December 16, 1896 the preliminary trial began in Knox, Starke County Indiana. Fifty witnesses were called to give testimony. Afterwards it was decided to continue on to convict.
Starke county could not hold a trial since another large trial was going on and because the murderer, Sutherlin and his victim were both from Marshall county then that county could take and try them….after all “Marshall county trouble makers were always coming to Starke County causing problems”. January 21, 1897 the lawyers for Sutherlin, Martindale and Stevens an application was made to Marshall county Indiana for a change of venue and it was granted.
One thing that was certain that holding the trial in Marshall County would increase Starke’s expenses by $500 or more.
Under heavy guard William Lawrence Sutherlin was taken to Plymouth, Marshall County Indiana. There had been talk of lynching and that Sutherlin was a violent man that would try anything to get away. Thankfully neither occurred on train between Knox and Plymouth.
The trial of the State of Indiana vs Sutherlin for the murder of his partner William Edwin B Fetters started 7 April 1887.
For the defense was Messrs. Martindale adn Stevens of Plymouth
The state of Indiana was represented by Messrs Steis of Winamac, Glazebrooke, of Knox and Prosecutting Attorney Bernetha of Rochester and Prosecutor L. M Lauer of Plymouth
Little was said about this first trial in the papers of the time. The mule was identified as one being owned by Daniel Rohrer. John Braden testified that Sutherlin and Fetters were in and out of his saloon on a day in mid November. He stated that she saw Fetters pay their bill with a $5 bill pulled from a roll of money. When Fetters body was discovered the only item found on him was a broken pencil, no money was found.
For the defense Edith Sutherlin, wife of William Sutherlin, stated testified that her husband was home the night of Fetters disappearance. Edith also testified that Ed Fetters had made his home with them for three years, after his divorce and previous to his death.
When Sutherlin took the stage to defend himself and he, of course, declared himself innocent of any charge of murder. He stated that Fetters did not have any money on him and the only money Sutherlin had on him at the time was $2 he received from trade. He denied skinning a mule or telling anyone he skinned one.
The defense tried to prove that Fetters was without money and that Sutherlin was in “reality a benefactor to him for years before the murder”.
Sutherlin also testified that months earlier while in Knox at the fair Fetters made the aquanitance of Grace Primley, a woman of loose morals. Fetters had arranged to take her home but after finding Grace had a child with her Fetters backed out.
On November 16, 1896 while they were again in Knox and on the way back home in the night Fetters told Sutherlin that he wanted to stop and visit Grace (Primley). Sutherlin stopped the wagon at the Election School and at that point Fetters jumped off and went to visit. Fetters told Sutherlin that from there he intended to go to Silver Lake for work and some clothing. That is the last time Sutherlin saw Fetters.
From there Sutherlin turned in a different direction and met a camp of horse traders, traded a watch for a mule. The mule was only good enough for the pelt and decided to skin it right then. (This was something different he had told the court in Knox that he didnt not buy or skin a mule)
Trying to travel on with the old lame mule proved difficult so he decided to tie the mule up there in the marsh by the road and travel on home and return in the morning to kill and skin the animal.
He arrived home as the clock was striking 10pm and told his wife he had to get up early the next morning to go back and skin the mule. He awoke about 4 am and headed out and arrived at sunrise. He took it further into the marsh and killed and skinned it.
Sutherlin explained in great detail how he skinned the mule. “he having used one horse and a knife. Had taken with him from his home and ax, knife, short chain and single tree to aid him in his work. Wrapped skin up ans started for Knox”.
Sutherlin picked John Hanes and son on the way and a couple miles met up with his cousin Daniel Rohrer and they all rode together for two more miles. Eventually they all ended up back in Knox. Sutherlin and Rohrer traveled back to Rohrer’s home and Sutherlin stayed the night and left for home shortly after sunrise the next morning, reaching Plymouth about 11 AM the next morning went to the Schulthess’ tannery and sold the hides
When prosecutor Glazebrook redirected he caused Sutherlin to squirm with the question about the disappearance of a partner of his in the “huxter business” located in Pulaski County several years earlier. He of course denied any knowledge about it. (As of this time I cannot find anything of the missing partner mentioned by Glazebrook.)
After a recess the witness was asked if he had not been arrested and convicted four times during the past two years on charges of assault and battery and he admitted he had.
Witness Henry Draper of Starke county, stated he had traveled repeatedly over the road which the defendant claims to hv traded for the mule but had never seen any campers.
After quetionsing many more witnesses the case of the murder of Fetters by William Lawrence Sutherlin was closed.
Five attorneys took part in the final arguements. The court allowed, by law, unlimited time to emphasize his remarks to the jury.
The next day Prosecuting Attorney Bernetha began the opening address for the prosecution. Summed up the evedence , discussed the tracks of Sutherlins wagon, showed the evedence to the jury. Daniel Rohrer sold the mule to Sutherlin but Sutherlin stated he got it from a group of men. A gun borrowed from Alexander Hanes was never returned.