» » A Soul on Trial: A Marine Corps Mystery at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

Download A Soul on Trial: A Marine Corps Mystery at the Turn of the Twentieth Century epub

by Robin R. Cutler

Marine Lieutenant James N. Sutton died on the grounds of the Naval Academy on October 13, 1907, and the Marine Corps would never be the same. This is the true story of an Oregon mother's crusade to save her son's soul from the stigma of suicide and to confront venerated military institutions in her search for answers about her son's death. From the corridors of power to common city streets, Americans were fascinated by accusations of drinking, gunplay, romantic rivalry, cover-ups, wounded honor, and ultimately murder in Annapolis. Splashed across the front pages of newspapers nation-wide, the Sutton case commanded the attention of members of Congress, high-ranking military officials, renowned attorneys, the Cardinal of the American Catholic Church, and America's foremost psychical researcher. Touching on lives great and small, A Soul on Trial is a rich portrait of Progressive Era America. Part murder mystery, part ghost story, and part courtroom drama―the book follows the stories of Rosa Sutton, her daughter Rose, and three Marine Corps lieutenants whose futures were at stake as the Naval investigation unfolded. It is a riveting tale of the power of the press, the secrecy of the military in times of crisis, and the lives of young officers whose private battles were often as difficult as their professional ones.
Download A Soul on Trial: A Marine Corps Mystery at the Turn of the Twentieth Century epub
ISBN: 074254849X
ISBN13: 978-0742548497
Category: History
Subcategory: Americas
Author: Robin R. Cutler
Language: English
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers; First Edition edition (September 13, 2007)
Pages: 400 pages
ePUB size: 1714 kb
FB2 size: 1556 kb
Rating: 4.1
Votes: 554
Other Formats: doc txt txt lrf

This is the true story of a mother’s relentless crusade to free her son from the torments of hell after it had been declared that he had committed suicide. It’s a story that made front-page news across the nation, from the New York Times and Washington Post to the San Francisco Chronicle and Portland Oregonian.

Second Lieutenant James Sutton, 22, was a newly commissioned officer undergoing basic officers training at the Marine Corps school on the grounds of the Naval Academy at Annapolis, when he died from a gunshot wound to the head in the early morning hours of October 13, 1907 after some socializing and drinking at a downtown Annapolis hotel. As he returned to his barracks with three fellow marine officers, he was involved in an argument with one or more of them and an altercation resulted. It all ended with Sutton being shot in the head by his own pistol as one or two of the fellow officers pinned him to the ground. The statements made by the three fellow officers and others who came upon the scene were muddled, confusing, contradictory and conflicting, but the board of inquest concluded that all the evidence was reliable and pointed to death by suicide.

Many questions were left unanswered, perhaps the biggest being how and why Sutton shot himself. As one forensic expert later testified, if Sutton was in fact pinned to the deck by other officers, he would have had to be a contortionist or to have used his thumb to pull the trigger for the bullet to enter his head at the trajectory it followed. Is it possible he was trying to shoot the person holding him down and accidentally shot himself? And what was his motive for killing himself? Was he so embarrassed by his behavior and at having been subdued by the other men that he did not believe life was worth living?

In the mind of his mother, Rosa Sutton, however, there was a bigger reason for rejecting the suicide verdict. Her son told her so when his apparition confronted her shortly after a telegram was received at her Portland, Oregon home some 12 hour later advising of Jimmie’s death by suicide. “Mama I never did,” Rosa recorded Jimmie’s words, noting that he reached out his hands to her. “My hands are as free from crime as they were when I was five years old. Oh, Mother, don’t believe them...I fell on my knees and they beat me worse than a dog in the street. Mamma dear, if you could only see my forehead you would know what they did to me. Don’t give way, for you must clear my name. God will give you the men to bring those men to justice.”

And so began Rosa’s two-year crusade to clear her son’s name. Indications are that there was a deeper reason for clearing his name than simply setting the record straight and erasing the stigma of suicide. “As a Catholic, Rosa Brant Sutton believed suicide was a mortal sin,” author Robin Cutler explains in the Prologue. “If the navy was correct, Jimmie would spend eternity in hell with no chance of being reunited with his loved ones.” Moreover, Jimmie’s admission to purgatory and then heaven, rather than hell, required, in Rosa’s mind, a priest to consecrate his grave at Arlington National Cemetery, something a priest was not allowed to do in the case of a suicide.
It seems strange that Rosa, described by an investigator as a woman of “unusual intelligence,” would assume that a celestial judge would render justice based on the verdict of a terrestrial board of inquest. Seemingly, a celestial judge would most certainly know the true facts and assign Jimmie to the proper station in the afterlife without regard for the terrestrial finding.

