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The Journal

Tuesday September 20, 1870


The Trial of Furguson


            At half past eleven Tuesday the testimony in the above trial was closed, and at the request of counsel for defense, a recess was taken to half pass one.

            Thus far the trial has proceeded with remarkable regularity and unanimity. Mr. Kin, for the people has managed the case with ability, while Mr. Lyon for the prisoner, has exhibited unusual fairness and zeal for his client. The jury is one of the most intelligent we have ever seen in the box. The witnesses have without an exception, been intelligent, prompt, unprejudiced and trustworthy. There has been no quibbles between the attorneys with a view to embarrass the trial. A total absence of attempts to browbeat witnesses has been remarked. Judge Marvin presides with great equity, and while he give the prosecution every opportunity to present all the facts attainable, is yet careful to defend the prisoner to the last o the legal requirements.

            The case is so clear that comparatively little interest is excited. The court house has been well filled, but not crowded. There has been a subdued sympathy for the prisoner manifest. Aroused, no doubt, by the absence of any apparent motive for the deed, and a feeling of pity for the seemingly low standard of his moral consciousness. Furguson has sat in the bar, apparently the most unconcerned of all. He remarked this morning that they had spent time enough to hang him three times. He watches the testimony with no great concern and occasionally brightens up when a misstatement is made. He talks freely with those around him, and laughs at anything which excites the risibility’s of those near him.


The Trial of Mike Furguson


Verdict of “Guilty” Sentence to be Hung. November 4th.



            We continue the report of the trial of Michael Furguson for the murder of the Lungers, from where we left of last week.




            Joshua Brown, Lansing; Martin Besimer, Dryden; Charles R. Congden, Newfield; Artemus L. Tyler, Dryden; W. S. Middaugh, Dryden; Charles Clock, Caroline; David Townley, Enfield; Nicholas Pierson, Ithaca; Charles Cady, Dryden; George A. Johnson, Ithaca; Allen Gray, Ithaca.

            The court explained that he should permit the jury to separate and go the their homes when the court should adjourn. This was a somewhat new custom but one which was getting into use, and if there were no objections he should so rule.

            No objection was made, and the ruling stood.

            The case being ready for trial, District Attorney Meritt King opened with an address to the jury. He represented the importance of the case and then stated the facts.

            On the 20th of March last, Jonathan Lunger and his wife, Anna Lunger, their daughter and the prisoner, Michael Furguson, were seen at the house or hut of the said Jonathan Lunger on the west side of Cayuga Lake near Goodwin’s Landing. The next morning a neighbor passing by where the hut was, saw it in ashes and smoldering. There were two forms of persons in the ashes, and the prisoner and the girl, Anna Lunger were missing. The remainder of the case was revived and after the usual address to the jury, the girl, Anna Lunger, who had been brought into court, was put on the stand and testified as follows:

            I am the daughter of Jonathan Lunger. I am 14 years old and in my 15th; we lived at Goodwin’s Point, my father is now dead; he died in March last; it was during cold weather; I was at home when he died; Mike Furguson was there when he died; my father’s house was burned down in the night time; I was in bed the night it was burned; it was Sunday night; I went to bed and went to sleep and then woke up about two o’clock; when I woke up I saw my father getting up; I slept in the same room with father; when I woke up Mike was our doors; said he was out getting kindling wood; my father called him; he came in; he brought the axe in with him; father was than out of bed; he was dressed; he was standing up in the door; father told him to leave the axe out door; he said he would not; father told him to build a fire; he began to do it; I forget whether he built a fire of not; father started to go out door; Mike told him he could not go; father said he would go; Mike picked up the axe and told my father to sit down; father said he would strike him with the axe; he then told him to take off his hat; Mike then struck at father with the axe and missed him; father picked up a chair then; he then jumped for the axe and tried to take it away; father told Mike not to strike and he would give him (Mike) a watch; Mike than struck father with axe o the forehead; father then fell down; he didn’t say anything; I was in bed; father fell right by bed; my mother was about two feet from the bed on which I was lying; father had his clothes on; I didn’t discover any blood about the bed; when Mike had knocked father down; he turned to me and said, “now it is your turn”; he then told me to get up and dress me; I did so; mike took my father’s watch and rifle and a tin trunk of my mother; there were some trinkets as candy basket and candy hat and a gold dollar in it; Mike Furguson set fire to the house behind the bed of father and mother; we then started across the lake in a skiff; we landed at the ferry; Mike shoved the skiff into the lake; we then staid under a straw stack till it was light; we then went to Swartwood’s tavern; we cane through this place and went through Newfield; we got to Swartwood’s about six in the evening; when we got there I went into the sitting room and Mike went into the bar room; Mike paid a dollar for his lodging and then went on; I staid there till the stage came; I came back this way on the stage; I next saw Furguson in the jail; would know the articles taken by Mike from father’s hut.

