From the Richmond Dispatch, 6/10/1863, p. 1, c. 4
EXAMINATION OF ROBERT S. FORDE,
Charged with the Murder of Robert R. Dixon
[REPORTED FOR THE RICHMOND DISPATCH]
Hustings Court, June 9, 1863 - Present: Recorder Caskie, and Aldermen Sanxay, Gwathmey, Timberlake, and Jones.
The first case taken up was that of Robert S. Forde, on the charge of shooting and killing Robert E. Dixon, in this city, on the 24th day of April last.
Messrs. Randolph and Crump appeared for the accused, and Mr. R. T. Daniel for the Commonwealth.
Dr. Peachy was the only witness for the Commonwealth ascertained to be absent. Several witnesses for the defence were not present.
Gen. Randolph, prisoner’s counsel, asked a postponement until Thursday, to afford time to hunt up witnesses believed to be in the city.
The Court refused to continue the case, but sent an officer after absent witnesses.
The witnesses for the Commonwealth were then sworn.
Washington Goodrich was the first witness, who deposed: That on the 24th day of April he met Dixon on the corner of Main and 12th streets; was called aside by him and asked if he had not been standing on the corner of 10th and Bank streets with Forde and some other gentleman. Witness replied he did not knew Forde. Some further conversation took place; he recollected who Dixon meant by Forde, and deceased told him that he had discharged Forde, and would have taken him back but for threats made in a letter written him; Dixon told witness he did not desire to spill any man’s blood, but did not wish to be killed himself; he than asked witness to take a drink with him, which he did, and when the party came into the street again another gentleman was met, when Mr. Dixon asked witness to take another drink with him, which was declined; Dixon went in and took another drink; after he came out again we walked together to Jack O’Connell, corner of Bank and 10th streets, where we took another drink together; we then came out of O’Donnell and stood on the corner; witness was facing towards Main street, and whilst talking some one shouted “Look out, Goodrich,” and turning round, saw Forde on the sidewalk of the north side of Bank street, near the gate of the Capitol Square; Forde was armed with a navy revolver, which he pointed at Dixon and fired. During the firing Forde advanced some three feet towards the middle of the street, on the curb; Dixon did not advance, according to recollection of witness; did not leave pavement until he fell; staggering to the right, he fell in the gutter, near the door of the Christian Association. O’Donnell and Mr. Knox were on the corner while witness and Dixon were conversing, and he thought they were there during the shooting, but when he looked round they had all left.
Cross examined.--When Dixon came to me and asked with reference to Forde, I do not know that he was hunting for him; he said he had just been told by one of the pages at the House that Forde, myself and others had been on the corner together; he said he was in the Hall of the House of Representatives when he was informed by the page; he inquired of me whether Forde had said anything about him; I told him Forde had not spoken his name; advised deceased not to have any difficulty, but to go and have Forde arrested; Dixon’s reply was, “Well, come and take a drink;” this, I think, was near 12 o’clock in the day; if Forde had remained where he was when the page saw him he would have been met by Dixon; Dixon did not tell me he came down there with a view to meet Forde; he said he had been informed by the page that Jack O’Donnell, Wash Goodrich, Major Harris, and Forde, were standing on the corner together; he had come down to see if Forde had been talking about him; and that he (Dixon) was prepared for Forde— that he was fixed, and wound up by saying “let’s take a drink;” here the conversation was ended. The first knowledge I had of Forde‘s presence some one yelled out, “Look out, Wash; you’ll get shot.” I turned and saw Forde advancing from the fence around Capitol Square to the flagging; he had a drawn pistol in his hand; raised is and pointed it at Dixon; when first seen by me he was on the sidewalk, near the curbstone; did not hear anything said by Forde; he may have spoken, but I did not hear him; I was busy shouting to them to stop; when the first shot was fired he had just reached the curbstone; don’t know whether Dixon saw Forde before I did; both began firing; the first shot I saw fired was from Forde‘s pistol; cannot tell the interval between shots; I have never said Dixon fired the first shot; don’t think I ever said I could not tell who fired the first shot; don’t know what might have been said by me in conversation, but I am on my oath now; I know what I say and what I am talking about; when I am sworn I know what I am swearing to; believe Forde fired the first shot; don’t know how many shots were fired; did not think they fired seven times out of a six-barrelled pistol; Dixon’s revolver snapped once or twice, and he drew a Derringer; he then staggered and fell; as he was cocking the Derringer he fell; Dixon moved about whilst firing was going on; Forde advanced some four steps in the street; when Dixon fell, he returned to the sidewalk; some one told Forde to get away from there; went over to arrest him; he was cool, and said to me, “I surrender;” Dixon did not apply to me to look out for Forde; he did not visit Manassas Hall to look for Forde; I believe he went there to get a drink; I have heard that it was Mr. Clarke who called out “look out, Wash; “ there might have been half an hour from the time when Forde was on the corner till Dixon came down from the Capitol; had Dixon fired first, I think he would have hit me in the back of the head; I got between them, in the hope that the fear of hitting others would cause them to cease shooting.
