet whether or not the case will ever be tried again.
The probability is however that William Shimmel has passed through his last ordeal in connection with the Golden murder. There has always been a decided opinion among those who have followed the case, that Shimmel is not the man who committed the Golden murder and the officers are on the wrong lead. Sheriff Woodbury and his deputies have taken the case much to heart. They firmly believe that William Shimmel is the man wo murdered Martin Golden and they have left no stone unturned to piece together the circumstances which they believed connected Bill with the murder.
There were fatal weaknesses in the case of the people, inconsistencies in their own train of circumstances which was seen by even the spectators. In the first trial it was the same and yet those who believed that the case was week, were criticized sometimes but today’s developments seem to justify their opinions. A man cannot be sent to prison for life on a chain of circumstance that is not positive. If this were true every man’s life would be in danger. It is easy to see that with some exceptions Judge Padgham’s strong action today meets with general approval.
The jury which tried the case are of course somewhat taken aback by the rebuke to their action and they have nothing to say except that they did their best. Their action in the jury room has not been made public but it is understood that the first ballot stood 11 to 1 but the one was soon convinced and a verdict was reached. The twelve men who served on the jury were as follows: John VanderBelt, Zeeland; Rufus Cook, Holland; Clarence Hague, Georgetown; William VanKoevering, Zeeland; Clyde Welton, Robinson; William DeKraker, Holland; Johannse Pyl, Holland; Lyman Wilson, Blendor; Peter Bearman, Holland; Jacob Tibma, Grand Haven; Lewis Nelson, Grand Haven and Thomas Marsilje, Holland.
It is understood that Shimmel will have no trouble in getting bail and former sheriff Smith of Muskegon, notified the officers that he would be up today to go Shimmel’s bail. His friends up in Slocum, Sullivan and Ravenna heard of the sudden turn of affairs in Shimmel’s favor with joy and it was announced by Shimmel’s attornies today that he would have no trouble getting bail up among his friends, the same ones who put up an attorney to defend him.