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True Stories of Amazing People and Places in Texas
Hanging of Tom Wright in Stephenville 1899
On November 10, 1899 a crowd of 4,000 gathered in Stephenville, Texas for the last public execution in Erath County. What led to the hanging of Tom Wright who had been convicted of shooting and killing Constable John Adams in nearby Dublin is detailed in newspaper reports of the time. This article includes Wright's final testimony and letters to the Governor pleading that Wright's life be spared.
. . Full article follows below photo
Photo: Stephenville Historical Museum
Wright's trouble with the law started about 8 years prior to the hanging. He was charged frequently with violating the law, especially the local option law. He and John Adams, constable of the Dublin precinct, had clashed on many occasions.
In 1891 a Mexican’s house was set fire and burned in Dublin. Wright was
arrested by Adams and convicted on the charge and sentenced to six years
in the penitentiary for arson. After serving two years he was pardoned
by Gov. Hogg and returned to Erath County. Wright where he was watched constantly
by Adams and arrested from time to time for violating the law. A mutual
dislike grew between the two men.
In the latter part of 1897 Adams was told that Wright had been trying to
hire someone to kill him (Adams), and a resident of Dublin named
Blassengame told Adams that Wright had offered him a horse and a saddle
and $50 and a Winchester if he would kill Adams. The Constable went to
Blassengame, who told him about the proposition that Wright had made and
gave Adams a sworn statement covering the facts. Adams took the
statement and went to Wright, and asked him if he was armed, at the same
time holding his pistol down at his side. Wright replied that he was not
armed. Adams said "I would not harm a hair of your head if you are armed
. . .”
Wright told Adams that the Constable had the wrong information and that
he wanted to talk the matter over with him. Adams replied “No, I have it
in black and white that you have tried on three different occasions to
hire persons to kill me and it cannot be explained.” Bystanders stopped
the argument and nothing more was said at that time.
About 5 o’clock on the afternoon of Dec. 18, 1897 the transfer bus drove
down Black Jack street from the Rio Grande Depot, after the arrival of
the afternoon train, and stopped at the crossing of Patrick Street. The
driver called to John Adams, who was passing by, to open the rear door
of the bus and let little Jesse Maloney out. Adams started to open the
door, and just as it swung open the fatal shot was fired from behind by
The preliminary trial was held before Esquire W. E Lowe, of Dublin, who remanded Wright without bail. A writ of habeas corpus was sued out before Judge Straugham, who also refused bail for Wright. The case was taken to the Court of Appeals with the same results. On May 5, 1898 the grand jury returned a bill against Wright for murder in the first degree, and the case came to trial in the same term of court.
Wright was defended by R.H. McCain, Taylor Daniels, and Rev. J. T. Harris, none of whom had ever had much experience in criminal practice. The prosecution was conducted by District Attorney J. W. Parker and and one or two others. The defense moved for a change of venue, however after one or two days of hearings the motion was overruled. On the 16th day of May the trial began and on May 23 the jury returned a verdict of guilty and assessed the punishment at death.. A motion for a new trial was made on June I, but was overruled. An appeal was taken to the Court of Criminal Appeals, and that court affirmed the decision of the district court. Judge Hurt of Dallas was called into the case when it went to the Court of Appeals. In their decision the court ruled several grounds which they could not consider because the defendant’s attorneys had not excepted during the trial.
At the return of the mandate at the last October term of the Erath
District Court, Judge Straughban sentenced Wright to be hanged Nov. 10,
The Nov. 8 1899 edition of the Dallas News contained the
following: A dispatch from Austin, under the date of Nov. 7, says: Hons.
Geo. W. Tylor of Belton, Geo. C. Pendleton and W. D. Cochran of Temple
were here today and held a long conference with Gov. Sayers for the
purpose of having the Governor revoke his determination not to interfere
in the case of Tom Wright, sentenced to hang in Erath County on Nov. IO.
These men argued for a commutation of the sentence to life imprisonment.
The Governor took the matter under advisement. The story gave Wright
some hope, but it was short lived, for at 12 o’clock today came the
following answer to R.T. Hume:
Austin, Texas 11:02 a.m. Nov. 9 1899
"I wish in connection with my statement which I made sometime back which was published in one of our county papers that Frank Leslie who stands charged as accomplice in the killing of John Adams in Dublin, that he had nothing to do with it. I asked him to go and get me a gun to keep at my house to defend myself. I told him that Adams was slipping around my house the night before trying to shoot through the window. . . . read more”
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