There have been many noted murder trials in Saratoga county since the first court was held in the town of Stillwater May 10, 1791 – 100 years ago. The court now in session at Ballston Spa meets about five miles from where the first court was held, at the residence of Samuel Clark, near East Line, Judge John Thompson of Stillwater [then] presiding, he having received the appointment as the first judge of Saratoga county from Governor Clinton.
The first murder trial in Saratoga county was in August, 1810 [sic], and was the trial of Daniel Northrup of Galway for the murder of Cornelius Allen of Charlton in the spring of 1816. He was proven guilty and sentenced to be hanged the last Friday in November, but was granted a pardon by the legislature and signed by Governor Tompkins. Northrup died in a private asylum.
The second murder trial was that of Benjamin Bennett at the May term in 1820, for the killing of Seth Haskins September 4, 1819, at Corinth. He was convicted and sentenced by Judge Jonas Platt to be hanged July 21, 1820. He was the first man hung in the county, Sheriff Dunning acting, assisted by Deputy Sheriffs Jennings, McComber and Johnson.
At the November oyer [and terminer court session] in 1831 took place the trial of James Mason for killing his wife Catherine at the town of Clifton Park. He was convicted of murder and sentenced by Judge Esek Cowen to be hanged on the last Friday in March, 1832. His sentence was commuted by Governor Enos T. Throop to Imprisonment for life.
At the May oyer in 1832 Judge Cowen sentenced Patrick Sheridan to the state prison at Sing Sing [now Sing Sing Correctional Facility] for seven years for killing James Judge March 26, 1832, two miles south of Saratoga Springs, on the railroad track near Wakeman’s Crossing.
Judge Cowen at the November oyer in 1832 had the case on trial before him of John Watkins, colored, for the murder November 9 of Arron Case, a hotel-keeper of Mechanicville, on the stoop of the Eagle hotel at Ballston Spa. Watkins was convicted and executed on the same gallows used for Bennett, at the north end of the village of Ballston, January 17, 1834. John Vernam of Waterford was the sheriff in charge of the execution, and he was assisted by Under Sheriff Joseph Jennings. A piece of the rope used to hang Watkins is now [in 1891] in possession of Charles E. Gorsline of Mechanicville, being the only piece in existence, the rest being burned at the time of the fire of the Milton house — the old Jennings hotel — some four years ago.
At the May term of oyer and terminer in 1846, before Judge Willard, Abraham Wilcox was tried for the murder of Thomas McKinstry at the town of Saratoga December 2, 1845. The defense was insanity, being the first time that plea was entered in Saratoga county. He was convicted and sentenced to be executed July 28, 1846. On representations of Chancellor Walworth Governor Wright commuted Wilcox’s sentence to imprisonment for life at Dannemora [now Clinton Correctional Facility], where he died.
The next trial was the famous Rector trial. The prisoner, Thomas Rector, had been convicted in the Albany oyer and terminer for the killing of Robert Sheppard in a house of ill-fame at Albany March 11, 1848. A new trial was granted on a writ of certiorari. The supreme court sent Rector to the Saratoga circuit for trial, and on such writ Judge Willard opened the court as a circuit court. It being the only case [known to this author] in criminal jurisprudence in which a man was placed on trial for his life in a circuit court. Rector was convicted of manslaughter in the second degree. He was then remanded to the Albany oyer and terminer and sentenced to state prison for seven years.
In October, 1849, the trial took place of John Tallmadge, who owned a farm near Round Lake, and who had been indicted for placing a stone between the crossing plank and the railroad track near East Line, causing the engine of a passenger train to leave the track May 22, 1849, at which time the engineer, William L. Dodge of Green Island, was injured so that be died June 1. The prisoner was indicted on the testimony of George Balfrey and Joseph Phayer. Before the case was closed it was proven that it was the most deliberate attempt to secure judicial murder by perjury ever known in this country. Balfrey swore that on May 22 he saw Tallmadge place the stone between the plank and the rail, and before he could signal the tram to stop it had struck the obstruction and left the track. His testimony was corroborated by Phayer. Judge Scott, counsel for the defense, brought the records from the steamship company to prove that the vessel in which the witness came to this country did not land in New York until three days after the accident. Counsel for the prosecution, Messrs. Beach, Lawrence and Wheaton, abandoned the case, and the jury without retiring rendered a verdict of not guilty. The two witnesses, Balfrey and Phayer, were indicted for perjury at the February court, and at the October oyer in 1850 Balfrey pleaded guilty. Phayer was tried, found guilty, and both were sentenced to Dannemora by Judge Paige for ten years each.
