Some Men Need Killing
This "whodunit" had no mystery about it. The Mayor did it. Everybody saw him do it. In the end, it appeared, or at least to the majority of those present, that it needed to be done.
October 22, 1904: It was a cool fall Saturday morning. Lovett town marshal B.T. Kight and Mayor Nathaniel A. Thompson (no relation) had a job to do. In the company of their posse, Thompson and Kight approached one L.G. Barron on a warrant issued for a opprobrious offense alleged to have occurred on Friday. Kite said, "I hate to do this, but I have to place you under arrest." Barron responded, "Alright, we are friends." Barron then asked the marshal if he could post a bond on the charges in the City Court of Dublin. When the mayor refused and required that the defendant face trial Barron screamed, "Keep your d-n-d mouth shut! I'll lose the last drop of my blood before I will be tried there!"
Barron, standing between the wheels of his buggy, pulled a knife, and began to rub it upon one of the wheels. Thompson reached for a pistol and fired a single, but fatal, shot. L.T. Jackson saw the whole thing. He had know that Barron had been threatening the mayor for more than two years, but he didn't consider him to be violent or even dangerous. "I never heard him make any threats against Thompson, but he does talk considerably when he is drinking," Jackson said.
Tom Bray, of Wrightsville, saw it too. "I heard Thompson and Kight talking to Barron, who wasn't doing anything out of the way," Bray recalled. Bray remembered that Thompson told Barron that he must be arrested, whereupon Barron dared the mayor to arrest him. Thompson said, " Throw up your hands!" Barron retorted, "I'll die first!" "I said, throw up your hands," the mayor repeated! Bray didn't hear any cursing by Barron, until he was shot when he told the mayor to go ahead and shoot him in the other side.
Sam Barron, a son of the victim later testified, "My father told Thompson he didn't have anything to do with it and that he'd be d d if there were enough men in Lovett to lock him up."
After the excitement quieted down, Mayor Thompson was himself arrested and ordered to appear before a Magistrate Court to determine if there was probable cause to bind him over to the Superior Court on the charge of murder. Thompson, a well liked former employee of the Central and Wrightsville and Tennille Railroad, hired T.L. Griner and John S. Adams, two of Dublin's most able criminal defense lawyers, in his defense. The State of Georgia brought it its own all-star prosecuting team of John B. Cooper of Macon, John L. Kent of Wrightsville, and W.E. Armistead of Sandersville to prosecute the mayor.
In a commitment hearing in the Laurens County Courthouse on the morning of October 27, twenty-two witnesses were subpoenaed by the state, while prosecutors were ready to call thirty-two for the state's case. Magistrates Thomas D. Smith and John B. Wolfe listened to the testimony of only a few of the state's witnesses from ten o'clock until noon.
After a recess. Benjamin F. Parker, a Lovett merchant, repeated the previous testimony that Barron wanted to give bond, but recalled differently than others present in that Mayor Thompson said that he would have to give bond to the town council. Parker emphatically stated that the Barron's knife, presented by Sam Barron as of the small Barlow type, was not the weapon that the deceased had in his hand at the time of the shooting. Parker recalled that knife was 8 to 9 inches long. He also stated that Barron had at least "two difficulties in Lovett before being arrested and fined." "He cursed out the mayor, council, and town generally," Parker testified. "He was accustomed to bulldozing the town and he was a dangerous man," the Lovett merchant concluded.
G.F. Boatright, Thompson's father-in-law, repeated the generally accepted facts and stated that Barron had a reputation for violence.
E.T. Smith, the former marshal of Lovett, had his share of troubles with Barron. Smith testified at that some time ago he attempted to arrest Barron for being drunk and disorderly in public. "He cursed out the court and Mayor Thompson, and drew back a stool and threatened to kill the mayor if he continued to bother him," Marshal Smith remembered.
One Lovett resident after another took the stand in defense of their mayor. S.F. Glover, H.G. Marchman, C.N. Lovett, J.L. Manning, and J.D. Rawls called the dead man a "bad man." Former mayor E.M. Strange told the court that he had expected to kill Barron because of his bad behavior. E.A. Lovett, son of the town's namesake, testified that he knew that Barron had already purchased a gun to kill another man in town.
Marshall Kight told the magistrates that Barron was drinking and was prepared for trouble. Kight restated prior accounts that the mayor called upon Barron repeatedly to submit to arrest.
At the end of his case, Mayor Thompson made an unsworn statement that outlined his long history of problems with Barron. Thompson recalled that he had attempted to arrest Barron before, but the two had become friends. State witnesses returned to the stand in order to rebut the damaging testimony of many well-respected Lovettites. After grand speeches by Armistead and Adams, the court recessed for supper until 7 o'clock.
T.L. Griner rose to speak in favor of the defendant. Griner attacked the "abandoned heart" and "wreckless character" of the deceased. The defense attorney pointed out to the court that there are always a crowd of bullies who want to overthrow order. In view of all the threats made against his client by the deceased, Griner argued that Barron met his death in a justifiable act of self defense.
Cooper asked the court to disregard Barron's character and look to whether or not his actions deserved being shot. He postulated that if Thompson had let Marshal Kight take the prisoner to jail, that the whole incident could have been avoided.
Just before the midnight hour, after a short deliberation, Magistrates Smith and Wolfe returned to the crowded dimly lit courtroom and announced their ruling attributing the death of L.G. Barron as a justifiable case of self-defense or more aptly, a case of some men just need killing.
Post Script: Nathaniel Thompson returned to his native home of Washington County, where he died on May 1, 1952 at the age of eighty-five.