Moot Court Says Military Had No Right To Try Dr. Mudd With AM-Name Is Mud
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ More than a century after his death, Dr. Samuel A. Mudd’s appeal to clear his name as a co-conspirator in Abraham Lincoln’s assassination was finally heard - and he won, though only in a mock trial.
A moot court ruled Friday that the military commission that convicted Mudd in 1865 and sentenced him to life in prison had no right to try him in the first place.
Attorney F. Lee Bailey argued Mudd’s case in the mock trial, staged on the 184th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth. ″Mudd’s prosecution was one sledgehammer after another upon the Constitution,″ Bailey told the three- judge panel at the University of Richmond’s T.C. Williams School of Law.
No real court has agreed to rehear the case, but Mudd’s descendants have waged a long battle to clear his name.
″My grandfather never got a fair trial, so this is a great day,″ said Mudd’s granddaughter, Emily Mudd Rogerson, 86, of Richmond.
Chief Judge Robinson O. Everett, retired senior judge of the U.S. Court of Military Appeals, and another moot court judge ruled that Mudd, a civilian, should have been tried by a civilian jury, not the military commission.
The court didn’t formally rule on Mudd’s guilt or innocence, but the third judge said the case against Mudd wasn’t sufficient to convict him.
″I cannot resist the temptation of saying I have very serious doubts whether an impartial military panel distanced from the moment ... would have found the evidence presented was sufficient beyond a reasonable doubt,″ said Edward D. Re, retired senior judge of the U.S. Court of International Trade.
The moot court ruling isn’t binding, but Bailey said he hopes the Army will use it in considering whether to erase Mudd’s conviction. The Mudd family plans to renew efforts to get the conviction removed.
″The jurisdiction issue was key,″ Bailey said. ″And when three distinguished judges agree the conviction was wrong, I am obviously pleased.″
John Paul Jones, a law professor, said he organized the moot court trial using the assumption that Mudd appealed his conviction to a military appeals court, a body that didn’t exist in Mudd’s day. Mudd had maintained he was wrongfully convicted.
Mudd, a 32-year-old doctor, set the broken leg of Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth. The actor broke it when he leaped onto the stage at Ford’s Theater in Washington after shooting the president on April 14, 1865, five days after the Civil War ended. Union soldiers shot and killed Booth on April 26.
The prosecutor in the moot trial, John Jay Douglass, argued that the war wasn’t really over on the day that Lincoln was shot.
Sporadic hostilities continued for several months and the military court that convened in June was within its rights to try Mudd and seven others, said Douglass, dean of the National College of District Attorneys in Houston and a former commandant of the Army Judge Advocate Generals School.
Mudd claimed he knew nothing of the killing when Booth arrived on horseback in the early hours of April 15 at his home in Maryland 30 miles from Washington.
Bailey argued that the military commission that convicted Mudd and seven other defendants ″was set up to satisfy the monumental embarrassment of lax security that allowed the president of the United States to be assassinated by an amateur.″
Bailey conceded that Mudd was acquainted with Booth but rejected a prosecutor’s argument that Mudd was a Confederate sympathizer bent on continuing the Civil War and bringing down Lincoln’s government.
Mudd was sentenced to life in prison and served four years before being pardoned by President Andrew Johnson. Mudd won recognition for helping battle an outbreak of yellow fever at the prison and died in 1883. Despite the pardon, the conviction stood.
Mudd’s descendants have argued that he didn’t realize until too late who his injured visitor was and that he shouldn’t have been tried by the Army.
The Army Board for Correction of Military Records has agreed that the military lacked jurisdiction. But last July, William D. Clark, acting assistant Army secretary, rejected setting aside the conviction. ″It is not the role of the (board) to settle historical disputes,″ he said.