James E Goodwin was the next witness sworn.--His evidence with reference to the shooting was, in substance — As Dixon and myself were about to start from corner near Manassas Hall, saw Mr. Quarles and Forde coming towards the gate leading out of Capitol Square; observed that as Forde came out of the gate he drew a pistol from beneath his overcoat, and advancing to curbstone, opposite corner where Dixon was, he placed his right foot against the curbstone and stoop with his left foot on the flagging leading across the street; he raised his pistol and cried out, “Dixon, are you ready,” and fired; about the time or a little before he fired the third time, Dixon fired; Dixon’s pistol then snapped twice, and after that he threw it down and drew a Derringer; whilst cocking the Derringer be staggered to the right and fell; Dixon did not draw his pistol until Forde had fired twice.
In his cross-examination, the witness adhered to the statements above given, but nothing further in the way of testimony was elicited.
Dr. Beale deposed: He described the body of Dixon as he saw it after he was dead, as also the character of the wound.
John T. Quarles deposed: On the day of the shooting came out of Capitol Square, and about the same time a gentleman passed through same gate; I passed down 10th street; had gone but a short distance when I was startled by report of pistol; turned and saw a man standing on north side of Bank street--one foot on the flagging, the other in the mud; he had a pistol raised in his hand; saw him fire twice; heard a fourth report — saw a man come from the south corner of Bank street, and being within direct range of the firing I jumped into the back yard at Manassas Hall, don’t know who fired fourth shot; stayed in back yard short time; came out and went round to front of the building; where I found a crowd gathered round Dixon’s body, who was then dead; am confident the man whom I saw fire was fully two paces from the curbstone--one foot on flagging and the other in the mud; this I am confident of, if ever confident of anything; saw one man fire three times, and heard fourth report, but can’t say who fired the pistol; don’t know who fired the first shot.
John A. Bowen deposed: Was near the Treasury building; heard report of a pistol; saw the prisoner standing on the north side of Bank street, across from Manassas Hall; from direction of report and the smoke was induced to believe that the pistol was fired by the man on the north side of the street; there were in quick succession several reports; did not see Dixon till I had proceeded further up street; he was then near the window of Manassas Hall; he was near there when Forde‘s last shot was fired; saw Dixon fire twice, to my recollection; Forde fired three times and snapped.
The cross-examination of this witness was somewhat protracted, but no additional facts to those above given elicited.
--Cardozo deposed.--This witness did not see the shooting. His testimony consisted of a detailed account of one or two interviews with Dixon a short time prior to his death, in which deceased made allusion to the letter received from Forde. Deceased told him on the morning of the shooting that Forde was hunting him, and said he would reinstate him but for the threat in the letter.
In his cross examination the witness stated that Dixon had on Thursday evening two small pistols and a bowie knife. On Friday morning he got from witness’s store a pair of Derringer pistols; was also armed with a double-barrel shot gun; witness supposed to defend himself in case of an attack in the store.
