She Killed Her Husband
It’s late Thursday afternoon, October 11, 1951, at the Reno County Jail on the fifth floor of the courthouse. Vera Gambee Frazey, 45, jail matron and cook, hears the metallic sound of heavy jail keys, followed by the forceful clang of a door being shut, and the keys locking the gate. She’s making supper for her and her husband, having earlier helped prepare the two daily prisoner meals served at 8 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Sheriff Vic Frazey, 51, walks into the kitchen with his nose alert, attempting to determine what’s available to eat.
“Is there a verdict?” asked Vera, looking at Vic, referring to the second-degree murder trial of Mrs. Mary Etta Warfield, Negro, 43. Mary admitted to killing her husband, Daniel Warfield, Negro, 50, with a shotgun blast in their apartment at 505½ South Main, Hutchinson, on March 9.
The jury trial was supposed to clarify the circumstances.
“No, there’s a hung jury,” replied Vic, “and I don’t mean Mrs. Warfield’s going to hang. After seven hours of deliberation, the jury couldn’t agree on her guilt. The jury stood at eight for conviction, four for acquittal.”
“From what I heard at the trial, I’m glad she wasn’t convicted,” said Vera, “but now she’s still in legal limbo. What will happen next?”
“Mrs. Warfield will remain free on the $5,000 bond until the next term of district court. Then we’ll find out if the county attorney will retry the case.”
“Do you think he’ll dismiss the charges?” asked Vera.
“It’s a difficult case to prosecute. When Mrs. Warfield ran into the downstairs pool hall after shooting her husband, her hysterical comments set a course for a case of self-defense. The dead can’t testify, but the county attorney’s office does its best to represent the victim.”
“That’s the central question here,” said Vera. “Who is the victim? Daniel Warfield is dead, but did Mary kill him before he killed her?”
“Either way, it’s a tragedy,” said Vic. “If he had killed his wife, he’d be the one on trial.”
“I’m still surprised that the men in the All-Nations pool hall didn’t hear a shotgun blast,” said Vera. “Some of them testified to her screaming, ‘Call the ambulance! I shot Dan!’ Others remembered her saying, ‘He made me do it!’”
Vic recalled some trial testimony by Sergeant Amos Cauley, a Negro. “Cauley told the jury that Mrs. Warfield said she had ‘accidentally’ shot her husband in the heat of an argument. She said that after he threw her on the bed and threatened to kill her, she grabbed the nearby shotgun, and it went off.”
“I can see how it’s difficult to prove whether a gun goes off accidentally or on purpose,” said Vera. “Her case was strengthened by the witnesses who recalled how upset Daniel would get when his wife didn’t obey him. She wasn’t to leave the apartment without his permission.”
“I can believe that when Dan found out Mary had been out at a night-spot, he threatened her,” said Vic. “But did he mean it, or was it only a warning?”
“Vic, if you threatened to kill me by the end of the day, I’d know you weren’t serious. That’s not you. You haven’t been convicted of crimes like Dan Warfield who started getting into trouble before he was an adult. Mary knew her husband. They’d been married for three years. He’d hurt her before. Now, should Mary be blamed for reaching for the shotgun after her husband threw her on the bed and said, ‘I’m going to finish you’?”
“Vic thought a few seconds before identifying a reason the jury found it impossible to agree on a verdict. “That’s the trouble with this case, there’s a lot of ‘She said, he said.’
“John Fontron did a fine job of defending Mrs. Warfield. Since she’s a small woman, I think it helped her self-defense argument. Plus, he was able to present witnesses who acknowledged her husband’s jealous behavior.”
“Innocent or guilty, I was surprised Mrs. Warfield didn’t show any emotion,” said Vera. “She looked nice in her green and white striped dress, grey coat, and brown and white saddle oxfords.”
“Assistant County Attorney John Alden couldn’t alter the facts,” said Vic. “He told the jury that Mrs. Warfield murdered her husband because he had mistreated her, but he also reminded the twelve men that it wasn’t an adequate excuse for her violent response. Alden had the jurors picture Daniel Warfield wearing a green lumberjack shirt over a shirt khaki, both saturated with blood after his wife shot him intentionally and maliciously in the chest.”
“From what I heard at the trial,” said Vera, “if I’d been on the jury, I would have voted to acquit. Only Mary, Daniel, and God know what happened prior to the shooting. There’s not enough evidence for the rest of us.”
“God wasn’t on the jury,” said Vic, “but Mrs. Warfield will have to live with her actions. Now she’s a widow with limited income.”
“At least she’s alive. She can get a job,” said Vera. “I wonder if the gender or race of the jury affected their vote. Mary wasn’t judged by a jury of her peers. All twelve jurors were white men.”
Until next time, happy writing and reading.