Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Mind-Boggling Possibilities of a Jury Summons and the Greenbrier Ghost....

File:Jury summons.jpg
A summons for jury duty in a United States district court

So... I received a jury summons for early on this coming week. Of course, one has to wonder if one will be chosen and if so, for what purpose. As I pondered the various possibilities, my mind wandered from burglary, grand theft auto, bank robbery, domestic violence, to murder and everything in between. After all, what happens in Las Vegas, in all reality, doesn't always stay in Las Vegas, I assure you...

If they happen to select me (which, just in case you were wondering, and if given my druthers, I would rather go through natural labor and childbirth), would the case inspire a future novel?

The thought of such a happenstance brought a memory to mind. I recalled a murder trial I had read about years ago that began June 22, 1897, in Lewisburg, Greenbrier county, West Virginia. Erasmus Stribbling Trout Shue stood accused of murdering his wife, Elva Zona Heaster.

Zona Heaster Greenbrier Ghost

The dastardly deed took place January 23, 1897, and Mr. Shue himself, was responsible for the discovery of the body by sending a young boy to his house on some spurious errand. By so doing, he hoped to provide an iron-clad alibi. For a while, the ruse worked. Shue seemed every bit the bereaved widower in the hours and days that followed. In fact, according to testimony, perhaps his actions went a bit overboard.

For instance, in his grief-stricken state, he insisted on cradling his wife's head while the doctor searched for a cause of death. The doctor finally settled on "everlasting faint" (whatever that is), and then later changed it to childbirth. I don't know, so don't ask...

Shue dressed her for burial himself, a thing unheard of at the time, in a high-necked, stiff-collared dress, accented with a veil that covered her face. Witnesses said that once they moved Zona to her parents home, Shue exhibited unparalleled devotion to her body. He didn't allow anyone to get close to her coffin, most especially at the time he secured a scarf around her neck. He said she favored the piece and wanted her to have it always...

But then, Zona's mother, Mary Jane Heaster, who loathed Shue with a passion and suspected him of her daughter's demise, began to pray. In fact, she prayed incessantly for weeks asking for her daughter's return just long enough to reveal how she truly died. According to the court record's, God granted that desire.

Four nights in succession, Zona appeared within a burst of bright light and stood at her mother's bedside. She told her that during her marriage, Shue had made her the subject of his cruelty many times over. The abuse ended in a fit of rage in which he sought to punish her for not cooking any meat for his supper, by breaking her neck and ending her life.

Mary Jane didn't waste anytime at all in seeking the local prosecutor. She made her case so convincingly that the courts ordered her body exhumed. The subsequent autopsy revealed that Zona's neck had indeed been broken. Shue was promptly arrested and tried. The defense made every attempt to dismiss Mary Jane's testimony, but the judge let it stand. The jury found Shue guilty on July 11, 1897 and sentenced him to life in prison. Not that he had to suffer overly long under the conditions found in the West Virginia State Penitentiary... The man died March 13, 1900 from one of the many prison epidemics, after having served just three years.

Greenbrier Ghost - Public domain. Photo by A. E. Crane

Of course, this also brings to mind another trial...far more recent. Did you know that the judge presiding over the dispute between Michael Jackson's family and AEG Live, accepted testimony from the ghost of the late singer in which he testified to Brenda Richie that his death was accidental and in no way Dr. Murray's fault? But that's another story.

Well... wish me luck!

And, what about you? Have you ever served on a jury? 



  1. What a bizarre story to think that Shue was convicted because of testimony that was hearsay from a ghost! Of course, there was the poor woman's broken neck too, but to think of how the whole thing came about and that it held up in court. This is definitely one for the record books!

    I had no idea about the Michael Jackson case either. It really makes you think!

    Good luck with your jury duty. I've been called twice. The first one was a drug trial in which I was an alternate. The second time, I only had to do one day because they had too many jurors in the pool. My husband has been jury foreman and has been called for Federal court too. We're both hoping we're done for a very very long time! :)

  2. Bizarre indeed, and I suppose that's why this particular just lurked around in my memory. Anyway, I hope you get a long, well-deserved break in jury duty! Thanks for stopping by and braving a comment, I love to hear them!

  3. I hate Judy duty. Hope all will work out for you.

    1. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment Tammy! And...all is well, they gave me a pass this time around...;)