At the February, 1856. term of the oyer and terminer, before Justice C. L. Allen, Joseph Glasser was tried for the murder of Patrick H. Breen at Galway August 24, 1855. He was convicted of manslaughter in the second degree and sentenced to state prison for four years and six months.
John H. Price, eleven years old, was convicted at the September oyer in 1800 of killing James Cox, four years old, and he was sent to the Western house of refuge [a state operated youth detention center in Rochester which operated until 1960]…
Jesse Pomeroy… served three months in the county jail in 1858 for attempting to kill George W. Harder of Wilton July 1, 1858, and again served one year in the Albany penitentiary for attempting to kill with a pitchfork James S. Taylor of Wilton July 23, 1875.
At the same court, September, 1860, William Vanderwerken was indicted for killing Harrison Sherman July 27, 1860, at Waterford. He pleaded guilty in January, 1861, and was sentenced by Judge Platt Potter to imprisonment for life.
At the September oyer in 1862 John R. Packard and Mary A. Packard, his daughter, were convicted of manslaughter in the second degree for killing officer William Mitchell at Saratoga in May, 1862, and were sentenced to state prison for four years each. A year afterward they were pardoned by Governor Fenton.
At the May oyer in I863 William Dougherty was tried for the murder of Thomas Martin at Schuylerville October 31, 1863. He was convicted of manslaughter in the second degree and sent to state prison for seven years.
At the January oyer in 1866 Cornelius Huyck was tried and convicted of manslaughter in the fourth degree for causing the death of Susan H. Rogers, a little girl, at Mechanicville, and sentenced to the county jail for six months.
In September, 1867, William J. Kirtty was tried for the murder of John T. Jones at Saratoga Springs August 25, 1867. He was convicted of manslaughter in the second degree and sentenced to Dannemora for five years by Judge Potter.
James Robinson was the next to be tried for murder. He was charged with killing Sarah C. Crabb in the town or Day March 20, 1869. Before the trial was finished he pleaded guilty to murder in the second degree, and was by Judge Bockes sent to state prison for life.
At a special term of oyer and terminer in July, 1869, the trial (on a change of venue from Rensselaer county) of William Witbeck, Benjamin and John, his sons, and Zebulon Bass and William Wood for the murder of Sheriff Willard Griggs was held. This was known as one of the anti-rent cases. After five days’ trial the case was given to the jury, who after one hour’s deliberation brought in a verdict of not guilty.
In May, 1871, Henry Husher was indicted for the murder of Samuel Young at Saratoga March 7, 1870. He pleaded guilty and was sent to Dannemora for ten years.
At the January oyer in 1872 William Cherry of Saratoga Springs was tried and acquitted of the charge of murdering his wife.
James H. Standlsh was tried in August, 1874, for, the murder of George W. See in Wilton January 28 of the same year. This is known as the flat-iron murder case. Standish was convicted and sentenced by Judge Landon to Dannemora for life.
At the February court in 1876 John F. Dennin of Saratoga Springs was tried for the murder of George W. Rogers April 22, 1875. He was convicted of manslaughter in the third degree and sentenced by Judge Potter to state prison for two years.
The next trial was that known as the Billings trial. Billings was indicted June 20, 1878, for the murder of his wife at Fort Miller. The first trial opened September 10, 1878, and closed by a disagreement of the jury October 14. Billings was admitted to bail. His second trial began April 13, 1880, and closed May 15, the verdict of the jury being not guilty.
James Conroy was indicted January 13, 1881 for the murder of James McCann at Mechanicville in November, 1880. He escaped and was traced to Pittsburgh, Penn., by Deputy Sheriff Post of Mechanicviile. He was brought back and arraigned October 5, 1882, and pleaded not guilty. The trial was set down for the court which met November 27. The turnkeys on going to Conroy’s cell Sunday morning, the 26th, found that Conroy had committed suicide the night before.
The next murder trial was that of John Dennis for killing Sylvester Roberts in the town of Providence. Dennis was indicted June 13, 1885, tried July 13, 1885, found guilty of manslaughter July 18, 1885, and sentenced by Judge L’Amoreaux to Dannemora for twelve years.
The trial of Gabris Robinsky and Max Pavlic for the murder of Thomas Michels [sic] at Mechanicville in September, 1887, began January 23, 1888. The jury disagreed. Robinsky’s second trial was commenced January 30, 1888, when he pleaded guilty to murder in the second degree and was sentenced by Judge Tappan to Dannemora for life. Pavlic was tried at the same term of the court and was found gullty of murder in the second degree February 3. His case was appealed and he was at the May oyer discharged.
“Tried For Murder,” Troy Daily Times, May 14, 1891; Map of Saratoga County by Samuel Geil, 1856 (E.A. Balch Publisher, Philadelphia).