The first trial of John D. Lee for his role in the leadership of the Mountain Meadow Massacre of 1857, ended in a hung jury. After two weeks of testimony in which the United States prosecuting attorneys attempted to tie responsibility for the act back to the leadership of the LDS Church, the jury returned to the courtroom impossibly deadlocked over the role of Lee in the affair.
The Federal judge assigned to the trial, held in Beaver, scathingly reprimanded the jury for failing to reach a conclusion, and scheduled a second trail for September, 1876 at the same location.
Between the two trials Lee was housed in the Army barracks of Fort Cameron near the mouth of Beaver Canyon. His wife, Emma, was allowed to stay at the same location and worked as a cook for the soldiers stationed at the Fort. John spent his time writing about his life and his role in the affairs at the Meadows.
The transcripts of the second trial offer an interesting change from the first. A new prosecuting attorney, Sumner Howard, represented the United States. He was a noted Michigan attorney recently appointed as a Federal Attorney by President Garfield. He had a strong reputation as a brilliant prosecutor, and he had recently married. The jury, which was different than the first trial, was made up of only active male members of the LDS Church. The selection of these men (according to the defending attorneys) was taken from a list provided by Daniel H. Wells, a close associate of Brigham Young, who provided a list of prospective jurors to the defense. The list contained men with single checkmarks next to their names and some with double checkmarks. Those with single checks would likely acquit, while those with double marks, the defense counsel believed, were men who would definitely vote to free Lee. The jury was chosen from “double check” men. To the suprise of many some of the men who had participated in the massacre showed up suddently, willing to testify. These were the same men who had been hiding in the wilds of Utah to avoid arrest by federal authorities.
The defense, with William W. Bishop as chief attorney, prepared to defend Lee with the same evidence they had prepared for the first trial – to deflect any indictment of the LDS Church and the Church leadership in Salt Lake City and Iron County and thus save Lee.
But as the trial began it quickly became apparent that the prosecution had only John D. Lee in mind. The defense learned that Howard, soon after arriving in Salt Lake City, had met with Brigham Young in the Lion House and had apparently informed him that the United States intended to prosecute only Lee for the crime. There would be no attack on the Church or any of the leaders of the sect in Salt Lake or Iron Counties. The United States was interested, as he was sure the Church was also, of putting this problem behind them. Brigham Young had tried to deal with the growing national up-roar over polygamy that had ruined his plans to gain statehood for the Territory, and he recognized that because of failing health his days were short.
The defense offered no witnesses, nor any evidence of Lee’s innocence – relying instead on the “two mark” jury to acquit. They were wrong. Lee was not convicted of leadership, only of killing one woman but it was enough. Lee took the fall, and no one else was ever tried.