Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Loose talk aids in murder conviction

Loose lips sink ships — or, in the case of Charles Monte, help ship you off to the penitentiary.

A daring escape on June 9, 1902, from the Oregon state penitentiary in Salem by inmates Harry Tracy and Dave Merrill also led to the death of guard Frank Ferrell. Alleged to have aided in the escape was Charles Monte, who was accused of smuggling guns over the prison wall to the escapees. He in turn implicated a friend, Harry Wright, in the caper.

Sheriff Til Taylor discovered Monte’s role in the escape after a jail inmate, James Morris, came forward in April 1905 to offer information about a conversation he had with Monte while both were jailed in Umatilla County. Monte was in jail awaiting trial for a burglary charge, and evidently got a little loose in the tongue after drinking too much, bragging about how he was one of the two people who helped Tracy and Merrill escape. Morris was hoping his information would result in a lighter sentence for his own crimes; he ended up being sentenced to the penitentiary anyway.

After state law enforcement carefully gathered evidence on the pair, Monte and Wright were indicted on first-degree murder charges in Salem circuit court on April 25, 1905. Monte was brought from his cell at the Salem penitentiary, where he was serving sentence on the burglary charge, and Wright was brought to Salem from the penitentiary in Walla Walla.

Monte’s jury deliberated 18 hours, and required 16 ballots, before returning a verdict of “guilty of murder in the second degree.” He was sentenced to life in prison. While waiting for the street car to take him back to the penitentiary, Monte turned to Sheriff Culver and said, “How would you like to try me for something I had really done? You may have that chance in the future.” It was supposed that Monte meant to have revenge on Morris, who he claimed gave false witness during his trial.

Wright was acquitted of the murder charge in his trial, but he didn’t get off scot-free. Before the murder charge was dismissed, the district attorney filed a new charge against Wright, one of larceny. He was accused of hiring a team and buggy in May of 1902 under the pretense of making a short drive. He promptly drove the team from Salem to Portland and attempted to sell the outfit at a livery barn there. Wright was brought before Judge Barrett and plead guilty, and was sentenced to a year in the pen.

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