The Court then, at quarter to 3 o’clock, took a recess till half-past 4 o’clock.
Albert R. Lamar, deposed: Was not present at the shooting, but arrived on the spot immediately after, and had Dixon’s body removed into the room of the Young Men’s Christian Association, where he took charge of Dixon’s papers and personal effects.
The Commonwealth’s Attorney then asked the witness if the letter which was shown him was one of the papers upon Dixon’s person. Witness replied that it was, and stated that it was in Forde‘s hand-writing. The letter, which has heretofore been published, was read by the prosecution.
Mr. Lamar asked leave to correct his testimony. About the time he asked for the papers and effects of Mr. Dixon, the Doorkeeper of the House handed him the letter. He supposed it was on the person of Dixon when shot.
On his cross examination, witness stated that he had never seen the pistols used until he saw them at the Coroner’s inquest. He was present when Dixon discharged Forde; the Journal of the House was behind, and Dixon remarked to Forde, “If you cannot do my work. I shall have to get some one else to do it.” Forde made some reply, which he did not hear. This occurred a day or two before the shooting. The letter of Forde was shown witness the morning it was received, and deceased asked him what he thought of it. He told Dixon that he was satisfied that Forde was a poltroon and a coward, and that nothing could grow out of it. Dixon asked witness afterwards if he did not think that he would be justified in taking Forde‘s life for that letter. Witness said he thought he would, but advised Dixon to be prepared, and if attacked by Forde to defend himself, even if it required him to take the life of Forde. The remainder of the testimony of witness had reference to the causes which led to Forde‘s discharge, and which he attributed to the latter’s neglect of his duties.
A controversy sprung up between the Court and the prisoner’s counsel with reference to the admissibility of certain testimony elicited by the examination of the witness upon the grounds of the opinion that he had expressed to Dixon that Forde was a poltroon and a coward. The decision of the Court was that the mere opinion of the witness, expressed prior to the shooting, as to the character of the accused, was not relevant to the case, or calculated to bring out any fact. The examination of the witness was then terminated, and he being the last of the Commonwealth’s witnesses, the witnesses for the defence were called and qualified.
John T. Clarke deposed: Am a resident of Richmond. Prior to the breaking out of the war resided in Washington, and was in the army until the 27th of last February, since which time he had been in Richmond, and generally took his meals at Manassas Hall; was standing on the corner of 10th and Bank streets on the day the shooting occurred, when Dixon and Goodrich came up; was introduced to Dixon, who asked him to take a drink, remarking at the same time that he was a wholesale man and no retail about him and invited the crowd in; after the drink Dixon and Goodrich went out, when O’Donnell remarked to witness that Dixon was looking for a man named Forde, and it they met there he expected there would be a fight; O’Donnell shortly after looked out of the window and remarked, “here comes Forde now;” witness looked out and saw the accused coming down through Capitol Square; Forde came out of the gate, and pulled out his pistol, and as he did so, called out, “Are you ready, sir;” two reports of pistols were heard, and the fire was nearly simultaneous; if anything, he thought Dixon’s pistol went off first; witness said he was the party who cried out to Goodrich to “Look out;” Forde fired three times, and, to the best of his judgment, Dixon about the same number; Dixon fell while in the act of cocking his Derringer.
On his cross examination witness stated that his attention was drawn to Forde by the remark of O’Donnell.
J. W. Robinson deposed: Was not present at the shooting. What he knew of it was what he witnessed from his office window. Saw Forde about three feet from the curb; heard a pistol report from the opposite side of the street, but did not see by whom fired. Forde‘s pistol snapped, and then he took deliberate aim and fired. Witness saw nothing of the transaction before; that was the last shot fired by Forde.
Cross-examined: Knew Forde in Washington city. Was employed in the same office with him, where accused was regarded as a faithful clerk and an honorable man. He was also regarded as a quiet, peaceable man.
Geo. E. Vest was the next witness called, but was found not to be present. After some controversy the Court adjourned to meet at 10 o’clock this morning.