Floyd Allen Trial: 1912 - Virginia Tries Floyd Allen For Murder
Defendant: Floyd Allen
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyer: J.C. Buxton
Chief Prosecutors: J.C. Wysor and W.S. Poage
Judge: Walter Staples
Place: Wytheville, Virginia
Dates of Trial: April 30-May 18, 1912
Sentence: Death by electrocution
SIGNIFICANCE: The Floyd Allen affair represents one of the rare incidents in American history when a criminal defendant attempted to avoid justice by assassinating the trial judge.
Carroll County, Virginia, is a rural county, located in the Blue Ridge Mountains and far from any major city. The Allens were the county's leading family, owning a great deal of land and dominating local politics. They ran Carroll County as their private chiefdom. In the early 1900s, the patriarch of the Allen clan was Floyd Allen.
In 1911, two of Allen's nephews, Sidna Allen and Wesley Edwards, were involved in a scuffle with some Allen opponents outside a schoolhouse where Baptist services were being held. The local prosecutor in nearby Hillsville, Commonwealth's Attorney William M. Foster, was also an Allen adversary, and he promptly charged Sidna Allen and Edwards with disturbing public worship. Foster's men arrested Sidna Allen and Edwards after tracking them down in Mount Airy, North Carolina and brought them back to Carroll County for justice. On the way back to Hillsville, Floyd Allen and his henchmen set upon the lawmen and freed their kin. Foster then charged Allen with assaulting officers of the law and had Allen arrested.
A jury found Allen guilty, and on March 14, 1912, Allen went to his sentencing hearing before Judge Thornton L. Massie in the Hillsville courthouse. Massie sentenced Allen to one year in prison. There were, however, nearly 20 Allen men among the spectators in the courtroom. Allen rose to his feet and calmly said, "Gentlemen, I ain't goin'." That was the cue. The Allen men (Floyd included) pulled out their concealed pistols and began firing. Five people were killed: Judge Massie, Commonwealth's Attorney Foster, Sheriff Lew F. Webb, a member of the jury named Augustus C. Fowler, and a witness named Betty Ayers. Floyd Allen was wounded when the deputies and guards returned fire, and he was quickly arrested. The rest of the Aliens fled, and it took a manhunt of several months to round them all up.
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