            The articles were here shown the witness and she recognized them readily and promptly, telling where each was located when Mike took them and all about them.

            Cross Examined. – My father was in the house when I went to bed; so were mother and Mike; mother was leaning up against the wall reading; don’t know what she was reading; she was living with my father; I can’t tell you whether she was married; Mike was playing checkers with father when I went to bed; had been playing fifteen or twenty minutes; can’t tell what they were doing before they were playing checkers; I think father used to beat Mike; I used to play checkers with Mike; we played about even; there was no quarrel between Mike and father when I went to bed; don’t know as there was ever a quarrel between them; nor between mother and Mike;  Mike came there late in the fall; I believe he said he came directly from his mother’s to our house; he helped my father cut up wood and such things; they cut wood for Henry Lucky; he lived about half a mile from us; the house we lived in was made out of boards; there wasn’t any canal boat about it; Mike had been that Sunday morning for a load of wood across the lake; he afterward went to my aunt Lunger’s; I went with him; we were there about two ; we didn’t do much of anything while we were there; there were little cousins there-Billy Lunger and Melinda; we played school; Linda was teacher; she was teacher; we spelled; Linda put words out; the rest of us were spelling; we stood up in a row on the floor; Mike could spell better than Billy; Billy is six years old; when we got back I went to getting supper; we all ate together; I know it was two o’clock when I woke up that night because father took down his watch and said it was; there was a kerosene lamp burning; Mike slept on the floor. The testimony regarding the immediate transaction agreed with that of the direct examination. The witness said that her father had a chair up in front of his face when Mike struck him. She said he used to make playhouses and whittle out things with his knife; that he used to act like a horse when he would be drawing wood up from the lake shore; that he used to put peacock’s feather’s in his hair and go up and down in the room singing, “walking down Broadway” she didn’t know of his ever going to school; I didn’t go to sleep by the stack; Mike got into a drowse; there were a gold dollar and a silver quarter of a dollar in mother’s tin box; he said he was going to Pennsylvania where his mother lived; Mike never offered any violence to me or mother or to any woman that I know of; I know of no reason why Mike should kill my father and mother unless they had a quarrel after I went to bed; father always treated mike well and he had always treated them well so far as I know; mike threw the axe into the lake when we were crossing the lake; he said he did it so that it would not be found; he made no explanation for his killing father; I saw the house burning as we were crossing the lake; Mike loaded the gun when we were going.

            The further cross examination went over the ground that the direct had gone over and with substantially the same result. The witness exhibited remarkable appreciation of her position. Her answers were prompt loud and plain, yet reserved and tempered with a native modesty gratifying to the court and audience. She is a bright looking girl and has greatly improved in the family of Sheriff Root. She was dressed neatly, and her whole behavior happily surprised every one. Her story was connected and simple and the same every time.

            Dr. J. D. Lewis is sworn; am Corner; held the inquest on the deceased; I visited the scene; it was the 21st of March last; in the afternoon I was informed that a building was burned and on going there I found human bones lying in the ruins close together as though two, lying in bed together, had been burned; the bed appeared to occupy the southwest corner of the room; the front skeleton was that of the male person and back side those of a female; there were some buttons, a knife, a tobacco box and some buckles on the skeleton-all lying in the positions that would naturally lie on a man who had been burned; the remains ere picked up and buried; I did not know Lunger; never had been to the shanty; could not determine the cause of death; I think they were dead before the building was fired; they lay in a natural position; there had been no struggle; If they had been alive when burned it would have been impossible for them to have lain in such a position.

            At the close of Dr. Lewis’ testimony, the court adjourned to half-past eight Tuesday morning, Judge Marvin first having charged the jury to act upon their honor in their individual intercourse with others, and at the same time warning all persons not to approach the separate jurors on the subject of the trial, under penalty of being arrested and imprisoned. The audience departed with not a few doubts as to whether a Judge’s jurisdiction extends to the horizon all about or simply to the boundary of his own court room.




            A considerable audience was present at the opening of the court Tuesday morning. The trial of Mike Furguson was continued by the prosecutions with the testimony of Mr. Swartwood, at whose hotel in Pony Hollow the prisoner parted company with the girl, Anna Lunger.

