Philip Pritchett is Bad at Murder

Philip Pritchett confessed to murder. He told the court that he held “a certain rifle gun then and there loaded and charged with gunpowder and one leaden bullet” that shot a man named Henry Stammers above the right hip. Although his confession made the case a short one, the fact that Pritchett murdered Stammers in broad daylight in front of multiple witnesses, ensured a speedy trial. Pritchett spent ten years in a Limestone county jail for his crime.

April 13 or 14, 1846:

Jarvis H. Poor sat behind a desk and listened to a man argue with himself about a horse. The man demanded a warrant against Henry Stammers for theft or some associated crime. Although he wished to leave, Jarvis originally took the job of Justice of the Peace for the prestige it carried in the community, he stayed and listened. Horse theft constituted a fairly high, if common, crime. So, Jarvis H. Poor issued a warrant on behalf of Philip Pritchett to get him to shut up. Pritchett ran his mouth about town because a few short hours later a man named Henry Stammers appeared.

“Did you free a warrant against me?” he asked.

Jarvis H. Poor nodded. “Well,” began Henry Stammers, “if Pritchett would only pay the bo…” the man stammered on but Jarvis found little solace in his rebuttal. Instead the Justice nodded along and informed him that both men could argue their claims soon enough.

April 19, 1846:

Joseph Elliott leaned against his plough. Philip Pritchett yammered on at him about a variety of topics. The two men were neighbors. Everyone was neighbors. They lived in a small community. Joseph mostly thought about plowing and the sweet grooves that yielded corn. Philip’s words turned to Henry Stammers. The man frothed at the mouth before exalting, “if he comes within forty yards of me I’ll kill him.” He left Elliott’s land, but Pritchett’s words wiggled their way into his memory.

“I guess Philip Pritchett is having problems with Henry Stammers,” Joseph Elliott probably muttered to his plough. He got back to work.

April 20, 1846:

Eleven year old June MacHee walked to school. Grass sweated off the last of its dew as the near summer sun began knocking the chill from the air. Henry Stammers stood on his land. Although six hundred feet lay between them June recognized Henry because the road was clear and the day was bright and they were neighbors. They probably waved at one another.

John Webb walked further behind. He passed Philip Pritchett’s house. John Webb passed Pritchett’s property almost every day, it came right up to the roadside. Pritchett stood in his yard with a gun that “he was priming or picking & was then trying.” He disappeared through the trees.

June MacHee heard a powerful scream. “Stop! I have come to shoot you!” Henry Stammers quit waving and turned around.

The sound of gunfire echoed across the valley.

June MacHee looked up and saw a man running away with a gun in his hand. She hurried on to school and told her teachers that someone shot Henry Stammers.

Joseph Elliott heard the commotion and left his plough standing in the field. He found Pritchett coming down the road “in a trot or rapid walk, looking back frequently.” He chose not to engage with the man as he still carried a rifle but instead hurried up to Henry Stammers’ house. He found Stammers “shot open” in a pool of blood and viscera.

Herman Marley escorted Philip Pritchett to the Limestone county jail. As the sheriff he’d made the decision to secure Pritchett until something made sense. His prisoner opened up about a quarter-mile from the jail. Pritchett claimed that he’d been directed to kill Henry Stammers by two men named Edward Lewis and Aaron McGaha. At first he refused to give into their brutal demands but they knew his wife’s address. So he killed Stammers in broad daylight to bring the real killers to justice. He claimed to have no fear of Stammers but knew only terror when it came to Lewis and McGaha.

It didn’t hold up in court.

citation:

State of Alabama v. Philip Pritchett, Madison County Alabama Circuit Court State Cases, 1852-1854. p. 1-11 (1852).

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