This lawyer, who would later become famous, was to defend William “Duff” Armstrong. Armstrong was charged with a brutal murder of one James Metzler.
Beardstown, Illinois was the site of the trial. The year was 1858. The State prosecutor called Charles Allen to the witness stand.
Mr. Allen, the only eyewitness, testified that he saw the murder in the light of the full moon that night. He testified that he personally witnessed the murder by Armstrong from about 150 feet away, and that it was about 11:00 pm.
During Allen’s direct testimony, the prosecutor thought he had an air-tight case. Meanwhile, this defense lawyer just stared at the ceiling, unimpressed and bored. But now came cross examination.
When this innovative lawyer rose to cross examine Allen, he made a motion to use an 1857 almanac. This was very unusual at the time. Almost all evidence at the time came only from witnesses.
Judge James Harriot allowed this new type of evidence to be used. This lawyer then made Allen read the almanac entry for August 29, 1857 — the night of the murder: There was no full moon that night. In fact, there was no moon at all at 11:00 pm.
Believing the almanac, not Charles Allen, the jury found Armstrong not guilty.
Who was this lawyer? He died tragically just five years later, in 1863, while he was President of the United States. That’s right…Abraham Lincoln.
An innovative trial lawyer, and a national leader who changed history.
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