            The testimony of Charles Swartwood, who kept the hotel at Pony Hollow, where Mike staid over night, of John Willis, Reuben Gee, Henry H. Howe, William Canman, Charles Wixom and Sheriff Root, was of no public interest and threw no new light upon the question, and we omit the publication thereof here.

            The prosecution for the people closed with the testimony of Mr. Root.

            The first witness called by the defense was Mr. Lucky, who lives in the neighborhood of the transaction; knew the family and the prisoner; Lunger and Mike chopped wood for me; used to see him in the woods; have noticed peculiarities about Furguson; we used to have some fun with Mike, as though he were a kind o’butt; they used to chop the wood and would draw it out and would get Mike to do most of the load; we never considered him foolish, by any means; have seen him imitate a horse along side of the tongue of a hand sleigh.

            Cross Examined-Don’t regard him as a fool; in mechanical work he is b no means a fool; I have heard him read and have seen him writing.

            Dr. Thomas C. Strong-Am a clergyman at his place; have visited the prisoner in the jail; I visited the prisoner at the request of himself made through the sheriff; have inspected his mental and moral conditions.

            Mr. Lyon-What are your convictions with reference to them?

            Attorney-I object to that question. The court said if the issue of insanity were to be made, the defense must open the cse with that view and in due form. And the question was excluded.

            Witness-Have had four or five interviews with the prisoner, each rather lengthy.

            The evidence here closed at twenty minutes past eleven.

            At the request of the counsel for the defense a recess of two hours was taken before the summing up.




            The news having spread that the testimony was closed, and that the counsel would close the case in the afternoon, the court room was filled in every sitting place by the time the bell rang out half past one.

            Promptly at the hour Judge Marvin took his seat, and in a few minutes the court was organized. Mr. Lyon, counsel for the prisoner began his argument at twenty minutes of two. The room was still when he rose, and with the exception of the entrances, remained quiet during the speaking.

            Mr. Lyon rose with deliberation and proceeded to address the jury in a candid manly manner, with little of the blandishments usually employed, yet with decided expressions of the importance of the duty they were called upon to perform, and of his own unselfish participation in the cause. He made no effort to deny the facts in the case, but threw his whole efforts in the balance of the unaccountability of the prisoner for the deed committed. He laid some stress on the fact that no one of the prisoner’s near relatives had been present, by whom to show the alleged vagaries of his mental faculties; that he had scarcely been able to inform his counsel of persons of his previous acquaintance, who might have been brought to testify to his capacity for accountability;  that he was destitute of friends and of money by which to procure the testimony of experts as to his mental capacity, and especially on the total absence of any proof of a motive for the deed. Several cases of crime committed by homicidal mania were cited, and their analogy to the present case pointed out. Mr. Lyon spoke about an hour. His remarks pertinent, concise, eloquent and characterized by a feeling of responsibility he was a boring under. Seldom do we hear more manly words at the criminal bar.

            District Attorney King closed the case for the people in a half hour’s address, in which he reviewed the evidence, and pointed out the obligations the jury were under, to protect society against homicidal characters. Mr. King’s argument was fair and unexceptional to the bar and jury.




            When the counsel had got through with the case, Judge Marvin began immediately his charge to the jury. He went minutely into the points raised by the counsel on the defense tending to the moral irresponsibility of the prisoner. He defined the crime for which Furguson stood indicted, and laid down the course which the jury must follow in making up the verdict. The charge was an hour and twelve minutes in length, and was not a little tedious. The jury became restless, the bar listless and the audience impatient, yet all waited with as good grace as could be expected for the close of the minute statement of fact, and the learned exposition of the law.




            At twenty-two minutes past four, the jury was given in charge of officer Dean, who conducted the members to the jury room.

            They were gone just twenty-six minutes, during which time the audience took a rest, and the court proceeded with other business on the calendar. At twelve minutes of five a stir at the main entrance to the room gave evidence of the return of the jury, and every one settled in the best attainable position to receive the result. The clerk began the roll call when the jury became seated, but it was discovered that there was not a Court of Oyer and Terminer in organization on account of the absence of Associate Justice Woodbury. This gentleman made his appearance at 5 o’clock, and took his seat. The clerk then called the roll of jurors, and all answering present, he put the usual question as to the result of their deliberations.

            The Foreman, Mr. Chas. Cady, rose and replied, “GUILTY!”

