Peachy And Greek: A Classic Disparity Of Force Case

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Situation: Your ostensibly unarmed attackers have so much advantage over you it’s certain you’ll be killed or crippled if you don’t use your weapon. So, you do.

Lesson: Disparity of force can take multiple forms, sometimes more than one at a time, but, historically, it has to be explained to jurors why you killed or wounded unarmed men.

On May 26, 2017, WAND 17 News in Springfield, Illinois reported, “Over the course of two weeks there have been at least five different shootings and violent crimes, all suspects under the age of 18. Police say the recent rash of crime is due to two separate groups of males who are wreaking havoc in the area.”

Humans are a tribal species, and their tribes take many forms. “Peachy” and “Greek” came from two different tribes as it were, and Peachy had told his brother not to associate with Greek because, he said, the latter was “a God-damned son of a bitch.” Word of this reached Greek and his people, and Greek spread the word he was going to stomp Peachy. Greek was a big, strong dude, and Peachy was a small, physically weak man in poor health. He in turn spread the word if Greek jumped him, Peachy would shoot him. Greek responded by announcing he’d come at Peachy in a way to prevent that.

It was a classic case of toxic machismo on both sides. It was clear from the start this “monkey dance,” as some of today’s experts on violence call it, would not end well.

The Incident

The feud between Peachy and Greek had begun on the Fourth of July at a community picnic, and simmered until the 16th of the month, when it exploded in a drugstore in Pleasant Plains, a village on the outskirts of Springfield. Peachy was sitting at a counter reading a newspaper when Greek walked in, casually took off his coat, and then moved in on the smaller man. So did another member of Greek’s tribe, who was already in the store.

Greek and his companion, John Crafton, grabbed Peachy and tried to drag him toward the back of the drugstore. Peachy clutched the counter where he was sitting, so desperately the counter was pulled out of place and into an aisle. Holding Peachy with one hand, Greek brutally drove his other fist into the smaller man’s face. Ben Short, a co-owner of the store, tried to intercede but was pushed away by John.

The combatants lost their balance and sprawled across some boxes of merchandise. Unable to break free, Peachy pulled a fixed-blade knife from inside his coat and began flailing it at his antagonists. Greek pulled away from him, staggering backward. Peachy then swung the knife at John, slashing his wrist. As distance opened between them, John threw whatever objects he could grab at Peachy — a chair, some glassware and a set of scales. Peachy fled the scene on foot.

John had sustained a severe wound, but would survive. Greek was not so lucky. Peachy’s knife, a short white-handled Bowie style he had borrowed from a friend after hearing of the threats, had found Greek twice: the 4" blade had stabbed into his spleen and stomach, and a deep slash had opened him up from lower left rib cage to groin. It was literally a disemboweling wound: the treating physician had to stuff Greek’s intestines back into his abdomen. That was not enough: Greek died three days later.

The stage was set for a historic murder trial.

Perspective

No, the defendant and the decedent weren’t stereotypical gang-bangers. The year was 1859. Simeon Quinn Harrison, nicknamed “Peachy,” was the son of a wealthy local man. Greek Crafton, his given name, and his older brother John Crafton likewise came from an affluent and respected family. For more than one reason People v. Harrison would become legendary in the annals of Illinois trial law. It was perhaps the first major case where all testimony was transcribed by a stenographer, an idea that would soon catch on and become standard. But there was something else making the case memorable.

The lead counsel for the defense was none other than Abraham Lincoln.

Case Theories

The best source by far on this case is the new book Lincoln’s Last Trial: The Murder Case That Propelled Him To The Presidency. Bylined by Dan Abrams, chief legal affairs anchor for ABC News, and best-selling author David Fisher, it’s based primarily on the painstakingly handwritten transcript of the trial penned by Robert R. Hitt, a pioneer in court stenography. Abrams and Fisher outline the case theories of prosecution and defense as follows:

“Lincoln explained that he and (co-counsel Judge Stephen) Logan had agreed immediately on their strategy for (the pretrial) hearing: this was clearly a case of self-defense. Peachy Quinn (sic) had been attacked by the Crafton brothers and had been forced to fight back to save himself. One witness even testified that he had heard Crafton boasting that he intended to throw down Harrison and stomp on his face. The prosecution disagreed, of course, examining the same facts and arguing quite a different conclusion: the laws concerning self-defense had been mostly settled; a man had no legal right to stand his ground but to save himself from imminent and serious bodily harm or death — then and only then did he have the right to use deadly force. Harrison could have avoided this fight, but instead had armed himself with a deadly weapon that he was prepared to use. When given the opportunity, the prosecution argued, he had knowingly murdered Greek Crafton.”
Both sides would hew to their respective theories throughout the course of the trial.

