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Scott County Historical Society

Scott County, Virginia


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The Kingsport Times


(Reprinted from the Gate City Herald)


     One murder in any county is one too many, but when a county has cold-blooded murder cases at every court, there is genuine reason for profound alarm. Life has become too cheap in that county; the law is not respected; The courts and officers of the law are not feared and no man’s life is safe. Lawless characters go about armed with pistols, and with no just provocation Or no provocation at all, shoot a man down.

     Every reader of this paper knows the history of Scott county in this particular during the last few years. Killing has followed killing with startling rapidity. It is true that punishment of a kind has usually—not always—followed the killings, but still the killings go on. Lawless characters with murder in their hearts do not fear the law in Scott.  Why is this?

     In seeking an answer to this question, let us look at the officers of the law. Certainly the men who have served Scott county in the office of sheriff cannot be blamed. During this orgy of murder, Scott county has had sheriffs of the utmost efficiency in running- down, arresting, and bringing criminals before the bar of the court. Creed Frazier, Charley Palmer, Harvey Culbertson were sheriffs whom we have never heard charged with dereliction of duty? With the utmost diligence, without fear or favor, they pursued, arrested, jailed, and produced in court the criminals guilty of violations of the law, whenever possible to find the criminal, and the criminal was usually found. And it is a certain fact that Scott county's present sheriff cannot be charged with negligence of duty. 0. B. Darnell is making a reputation as a sheriff not surpassed in the history of the county and we shall venture to say not equaled elsewhere in the state. The rapidity with which Darnell and his deputies apprehend and jail violators of the law is absolutely a marvel. When it comes to spotting the perpetrator of a crime and arresting him, Darnell and his deputies seem to be omniscient and ubiquitous. The carnival of crime in Scott cannot be charged to its present sheriff. The sheriffs of Scott are blameless in their official life.

     And we have heard no criticism of the judge of the court. In the trial of criminals, the law's delays are often to be blamed for wholly inadequate punishment and a consequent reign of crime. If Judge Carter has weakly yielded to specious pleas of defense attorneys for delay in the trial of criminals, we have not heard him so charged. So far as we know he has held his rulings in criminal cases strictly to what the law requires to secure justice for society and justice for the prisoner at the bar—whether in the latter instance it be death or acquittal.

     We now come to our juries. To say that the verdict of the juries of the Scott county courts in criminal cases for the last several years have been too light would be saying something we personally could not prove, juries change with every court, they change with every criminal, their verdicts meet, with varying criticism from the public—too light or too severe. But let us say right here that the general opinion of the public is that jury verdicts in Scott have become of late years entirely too light. Whether this is true or not, we cannot say. But the fact remains that the law is too little feared in Scott and the punishment dealt by the law is what the criminal fears.

     But the verdict of the jury and the sentence of the judge is not final and irrevocable. Here comes in the too often evil of the pardoning power. A jury does its duty, the judge upholds the jury, a heinous crime meats with severe but just punishment. A long term in the penitentiary is the sentence. "He will never live to see the end of his sentence," people say of the convict as the guards load him into the van for Richmond. Four or five years pass, and the criminal is back at home laughing at the law and ready for another crime.

     Petitions for the pardon of criminals are signed too readily. Generally speaking, a petition without the endorsement of the judge and the commonwealth’s attorney setting forth adequate reasons for pardon, should never be considered by any governor. Too light sentences by juries, too ready pardons by governors, are two reasons why Scott county has too much murder.

     But these two are not the only reasons . Crime is a thing that grows. The little criminal grows by degrees into the big criminal—into the robber and the murder. Here is where the magistrate has his power to make the law feared and thus lessen crime and its pernicious growth. If every magistrate in Scott county would impose good, healthy fines and good, healthy sentences in every violation of the law that comes before him, without fear or favor, we would soon find ourselves at the beginning of the end of this disregard for the law. In twelve months we would see a great a great change for the better.

     We have not mentioned the commonwealth’s attorney as an instrument of the enforcement of the law. These officials of Scott have been men devoted to their duty. They have prosecuted criminals to the full extent of their ability, they have laid the law and the evidence before the jury in each case. If the jury permitted itself to be swayed from the law and the evidence and a just verdict based thereon, then it was a weak jury.

     The solution of the crime problem in Scott and all other counties, and in all the states, lies in a vigorous enforcement of the law—the apprehension and speedy arraignment of the violator of the law, and a penalty that the criminal will cringe from and not laugh at. And this enforcement should begin with the magistrate, it should be continued by the judge and jury, and should not be weakened by a careless use of the pardoning power by the governor.— Gate City Herald

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