Whatever her primary motivation, Rosa Sutton pushed on, demanding a Court of Inquiry and a proper investigation. Much of the book goes to that investigation and the court proceedings in 1909, nearly two years after Jimmie’s death. It was this court of inquiry and the exhumation of the body and autopsy following it that grabbed the attention of the American public through the daily newspapers.

The arguments by the two parties to the Court of Inquire were polarized – either it was suicide or it was murder. While accidental homicide or accidental suicide appears to have been just as likely, even more likely, the accidental possibilities were downplayed. Strangely, Rosa Sutton’s attorney did not give them much heed, even though they would have seemingly relieved Jimmy of the “sin” that condemned him to hell.

Cutler’s research went well beyond the court proceedings. She provides background information on the various witnesses, including the fellow officers, the several lawyers and board members, the motorcar driver who taxied them to the barracks that fatal night, and even ranking officers connected with the command units. She goes so far to determine what happened to them in the years following the court proceedings.

It is a fascinating read. I think Cutler should have been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for her efforts on this book, clearly a long-term and laborious undertaking. Considering the likelihood that the court’s decision would not have affected Jimmie’s fate in the afterlife one way or the other, one has to wonder if Rosa Sutton’s crusade was worth it all, but in the very end Jimmie communicates to his mother what it was all about, and it does, in fact, seem that there was a bigger picture to it all.
This book reminded me why I love nonfiction. Nothing is more compelling than a meticulously research account of true events motivated by intense feeling. A mother's quest to clear her dead son's name after his mysterious death as a young Marine Corps lieutenant at the training academy takes the reader into courtroom drama, forensic investigation, and a unique account of the interface between the world of facts and visits from beyond the grave. Cutler tells an engrossing tale of a citizen mother pitted against the closed,and often imperious, ranks of the military establishment in her quest to clear her son's name. The story is also presented in the context of the sweeping social changes of the early 1900's that made such a challenge to the military establishment possible. Cutler is a consummate historian and skillful writer. Excellent.
Delivery prompt, much faster thane expected. Item as claimed and at wonderful price. Very satisfied !
Not long after midnight on October 13, 1907, a Marine Lieutenant from Portland, Oregon by the name of James N. Sutton died a violent death on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland under mysterious circumstances. He had been shot through the head, and apparently beaten before the shooting. Yet the military inquest ruled his death a suicide. Though he was buried at Arlington Cemetery, as a reputed suicide Sutton received no salute, no service, and no priest's blessing at the funeral.

His mother Rosa had a vision of her son in which he denied the inquest finding and asked her to clear his name. Thus begins the story of a mother's two-year quest for justice, of many letters written, of support from an Oregon senator and a Catholic bishop, of an older sister's suspicions and "investigation," and finally a Navy Court of Inquiry into the matter - a "trial" that was not a trial, by "a court that was in many respects `above the law' and not necessarily governed by the law."

As in any good court story, there were conflicting accounts by witnesses (including all the Marine officers who saw Sutton that night), and a surprise legal maneuver by the defense halfway through that caught the prosecution by surprise, necessitating a week-long recess. Rosa even managed to obtain an autopsy for her son nearly two years after his death.

It's also the story of how the press covered one of the first U.S. cases of national notoriety. The New York Times ran more than 57 articles and six editorials about the events surrounding Sutton's death. As the Washington, DC Evening Star put it, "the whole Marine Corps is on trial."

Cutler, a professor of history and public historian for the National Endowment for the Humanities, seamlessly weaves together the proceedings with side trips into the widespread interest in the paranormal at the time, William James, military tribunal procedure, a little forensic medicine, politics and media spin, circa 1909. The resulting tapestry never seems contrived or unduly weighted with tangential diversions, the way Erik Larson's bestsellers sometimes may.

If, like many true-crime accounts, A Soul on Trial ends rather unsatisfactorily, with significant threads remaining untied, one cannot fault the author. Cutler does offer some final notes with her opinions on the affair as well as a last, mild personal surprise.