Disparity Of Force

If the term “disparity of force” was used at trial, it apparently didn’t show up in the Hitt transcript of the People v. Harrison proceedings. This is no surprise: I’ve talked to currently practicing attorneys who don’t recall hearing the term in three years of law school, either.

Disparity of force usually comes up in self-defense cases when the defendant has had to use a weapon against one or more ostensibly unarmed people. It means even without a per se weapon, the attacker’s physical advantages over the defendant were so great that if the attack continued it was likely to cause death or the sort of crippling injury the law calls “great bodily harm,” “serious bodily harm,” or “grievous bodily harm.” It can take several different forms.

Significantly greater size and strength is one such element of disparity of force. Force of numbers is another. An able-bodied person assaulting a disabled person certainly constitutes disparity of force, as does position of disadvantage to the defender, in which the defendant is somehow restrained from defending himself with bare hands. There are other situations that can create disparity of force, but these were the four in play in this case, and Lincoln wisely and meticulously put them all in front of the jury at trial.

Testimony established Greek Crafton was much larger and stronger than Quinn Harrison, who stood no more than five-feet-seven and weighed as little as 125 lbs. Moreover, Harrison’s family physician testified he had treated him for multiple bouts of pneumonia from which he had not yet recovered, and described his patient as a fragile man not even capable of manual labor. Disparity of force twice over, right there.

Moreover, despite John Crafton’s testimony he didn’t enter the fight until after his brother was stabbed, the preponderance of eyewitness testimony had both men attacking Peachy Harrison at once. Indeed, Harrison had perceived that druggist Short, who had tried unsuccessfully to stop the fight and separate the two men, had also been trying to hold him for Crafton to pummel.

Finally, at the time he drew the knife with his right hand, testimony of witnesses overwhelmingly confirmed at least one hand was on Harrison’s left arm, further limiting his already obviously hopeless chances of fighting off the stronger, larger Greek Crafton bare-handed. It was during prosecutor John Palmer’s examination of eyewitness Silas Livergood, a friend of the Craftons, that Livermore said “Harrison was holding onto the counter. Crafton had him around the arms. (Mr. Short) was not doing much of anything. He had hold of them, trying to part them. Both of them, I think.”

This testimony showed the jury more than one person was restraining Harrison while Greek Crafton was beating him. What’s more, multiple witnesses testified in the course of the fight, Harrison had plaintively wailed, “Have I no friends here?”

The obvious conclusion: a man in Harrison’s position at that moment would reasonably perceive himself as both in a position of disadvantage and under attack by multiple people wishing him harm, leaving him no last resort but his personal defense weapon.

Silent Defendant

It was all the more important for Lincoln and Logan to bring these things out through witness testimony because the defendant did not take the stand himself. Why not? Abrams and Fisher relate in their book, “The problem, (Lincoln) well knew, was that under existing law in Illinois a defendant could not take the stand on his own behalf … Lincoln would have to find a way to get that testimony into the trial through his other witnesses. That it would not be as effective he took for granted, but there was nothing to be done about that. The law was clear on the matter: according to the rules of evidence, a defendant was incompetent to testify in his own trial. It was believed that many people would say anything necessary, even under oath, to save themselves. A jury should not be swayed by subterfuge, sympathy or sorrow, so the accused could not have the opportunity to speak.”

Later in Lincoln’s Last Trial, the authors add, “Different countries follow different rules for trials; in some European countries the accused was given an opportunity to speak directly to the jury at the end of a trial, but a quirk in American jurisprudence at that time kept arguably the most significant voice silent … Like so many other structures in the young nation, the legal system was slowly evolving.”

Dying Declaration

Lincoln was allowed to introduce testimony that on his deathbed, Greek Crafton had said, “I brought it upon myself,” and forgave Peachy Harrison for knifing him. However, this testimony came from people in the sickroom related to the defendant. The prosecution rebutted it with the testimony of the treating physician, who said he’d heard the dying Crafton express solidly unforgiving sentiments toward the man who had put him horizontal.

