In 1866, James Johns, railroad agent at Gosport, was killed one dark night by Willis McMinimy. This was a cold-blooded, premeditated murder for the purpose of robbery. McMinimy was a drayman, and was trusted implicitly by the agent, Johns, who had no suspicion of him, and was thus easily killed by being beaten to death with a short bar of iron in the hands of McMinimy while they were alone at the office of the Louisville, New Albany & Chicago Railroad at Gosport, late one very dark night.
McMinimy was arrested, tried, and convicted on purely circumstantial evidence, of a very strong character, however, and sentenced to the State Prison for life. The jury was unanimous on first ballot. On the question of guilt, every vote read "guilty." On the question of punishment, six were for hanging, six for imprisonment for life. All night the question was argued. One by one they changed until at daylight the jury stood eleven for death, and only one, Eli Schoppell, still stood firm for imprisonment.
He was a German, a man of sound sense, honest and conscientious. He is yet living in Jackson Township. In his broken American he argued as best he could, beset on all sides by the other eleven. He listened to first one and then another ; argument after argument poured in upon . him, until at last he grew desperate. He stood erect upon his feet; his countenance expressed the most intense feeling possible to the human face; great drops of sweat broke out and stood on his face and forehead. " Shentlemens," he broke out;
" Shentlemens, I can not talk, but I can feel. We all believes this man guilty, in mine heart I feels he is guilty, but nopody sees him kill the man; may be somepody else do it. If we sends dis man to State Prison for life and some time it is found out that somepody else kill the man, den dis man come out, he be not dead. But if we hangs this man and it some time be found out he did not kill the man, den this man be dead, and," putting his hand solemnly upon his own head, " den de blood of this man be on our hets. I, I can not do it."
The effect of that speech was electrical. The intense earnestness of the German, with his imperfect speech, his strong convictions of right, and the terrible consequences of a possible mistake in their verdict was such that at once a verdict of guilty was written and the punishment fixed at imprisonment for life in the State Prison.