            The court was about to proceed to sentence, but on the urgent request of the prisoner’s counsel, Judge Marvin announced that he would postpone the sentence till morning.

            During the trial yesterday, the prisoner manifested no concern he sat with his hat in his hand, his eyes generally on the floor, and apparently only casually interested in the proceedings. When the verdict was pronounced he showed still no concern. Sheriff Root had taken a seat by his side, but nothing was said, to or by the prisoner, while the court was waiting. All eyes were on the prisoner when the foreman of the jury rose to reply to the clerk’s interrogatories, but all were disappointed if they expected to see any manifestations of concern on his face.

            When the Judge had ordered the Sheriff to remove the prisoner, the audience retired deliberate, with feelings of gratification for the fairness of the whole proceedings, but disappointed at not being able to hear the final doom of the wretched young man.




Was pronounced upon Furguson Wednesday morning. The court room was full of spectators before half past eight arrived. When the pointers noted that time the crier made known, by the usual formula, that the Court was prepared for business. The room became silent and soon as the side entrance door opened and Furguson entered, followed by Sheriff Root. The first named walked with hat in hand, to his chair within the bar, between the reporter’s table and the clerk’s desk. When he sat down he was considerably unnerved, his heart bent audibly, but he evinced no remarkable signs of concern. The bustle in the audience, caused by the appearance of the prisoner, was hushed, and a solemn quietude pervaded the room. District Attorney King rose and moved that the Court proceed with the sentence. Judge Marvin looked down on the prisoner and said:

            Michael Furguson, stand up! You, at a previous time was found guilty of murder. Have you anything to say why the sentence of the Court should not now be pronounced upon you. Prisoner?-No. If you have nothing to say, it only remains for me to discharge that painful duty which the law imposes on the court, which is to pronounce the sentence following the verdict. It is usual o such occasions for the Court to address some remarks to the prisoner. The formal facts developed on the trial are not numerous, but directly pertinent to the issues of the trial. The jury, after hearing all these facts, after hearing the defense that was brought up for you, without any hesitation brought in their verdict. You case is a strange one, and it is difficult for me to understand why you committed this bloody deed. Jonathan Lunger was your uncle. He offered you a shelter in his humble house. You labored day after day with him; was treated kindly by his wife; his daughter, yourself and his wife constituted the entire family. His daughter has been the chief witness on the stand. She produced an impression on the jury as though what she said was true. That her relation was in substance true there is no doubt. The singularity in this case consists in the motive for the deed. The defense brought up in your case was insanity. The facts relied on for this pea of insanity consisted almost entirely, if not all together, of evidence produced by the people. The strongest portion of the argument which your counsel could make, had its origin in the homicide. There had been no difficulty with Jonathan Lunger or his wife. You killed her by a blow from the ax while asleep in bed. It does not appear whether he was aware of the fact of her death when he awoke, and you killed him also. There was some conversation, which did not appear to be particularly exciting, and you felled him to the earth. You appropriated some little property from the house and deliberately left. You then went through the country deliberately into Pennsylvania, without apparent fear or regard of being followed. The girl Anna accompanied you from the first. There is never an adequate motive for murdering a human being, but in your case there has not been developed any fact or idea of revenge or desire of property, any sudden or uncontrollable heat of passion.

            Furguson, I am very nearly through, but I ought perhaps to say that, the evidence has produced the impression that you are a man of little reasoning power. I have to say that the question of insanity raised in your behalf at the time of your trial made no impression on the jury. The Court is satisfied, yet it is proper to say that there is sympathy for you, your humble circumstances, few advantages and the fact that you belong to a lower order of intellect. Our capacity is below men of your condition of life. Nevertheless you have given evidence, the evidence on the trial proved that you were a man of labor, with sufficient intelligence to discharge your duties, and with a mind sufficient to preserve you from committing such a crime. Furguson, the sentence of the Court is that you be remanded to the custody of the Sheriff, there to remain until Friday, November 4th 1870 and that between the hours of 9 A.M. and 3 P.M. of that day you be taken to the gallows and there to be hung by the neck until you are dead, and I sincerely hope that God may have mercy on you.

            As the words fell from the lips of the Judge, the prisoner bowed as if in acknowledgement. Only the ticking of the court room clock was heard for several seconds. Furguson resumed his seat, but was immediately conducted away by the Sheriff, the audience dispensed and the sad scene was over. Mike preceded the Sheriff to his cell, and himself closed the door after him. The Sheriff made some remark about the, the length of time he had to live, to which Mike replied carelessly: - “I don’t care anything about the time.”


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