Threatening Statements

Each side blamed the other for inculpatory threats. The defense brought in witnesses who’d heard the deceased claim he would stomp the smaller man on sight and he would knock him down and “stamp” on his face. The prosecution brought out statements by Harrison to other people he would shoot Crafton if he had to or, in the particularly chilling and prophetic words of one witness, “would cut his guts out.”

Prosecutor John Palmer was highly skilled — Palmer against Lincoln was seen as something of a duel of the titans by members of the Illinois bar at the time — but he apparently made one critical error in his summation of the state’s case. Abrams and Fisher write, “(Palmer) had finished strong though, recalling the words of P.M. Carter telling Greek Crafton, ‘If you ever attack Quinn he is determined to kill you,’ and Greek himself telling James Zane, ‘he threatened to kill me if I jumped him.’” If you ever attack Quinn and if I jumped him were operative phrases the jurors could not miss: Quinn Harrison had simply stated if attacked by the stronger man, he would defend himself with lethal force.

Verdict

On September 5, 1859, the Illinois State Register newspaper reported, “The trial of P.Q. Harrison for the killing of Greek Crafton, terminated on Saturday, in his acquittal. The whole day was occupied by counsel in the argument of the case, and great legal ability was evinced on either side. The argument closed about 4 o’clock and the jury retired. At six they returned a verdict of ‘not guilty.’ The courtroom was densely crowded to hear the verdict, which was received with loud manifestations of applause.”

Lessons

Until reading Lincoln’s Last Trial, I had not known that in 19th Century Illinois, a defendant could not take the stand on his own behalf. I discussed it with the most learned authority on Illinois deadly force law I know, Jeff Chudwin, a former prosecutor and police chief in that state. He was equally surprised. A self-defense case is an affirmative defense, in which the defendant is stipulating he did the act, but maintaining he was correct in having done so. This changes the crux of the case from “who done it” to “why did he or she do it,” and only the defendant can truly and fully answer that.

Things are fairer now. Even so, in the last three years I’ve seen two cases — one attempted murder trial in New York state in 2015 ,em>(Find it on our website: www.americanhandgunner.com/false-positive-the-salce-mckee-incident/) and another in Florida in 2018 where a defendant’s voluntary statement to police immediately after the incident was not allowed to be presented to the jury. We may have the best criminal justice system in the world, but it’s not always perfect.

There’s a saying in law enforcement that should be a rule of Life: “Don’t let your mouth write a check your body can’t cash.” Peachy’s badmouthing of Greek seems to have stemmed from allegations Peachy’s sister had been abused by her husband, one of Greek’s brothers. Had this been resolved by less heated means, the fatal conflagration might never have flared.

If you’re threatened, don’t make blustery counter-threats: put a leash on your pride and report it, creating a paper trail that establishes who is the instigator — and who is not.

Understand, to this day, the general public and even many lawyers don’t see how it can ever be justifiable to shoot or stab an “unarmed man.” Disparity of force generally requires expert testimony. The defendant who has been educated to recognize it is better off, because he or she can explain it to the jury in their own testimony, backed up by the material testimony of their trainers.

As has been said in this space before, the core dynamics of human violence are virtually timeless. Most of the time, all that really changes is the clothing and the weapons of those involved.

The subtitle of the Abrams/Fisher book, “The Murder Case That Propelled Him to the Presidency,” is there because they believe it cemented the public’s belief in Lincoln’s invincibility at a time when he was throwing his famous top hat into the Presidential ring. Abraham Lincoln was one of the greatest of Great Americans, recognized ever after as such from the Lincoln Monument to the proud motto on Illinois license plates, “Land of Lincoln.” The image of The Great Emancipator and The Man Who Preserved the Union overshadows the fact in a more than 20-year career Lincoln had established a reputation as perhaps the best trial lawyer of his time in Illinois. He did it by meticulously deconstructing the other side’s case and just as carefully constructing his own. People v. Harrison was not his first self-defense case.

Abraham Lincoln clearly believed in self-defense, something worth remembering today when the right to protect yourself and your loved ones is under attack more ferociously than at any time in any living American’s memory.

I’d like to close by strongly recommending the book Lincoln’s Last Trial, which, more than the archives of the Illinois State Register, the Illinois State Journal, or other consulted sources, made this article possible.

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