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Gregorio Cortez Appeals: 1902-04

Appeals Challenge Convictions, Convictions Upheld In Glover Shooting

Appellant: Gregorio Cortez
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyers: R.B. Abernathy, with Samuel Belden Jr. (1902) and J.R. Wooten (1904)
Chief Prosecutors: J.V. Vandenburg, Robert A. John (1902); Howard Martin, S.L. Green, S.H. Hopkins (1904)
Judges: W.L. Davidson, John N. Henderson, M.M. Brooks
Place: Austin, Texas
Dates of Decisions: January 15, 1902; June 24, 1902; June 15, 1904
Verdicts: In favor of appellant (both 1902 cases); guilty verdict affirmed (1904)
Sentence: Cases dismissed (1902); life imprisonment (1904)

SIGNIFICANCE: Gregorio Cortez's trials stemmed from an act of self-defense that made him a well-known Mexican-American folk hero.

On June 12, 1901, Gregorio Cortez and his brother Romaldo heard a surrey roll into the farmyard they shared in Kenedy, Texas. Their visitors were Karnes County Sheriff W. T. Morris and deputy D. P. Choate, who were investigating a horse theft. The Cortez brothers were innocent of any crime, but the language barrier between the farmers and the lawmen resulted in tragedy. Gregorio Cortez's misunderstood answers to the sheriff's questions erupted into gunfire that left Morris dying, Romaldo wounded, and Gregorio leading pursuers on a 10-day chase that became one of the great legends of the border country.

Gregorio Cortez first fled north on foot toward Ottine, stopping at a ranch owned by friends, the Roblero family. Acting on a tip, a posse stormed the Roblero house. Sheriffs Robert Glover and Henry Schnabel were killed in the resulting gunfight. Cortez then rode south, eluding his pursuers in the rough scrub. The exhausted fugitive was finally captured near Laredo on June 22. Because of the furor over Morris's death in Karnes County, he was jailed in San Antonio.

Cortez was charged and tried separately for murdering the three sheriffs. His trials were rarities in an era when any Mexican American accused of killing a Texas law officer stood little chance of living long enough to appear in court. When he was tried in Gonzales for killing Schnabel, a deadlocked jury reduced the charge to second-degree murder before agreeing on a conviction. While he was in the Gonzales jail, a mob, tried unsuccessfully to lynch him. He was transported to Karnes City, where he was convicted and sentenced to death for murdering Morris. A third trial in Columbus ended with a life sentence for killing Glover.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1883 to 1917