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William Benitz
References in Books

The centennial year book
of Alameda County, California:
containing... etc. etc.

by William Halley
W. Halley, Oakland, Calif., 1876

Excerpted here is the account of an extraordinary case in which the son of large landowner shot and killed a squatter and was not indicted for homicide by a grand jury.  William Benitz [in bold for the web] was a member of the grand jury in question.  He sided with the large land owners.  Remember that he had been a large land owner and very likely had evicted squatters himself.  Remember too that he had a crease at tip of his nose, made in 1854 by an unexplained grazing rifle bullet.

The Clark-Reed Homicide, near Ocean View — An Extraordinary Case, Showing How a Criminal was Shielded Against Punishment — Jurymen and Judges Implicated
Pages: 314-318

Crimes and casualties seemed to be an epidemic, and predominated in this year of our history.  Already, in the second month, two cold-blooded murders, committed by native Californians, have been recorded.  It is now the writer's painful duty to record a third, committed by a white man and an American, a man of education and good connections.  Reference is made to what is known as the Clark-Read homicide.  This tragic affair took place on the 17th day of February, about 2 o'clock in the afternoon.  The facts relating to it are as follows:

Two suits had recently been decided against occupants of a ranch, situated a short distance north of the City of Oakland, near Ocean View — one, John Hall vs. Henry Williamson et al., in favor of Hall; the other, Gustav M ahe vs. John Reynolds, in favor of Mahe.  Writs of ejectment had been placed in the hands of Sheriff H. N. Moise, who, on the day preceding the homicide, ejected Mr. Williamson, and placed Mr. Henry Kirke White Clark, who had an interest in the property, in possession.  The latter placed his son, F. W. Clark, in charge of the premises.  As Mr. Williamson was unable to remove all his portable property on Thursday, the Sheriff gave him permission to remove the remainder on Friday. There was a tacit agreement between all parties that he should be allowed to return on Friday.

On that day two men, named Charles Huntsman and Zelotes Read, who were in Williamson's employ, and had been engaged on the previous day in moving away Williamson's effects, drove upon the premises with a team for the purpose of taking away the remainder of Williamson's effects, articles about which there was no dispute as to ownership. Huntsman was driving, and Read was sitting alongside of him on the wagon.  Clark stopped them at the entrance of the premises and forbade their advancing, at their peril.  They advanced, however, Read stating that he would "do his duty." Clark, who was accompanied by another person named Chas F. Wait, raised his arm and fired four shots at the men — the first at the driver, Huntsman, and the remaining three at Read, who was fatally wounded, and died in fifteen or twenty minutes after he was shot.

An inquest on the body of the deceased was held on Saturday following, before Justice James Lentell, Acting Coroner.  The verdict of the jury was signed by William Graham, Silvanus White, Joseph Fallon, A. Rammelsberg, Charles Carl, Walter Blair, G. A. Warren, and was as follows:

“We, the undersigned, the jurors summoned to appear before James Lentell, Acting Coroner of the County of Alameda, on the 18th day of February, 1871, to inquire into the cause of the death of Zelotes Read, who was killed on Williamson's Ranch, having been duly sworn according to law, and having made such inquisitions, after inspecting the body, and hearing the testimony adduced, upon our oaths, each and all do say, that we find the deceased was named Zelotes Read, aged about forty-six or forty-seven years; that he came to his death on the 17th day of February, 1871, in this county; and we further find that we believe F. W. Clark to be the person by whose act the death of the said Zelotes Read was occasioned, by shooting him, the said Read, with pistol-shot, killing him; and we further believe that Chas. F. Wait was accessory thereto; all of which we duly certify by this inquisition in writing, by us signed this 18th day of February, 1871.”

Clark and Waite had given themselves up, and were under arrest.  On the following day, the 21st of February, a preliminary examination commenced in the Police Court, before Judge Jayne, in Oakland, which continued for five days.  The defense was conducted by a large array of legal ability, consisting of Harvey S. Brown, Blake & Yan Voorhies, H. W. Glascock, and Alex. Campbell.  The prosecution was conducted by the County Attorney, Mr. Wright, aided by the City Attorney, H. H. Havens, Zach Montgomery, and W. W. Foote.

