- First of three chapters in the “Hoosier’s War” series — Chapter 1: The Earth Moves (1/19/23)
- December marks 25th anniversary of Indiana DNR Law Enforcement’s K-9 Program (12/22/22)
- ‘Beyond Murder’ Chapter 7: South Pacific (12/1/22)
- DEATH COMES TO CARBON: Chapter 9: Guilty or Not Guilty? (8/30/22)
- DEATH COMES TO CARBON: Chapter 8: Victim on Trial (8/30/22)
- DEATH COMES TO CARBON: Chapter 6, Day of Reckoning (8/29/22)
- DEATH COMES TO CARBON: Chapter 5, James Takes Action (8/2/22)
DEATH COMES TO CARBON: Chapter 7: Did James Jump the Gun?
The prosecutors kept their case simple. They did not want to get into the history between Grover and James because without question Grover would come out looking bad because of his illicit relationship with the doctor’s wife and the numerous threats he had made to kill Van Sandt.
The prosecution wanted the jury to focus on what happened during those few minutes that culminated in James shooting Grover. They wanted to show that James had “jumped the gun” by shooting Grover, who had shown no sign of being armed. In other words, there was no point during their encounter in which James should have feared for his life.
The prosecution called four witnesses. The point of the testimony of each of these witnesses was that on the day of the shooting, it was Dr. Van Sandt who was the aggressor—that the doctor had initiated hostilities and shot Grover before the two had exchanged blows.
The prosecution called Grover’s brother, Thomas Jackson, as its first witness. When Thomas took the stand, the Van Sandt daughters moved up to where their father was seated and climbed on his lap, one on each knee, and hugged him.
Thomas claimed that he and Grover were walking down the street when they saw the doctor and another man walk out of the pool hall together. Thomas said that he and his brother had greeted the men pleasantly, and in response, the doctor told Grover not to speak to him again.
Thomas went on to testify that Grover took issue with the doctor’s demand, cursed him, declared himself to be a better man than the doctor, and challenged him to a fight in the street. Thomas said the doctor kept walking down the street away from the Jackson brothers for 87 feet without responding to Grover. Then, according to Jackson, Van Sandt turned, started toward Grover, and pulled a revolver halfway out of his hip pocket. Thomas claimed that he and his brother were turning into the blacksmith’s shop when the doctor shot Grover twice.
Oscar Loveall, the prosecution’s second witness, said that Grover Jackson had asked Van Sandt to speak with him for a minute, but the doctor declined. He and the doctor continued walking north, but when James turned back south toward Grover, Oscar continued to walk north and stopped in a meat market. That was where he was when he heard two gunshots.
Two other prosecution witnesses, Esther Wells, a clerk at the Powers store in Carbon, and George Combes, who was playing pool when Oscar and Van Sandt left the pool hall. Neither saw the doctor shoot Van Sandt; they only heard the shots. When cross-examined by the defense, Oscar, Esther, and George all expressed doubt about Thomas Jackson’s testimony that he was walking with Grover at the time of the encounter with Van Sandt.
After the prosecution’s witnesses had testified and the defense attorneys had cross-examined them, the Judge announced his decision that Grover’s statement would not be admitted into evidence.
The Judge ruled that Grover had given the statement at a time when he thought he would recover and therefore it was inadmissible because the law considers only “death bed” statements to be of sufficient gravity for the court to trust to be true. The theory behind this is that someone who is dying is unlikely to swear to a lie as his last official act before meeting his maker for judgment at heaven’s gates.
After Judge Rawley said Grover’s statement was inadmissible, the prosecution rested its case. The text of Grover’s statement appears to be lost to history, so it is difficult to judge its potential impact on the jury if the Judge had allowed it to have been entered into evidence. No doubt Thomas Jackson had known the contents of his brother’s statement and could have incorporated much of it into his own testimony.
Without Grover’s statement, the outcome of the trial relied on the doctor’s testimony, the testimony of the witnesses to the events the day of the shooting, and character witnesses for James and against Grover.
In next week’s chapter, the defense fights back.
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