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Chapter 9: “Because This Is Texas”

Bill Neal University of North Texas Press PDF

9

CHAPTER

“Because This Is Texas”

The Second Fort Worth Murder Trial of John Beal Sneed

LODGED IN THE POTTER COUNTY JAIL in Amarillo under

indictment for the murder of Al Boyce, John Beal Sneed once again petitioned for bail.1 The Amarillo district attorney, H. S. Bishop, opposed it. District Judge J. N. Browning agreed, finding that “proof was evident” that Sneed was guilty of having committed the offense of premeditated murder. As Sneed’s defense lawyers had done only nine months earlier in Fort Worth, they contended that proof was not evident that Sneed had committed premeditated, first-degree murder.

Just as they had done in the Colonel Boyce murder case, McLean did not deny that Sneed killed Al Boyce or deny that Sneed had killed him intentionally. Nevertheless, McLean contended, the most that the state could prove against Sneed was a manslaughter charge, and therefore, Sneed was entitled to have appropriate bail set for his release. In making this argument, McLean relied on the “insulting words or conduct” directed toward a “female relative” statute as he had during Sneed’s first murder trial. The effect of that statute was to reduce the grade of that offense from what would otherwise have been premeditated murder to manslaughter, two to five years, provided that the defendant killed the libertine at their “first meeting” after the enraged relative learned of the insulting words or conduct.

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Chapter 7: Protecting a Home or Protecting a Killer?

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7

CHAPTER

Protecting a Home or Protecting a Killer?

The Conclusion of the 1912

John Beal Sneed Murder Trial

IN SPORTS CONTESTS, there comes a time during most games

when the momentum shifts to one of the teams. At that point it is crucial for the other team to reinvigorate, to shift strategies, to seize the initiative and stop that momentum before the game turns into a rout. So it is with most hotly contested jury trials. That crucial point in the Sneed murder trial came when McLean concluded his direct examination of John Beal Sneed. Beal’s virtuoso performance, enhanced by the tearful accompaniment of his two daughters, had been carefully orchestrated; it hit all the right notes at the right time to captivate the hearts and minds of the rural and unsophisticated jurors imbued with Victorian values. When McLean ended his direct examination and announced, “No further questions,” momentum was clearly with the defense. It was now or never for the prosecution.

It was also precisely at that point that an excellent opportunity was presented to the prosecution to turn the tide by attacking the

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Epilogue: B. Reflections, Speculations, and Unsolved Mysteries

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252

VENGEANCE IS MINE

How skillfully, how masterfully, did McLean, Johnson, Scott, and even Beal Sneed himself when he took the stand, play on those prejudices, those fears of female eroticism, which, unless decisively restrained, threatened their own manhood and honor, those fears that a northern encroachment of modernism was threatening their core values and their way of life. In the end, the only patriotic thing the jurors could do to protect the home of John Beal Sneed, and— even more importantly—to protect their own homes, and to protect the homes of all upright and right-thinking citizens of Texas was to send forth a clear and resounding message that this was not the North; that henceforth free love, promiscuity, female eroticism, lightness in women, easy divorces, as well as lustful libertines, and any other brand of northern modernism would not be tolerated.

Henceforth Texas homes would be protected!

Because . . . well, after all, because this was Texas.

In the end, it seems more than probable that the jurors, at least the jurors in the second Fort Worth murder trial, didn’t really believe that Lena was insane, didn’t really buy into that “moral insanity” charade. But they were willing to give Beal Sneed a pass on that to salvage his tattered pride. What the jurors did buy into, however, was the “protecting the home” fiction that the McLean-Johnson-Sneed team orchestrated so masterfully to resonate so well with the jurors’ inherited Victorian culture.

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Appendix Two: Timeline

Bill Neal University of North Texas Press PDF

APPENDIX TWO

Timeline

1839

“Parson” Joseph Perkins Sneed, Tennessee circuit-riding

Methodist preacher, migrates to Texas and settles in Central

Texas area north of Austin.

1839

Tennessee native James Boyce migrates to Texas and settles in the same Central Texas area.

May 8, 1842

Albert Gallatin Boyce, son of James Boyce, is born near Austin.

1854

Dudley H. Snyder, Mississippi native, migrates to Texas at the age of twenty-one and settles a short distance north of

Austin.

1856

John Wesley Snyder, younger brother of Dudley H. Snyder, migrates to Texas, soon followed by a third Snyder brother,

Thomas Shelton Snyder. All settle in the same Central

Texas area.

July 24, 1875

Al Boyce, Jr., son of Colonel Albert G. Boyce and wife, Annie

Boyce, is born.

Dec. 30, 1877

John Beal Sneed, son of Joseph Tyre Sneed and wife,

Lillian Beal Sneed, and grandson of Joseph Perkins Sneed, the Methodist parson, is born.

Aug. 15, 1879

Lenora (Lena) Snyder, daughter of Thomas Shelton Snyder, is born.

Mid-1880s

Famous three-million-acre XIT Ranch carved out of Texas

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Epilogue: A. Snatching Victory from the Jaws of Defeat

Bill Neal University of North Texas Press PDF

EPILOGUE

A. Snatching Victory from the Jaws of Defeat

Spin-Doctoring, Dirty Tricks, and Whatever Else It Takes

WHEN AT THE END of Sneed’s second Fort Worth murder trial the jury shot back a “not guilty” verdict without even bothering to deliberate, much less to read the court’s jury instructions, Judge

Swayne was flabbergasted—stunned is perhaps a better word. Both

Judge Swayne’s words and his actions during and after the trial clearly demonstrated that he had no doubt—reasonable or otherwise—that

John Beal Sneed had intentionally killed Colonel Boyce without any legal justification. How, he puzzled, could the jury have gotten it so wrong?

Better question was, how did the defense manage to snatch victory from the jaws of a seemingly certain defeat? How did McLean and company manage to lay the sins of the son at the feet of the father and then convince the jury that it was somehow necessary to slay Colonel Boyce in order to “protect the home” of the killer?

And they did all of that despite the efforts of Judge Swayne during the second trial to rein in the excesses of the McLean team. Admittedly the judge was not entirely successful at that, but then what mortal judge could have totally repressed the combined aggression and forcefulness of McLean, Johnson, Scott, and John Beal Sneed himself—particularly when the prosecution lawyers did so little to assist him?

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