Judge Jayne delivered judgment in the case, as follows:

"I have listened attentively to every word of the testimony, and have studied over it by night as well as by day, and can come to a conclusion now.  I find from the evidence adduced in the examination, that a crime has been committed as charged in the complaint, and that there is sufficient cause to believe the defendant, Frederick F. Clark, guilty thereof.  It is ordered that he be committed to the Sheriff of Alameda County.  In regard to the defendant, Waite, I considered his evidence against himself to be the clearest of all the evidence brought forward, except as to the statement by Huntsman, that he saw him show a weapon before the shooting.  He does not seem to attempt to screen his friend.  I am constrained to believe that he has narrated the transaction as l believe it to be.  I believe that he has told the truth.  There is no evidence to charge him with being accessory.  He is therefore discharged."

Subsequently, application was made for bail, and the case was submitted on testimony, without argument, to Judges Crockett and Wallace, of the Supreme Court, in argument.  A short-hand report having been made of the evidence, by the defense, two days were occupied in reading it.  No attempt was made to deny the homicide, the point being that it was justified by the circumstances.  Judge Crockett said that he should admit the prisoner to bail.  Where malice and premeditation are proven, the statute declares that no bail shall be received; but in the present case the circumstances were such that he felt warranted in releasing the prisoner.  He ordered Clark to be released on bail, in the sum of $30,000.

The trial was to take place at the Spring session of the County Court, before Judge Nye.  All criminal cases, of course, had first to go before the Grand Jury for examination.

The Grand Jury on this occasion consisted of: Messrs. W. G. Hunt, foreman; Robert Carr, C. P. Hanson, F. Garcia, F. Devoll, C. B. Rutherford, A. Chabot, J. A. Folger, E. Gallagher, Fred. Runkle, David Scully, W. A. Bray, H. F. Shepardson, W. Benitz.

In their report they stated that they had found two indictments for murder, one in the first degree and one in the second degree; two indictments for burglary, one indictment for grand larceny, one for obstructing a public highway, and had ignored the charge of murder against Frederick W. Clark!

The Public were amazed.  The press denounced the conduct of the Grand Jury; the District Attorney, S. P. Wright, was condemned.

The latter published a letter in his own defense, in which he stated that the case for the people was presented, as far as he was concerned, in the best possible manner before the Grand Jury, and that they had the testimony untrammeled, by a large number of witnesses that the defendant produced before the committing magistrate, as to the general reputation of deceased.

He said : "When I left the Grand Jury room, and as I was closing the door after me, I heard some one of the grand jurors say, 'I move to ignore the bill;' and, hearing such a motion as that, I felt indignant, as the defendant, under the evidence, in my opinion, ought to have been indicted."

The Gazette, in commenting upon the action of the Grand Jury of Alameda County, in ignoring the bill of indictment against F. W. Clark, charged with the murder of Zelotes Read, said it excited surprise, and was eliciting indignant comment.

On the 10th of April the question came up in the County Court on an application for a resubmission of the case to a Grand Jury.  District Attorney Wright argued in favor of the application, and Harvey S. Brown, H. K. W. Clark, Wm. Van Voorhies and Geo. M. Blake represented the accused, Clark, and opposed the application.

This decision of Judge Nye ended the matter for that term of the Court.

At a subsequent term, Judge Nye made an order resubmitting the case to the Grand Jury.  From this order the defendant appealed to the Supreme Court.  That Court held that the order was not appealable.  The County Judge again submitted the case, and defendant sued out a writ of review before Judge Dwindle.  Judge Dwindle held the case for about two years without rendering a decision, until the press and the public became so clamorous about it that he at length dismissed the writ and the case went before another Grand Jury, which in turn also ignored the bill.

There was a great deal of feeling in this case, not only in Alameda County, but outside of it.  It was presumed that the wealth of the accused and his social position had much to do with his escape; it was charged that he received the favor of the legal fraternity; that his father was a lawyer; that members of the judiciary became his bondsmen; that the Supreme Court Judges favored him; that all the land-grabbers in the country gathered around him; that Horace W. Carpentier had used his wealth and influence unsparingly for his protection; and all because the man who was slain had in his capacity, as a settler on some disputed lands in Contra Costa County, rendered himself obnoxious to these parties in defending his own and his neighbors' rights against their encroachments.

Much space is given here to this celebrated case, because it is looked upon as one to be ever held up as an example, showing the danger to life and liberty, even under our free and popular system of government, when certain influences are allowed to be exercised.  Indeed, the whole affair is looked upon as marvelous, and such as not to be credited only that the evidence of it is so recent, and all the facts so patent.  With what assiduity and ability the mind must have worked and the hand directed, that produced such an extraordinary result that defeated justice, shielded a culprit and threw the darkest shades of suspicion on the machinery of law!

© Peter Benitz (Benitz Family)