Title

An article on the case of Clifton Harris, a 19-year-old black youth convicted of

Authors

Wayne Reilly

Source

Down East

Date

11-1-1996

Pages

64, 73-77

Abstract

An article on the case of Clifton Harris, a 19-year-old black youth convicted of the grisly murder of Susannah Kinsley, 65, and Polly Caswell, 67, in January 1867, in their West Auburn home. Harris originally implicated a middle-aged white shoemaker named Luther Verrill, but then changed his testimony. Verrill was never tried, although Harris changed his testimony back. The ensuing debate about Harris's execution created a crisis in the career of Gov. Joshua Chamberlain, who unlike governors before him, made it clear he would sign Harris's death warrant unless the Legislature acted to abolish capital punishment. Many believed that the current law already dictated life in prison except in cases of "peculiar enormity." Amid fiery debate, both the House, and by a much lesser margin, the Senate, voted against abolishing capital punishment. The majority of Mainers were disturbed by the questionable and clumsy execution, and the debate raged over seven years and two more executions until in 1876, the state became the fifth to abolish capital punishment.

Subjects

Capital punishment, Murders, Caswell, Polly, Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence, Harris, Clifton, Kinsley, Susannah

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