George Hamilton

Racine County, Wisconsin
Date of Crime:  December 15, 1917

George E. Hamilton, alias Eli J. Long, was convicted in 1918 of the murder of Edward B. Warner. Warner was shot during a robbery of the Standard Oil Station that he managed on the corner of Seventh and Main Sts. in Racine, WI. A 14-year-old boy named Mervil Peil, who was on the sidewalk of the street opposite the oil station, saw the apparent murderer as he ran from the oil station to the sidewalk in front of the station, then north until he disappeared. The boy picked out Hamilton as “the man who resembled him most” from about a half dozen other men at the police station that evening. The identification was not positive, the boy asserting that “his (Hamilton's) height was about the same, and his dress, and the build of the man.” Peil repeated his statements at trial, as did police officers Yanne and Harms, whose hearsay accounts presumably served to corroborate Peil's testimony in the eyes of the jury.

A fellow prisoner of Hamilton's, named Larsen, testified he heard him praying at night in the jail and caught the words: “Oh, God, why did I kill this man? Oh, God, forgive me.” It was also proved that Hamilton had in 1908 had been convicted in Michigan of attempted murder. The state introduced case evidence from this conviction as presented in a Michigan Supreme Court decision that discharged Hamilton from imprisonment for the conviction. The state also presented evidence of a several lies Hamilton had told police. The lies had no apparent case relevance other than establishing Hamilton's willingness to be untruthful. Hamilton testified he first heard about the shooting while waiting in line at the post office. A boy, identified as Mervil Peil, had crowded ahead of him in line and had told the postmaster of the shooting.

Shortly after Hamilton's conviction, his attorney filed a motion for a new trial in April 1918. The attorney learned that the turnkey at the jail, where Hamilton was confined, and two inmates had personal knowledge that Hamilton's cell door was closed on the night when the witness Larsen testified that it was open and that he heard the declarations of Hamilton while praying. The trial court dismissed the motion for want of a proper showing of diligence.

In May 1919, the attorney filed another motion for a new trial. The attorney discovered that Gertrude Gressing, 20, and Marion Gressing, an older sister, had at the time of the shooting been walking north on East Main St., opposite the oil station. Immediately after the shooting they saw a man exit the station and walk westerly. About three hours later, at the request of police, the sisters took the same position on the street from which they witnessed the man exit the station. They then watched a man, accompanied by police, exit the station in the same direction that they saw a man go after the shooting. In the sisters' opinion, the man they saw accompanied by police was not the same man they saw exit the station immediately after the shooting. Since Hamilton was the man who was accompanied by police, the sisters' statements were exculpatory of him.

The Racine newspapers had referred to and published the fact that the Gressing sisters heard the shooting and saw the man as related above, and it appears that the public generally heard of this fact and generally discussed it. The trial court dismissed this second motion because it did not show due diligence and in the court's opinion there was no reasonable probability that the new evidence would have caused a different verdict in the case.

Hamilton subsequently appealed his conviction to a higher court on the following grounds: (1) The state's introduction of case evidence from a prior conviction was improper. (2) The hearsay testimony of officers Yanne and Harms was improper. (3) The trial court's refusal to grant a new trial based on newly discovered evidence was improper. Hamilton also argued that the evidence against him was insufficient to support a conviction. The court reversed Hamilton's conviction in 1920. It is not known if an attempt was made to retry Hamilton, but references list him (or Eli J. Long, Hamilton's actual legal name at the time of the crime) as exonerated in 1920.  [10/08]


Reference:  Hamilton v. State

Posted in:  Victims of the State, Wisconsin Cases