Monday, March 22, 2010

The Amazing Case of Charner Tidwell

On March 22, 1922, Warren Harding granted a pardon to a person that many considered to be the American version of The Count of Monte Cristo. Charner Tidwell was from a well respected family, and just seventeen years old when he was convicted of the murder of one Jim Brown (a husband and father of three children) and sentenced to life in prison.

Bad things seemed to happen to those that were involved in putting young Tidwell away. The constable that arrested him drove his own car under the wheels of a speeding train. The U.S. marshal who detained him died of tuberculosis. The district attorney in the case experienced an "untimely death" as well. So, the judge who sentenced Tidwell, being somewhat superstitious, decided to visit the young man in prison. Unfortunately, the visit happened to come on a day that the prisoners had scheduled a riot. The judge was shot dead in the chest.

Senators Albert A. Gore (D-Tennessee) and Robert L. Owen (D-Oklahoma) supported some of Tidwell's applications for pardon, but presidents Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson rejected them all. It may not have helped that Tidwell was reported to have spent much of his time in prison “growling” and “barking” like a dog and finding himself handcuffed and placed in solitary confinement.

Then Harding became President and Congresswoman Alice Mary Robertson (R-Oklahoma) “advised” the new Attorney General, Harry Daugherty, that important evidence had emerged in the case. “Experts” in the Justice Department conducted a “searching investigation,” “dug deeper” and concluded the conviction was based entirely on circumstantial evidence. Daugherty recommended a commutation of sentence “at once.” Charner Tidwell finally breathed the air of freedom after serving twenty-three years behind bars for a crime he said all along (between barks and howls) that he did not commit.

But that was really only half of the story. The New York Times reported that, while Tidwell was serving out his sentence, he had “inherited” property in Oklahoma. Indeed, upon his release he became the “master of millions of dollars in oil lands.” And that was not all. The former Mrs. Brown confessed – on her deathbed – that her lover (and future husband) had actually been the one who had committed the murder. An affidavit signed by her two daughters was followed by still yet another confession. The only supposed eyewitness to the murder (her son who was now in prison) confessed that he had lied under oath.

So, just like that, Tidwell went from prison to pardon to wealth.

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