Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Convicted Murderer and Thief Hanged at Idaho Penitentiary [otd 11/30]

On November 30, 1901, authorities hanged convicted murderer Edward Rice. He was the first individual executed at the Idaho Penitentiary as a state institution and only the second in its history. Rice had been convicted of murdering Matthew Mailley, a Wallace cigar and candy store owner, the previous year.
Wallace, ca 1898. Illustrated History.

The evidence was largely circumstantial, in that there were no direct witnesses. A potential customer had found the store door locked at around 9:30 on a Monday morning in October 1900. Finding Mailley’s thriving business closed at that time of day was unusual, to say the least.

The person then walked around and peered in a window, and spotted Mailley’s body lying near the back. A report in the Idaho Statesman (October 5, 1900) said that authorities then forced the door. Mailley had suffered several blows to the head and then his throat had been cut. The article noted that the store owner “had lived in the Coeur d’Alenes about 15 years and had no known enemies.”

Account books showed an $800 shortfall of cash and checks in the store and on the murdered man’s body. Suspicion soon fell on Edward Rice, a casual laborer who had been around town for awhile. Rice had cadged small loans off numerous locals, some of whom had taken to dunning him for repayment whenever they ran into him. Later on the day of the murder, Rice had not only paid off over $100 of those debts, he had “purchased a hat and pair of trousers.”

Investigators also found two bloodstained handkerchiefs at the crime scene, one of which had apparently been used as a gag. Both bore marks assigned by the Wallace laundry to Rice’s belongings. Unable to explain this evidence, Rice’s lawyer tried to raise doubts about the chain of custody on the items.

At his trial, Rice’s lawyer surely did his best to focus attention on those doubts, and the fact that no witness had placed Rice near the scene of the crime. Available accounts do not report what story they advanced to explain his sudden relative affluence. (Throughout this affair, Rice’s activities suggest that he was, in fact, of substandard intelligence.) The attorney’s presentation clearly did not impress the jury: They “found a verdict in thirteen minutes.”

Naturally, the matter did not end there. The scarcity of direct evidence was emphasized in his appeals, which went all the way to the Idaho Supreme Court. One of the other issues the defense raised was that “popular excitement and prejudice” about the case prevented him from getting a fair trial. The High Court conceded that such sentiment certainly justified a request for a change of venue, but no such request was made.
Old Idaho Penitentiary.
Wikimedia Commons, attribution to Peter Wollheim.

Up until 1899, executions had been carried out at the county level. Then the law was changed to require that all such acts be carried out at the State Penitentiary. The only previous execution at the Penitentiary had been under a Federal order, when Idaho was still a Territory.

Early in 1901, even as his appeals proceeded, Rice somehow obtained a knife and ostensibly tried to commit suicide by cutting his own throat … but failed. One last-ditch appeal called for time to examine of his sanity, but that too failed and the execution proceeded. 
References: [Illust-North]
“[Appeal Denied, Rice to Hang],” Idaho Daily Statesman, Boise, Idaho (November 30, 1901). 
"Executions," Idaho State Historical Society monograph.
"State Versus Rice," The Pacific Reporter, Vol. 66, West Publishing Company, St. Paul (1902).

1 comment:

  1. Hello. I am more than fascinated to lea about Ed (Edward) Rice. He may be my great grandfather! His birth would have been in Oregon, approximately 1872. In the WA state census 1900, he was married to my great grandmother Rosella Blanche Leabo. My grandmother Leona Edwin and Ed's mother Lizzie Rice are also listed on the census. We have had no luck tracking this fellow. I hope you can offer more information; otherwise, I simply must visit the Old Idaho Pen.

    Regards and many thanks for posting this story,
    Kathryn Fernandez
    Neskowin, OR