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Livernash, Part 2

Previously, Edward Livernash, prodigy of the legal and journalistic worlds in Northern California, uses hypnotic somnambulism to explain away an arrest then in 1892 he is apprehended after shooting Cloverdale businessman Darius Ethridge multiple times in the face. As he is handcuffed, Livernash declared to law enforcement, “I am the King of Siam. You have no authority over me.”

The next day, physicians pronounced Edward Livernash insane. However, the local judge refused to immediately commit him to the asylum at Napa because the county sheriff was present with a complaint filed at the district attorney's behest. Thus, the sheriff accompanied the defendant to the jail in Santa Rosa. There, a county judge approved Livernash's removal to Napa State Hospital the next day.

Throughout the latter part of 1891 and into early 1892, John J. Livernash traveled repeatedly to Napa to visit his brother at the state hospital. By this time, twenty-one-year-old John was publishing and editing the Healdsburg Enterprise. His twenty-three-year-old sister, Lizzie, helped around the newspaper office and served as a reporter.

After doctors deemed Edward fit, he secured his freedom from the state hospital in the last week of March. The editor of the Sonoma Democrat noted on April 16, 1892, “Ed. Livernash called on us Monday. He is looking quite well.”

Edward and his wife, Jessie, took up residence in Healdsburg. There, he helped edit the Enterprise. During the second week of May, the district attorney formally charged Edward with assault, intending to commit murder. The defendant pleaded not guilty and was released on bail. He spent the summer at the newspaper office as well as attending Democratic Party functions and in the company of his family.

Early in September, anticipating the impending trial, the Livernashes leased the Enterprise, while maintaining rights to its editorial department. After many continuations and delays, the trial of Edward J. Livernash commenced in Santa Rosa in late October, 1892. Sonoma County's district attorney and an assistant represented the people while Mr. Livernash retained four lawyers on his behalf.

The defense was similar to the one a year before. Edward Livernash's attorneys claimed their client had been subject to a psychological phenomenon resembling somnambulism. The defendant had shot Mr. Ethridge while in a trance.

Darius Ethridge testified as to the physical facts of the shooting and declared his assailant sane at the time of the attack. Further testimony established that the bottle Livernash left for Ethridge to drink contained poison. Two Cloverdale marshals provided evidence detailing the defendant's arrest, stating that when located in his hotel room Edward Livernash said, “I've shot old Joachimsen forty-two times.” When told he had shot Darius Ethridge, not Judge Joachimsen, Livernash responded, “No, no. This man Joachimsen has been masquerading as Ethridge for a long time, and I'm glad I killed him.” Within a few hours the prosecution rested its case.

The judge refused a motion to continue the case until the next day, so the defense commenced with Mrs. Jessie Overton Livernash's testimony that her husband had been suffering from a type of insanity for a time prior to the shooting of Mr. Ethridge, recounting his previous detention for appearing in public dressed in women's apparel. She also detailed the days before the shooting, when Livernash would pace back and forth before answering questions that often weren't posed and randomly responding to others asked in the more distant past. The San Francisco Examiner concluded, “She was an unusually good witness for a woman.”

Lizzie Livernash testified that a few days before the assault, her brother's eyes appeared glazed and vacant, staring off into the distance. When he left her company, Lizzie requested her younger brother, John, follow to keep a watchful eye on their sibling. The next day, Lizzie testified that Edward seemed irritable, moody, and twitched spasmodically the night of the attack on Darius Ethridge. She recounted that when they all retired for the night, John asked Edward to shut out his light, but Edward replied, “No, no! I'm afraid. Men are after me.”

During the same evening in which he would later confront Ethridge, Lizzie Livernash stated her brother wrote two editorials for the Healdsburg Enterprise. She claimed both were fit for instant publication.

Dr. Robertson was called to say that in a trance Livernash had told him what happened to the money he took from Ethridge, but the specifics were not revealed under the excuse that it would be embarrassing to public officials, presumably insinuating that someone in the Cloverdale marshal's office made off with the funds. The doctor also recounted his earliest visits to Livernash at Napa State Hospital where the young man insisted that rather than shooting Ethridge, it was Judge Joachimsen he had opened fire on, repeating the assertion of forty-two rounds. The doctor and others at Napa, however, concurred that Livernash had improved dramatically over the following weeks, precipitating his release.

The prosecution had repeatedly pointed to testimony from the wounded man that Livernash had called him “Ethridge” during the fateful encounter, never Joachimsen. Defense witness, Dr. C.W. Weaver of Healdsburg, recounted the accused visiting his office a few days before the shooting in Cloverdale. The doctor gave Edward Livernash sulfonel to quiet his nerves, but he did not consider his patient sane when he left the office. Dr. Weaver examined him again after the shooting. The defendant stated then he was certain Judge Joachimsen had come to Cloverdale, attired himself in Ethridge's clothing, was following him, so the defendant shot “Joachimsen” forty-two times to teach him a lesson. Dr. Weaver added his opinion that traces of hysteria and catalepsy ran in the Livernash family. He concluded that at times Edward Livernash could not distinguish between right and wrong, while at other times he could.

When Edward Livernash took to the stand, the judge cleared the courtroom of most of the public then Dr. Gardner, superintendent of Napa State Hospital, was allowed to hypnotize the defendant by holding a small round mirror just above the defendant's line of sight. In a matter of moments his eyes sagged to drowsy and color drained from his face. This marked the first time in the courts of the United States a man testified while under hypnosis. In the forty-two years of California jurisprudence there appeared no other case in which the defense was based on the accused having been in a hypnotic or somnambulistic state at the time a crime had been committed.

Dr. Wachendorf, a physician employed by the prosecution, approached the accused, feigned a punch within inches of Livernash's nose, but the young man neither flinched nor blinked. Dr. Gardner stuck pins through the defendant's hands, ears, and cheek without eliciting a wince. The reporter from the Examiner was impressed, but Dr. Wachendorf stepped toward the DA's desk, stating, “It is simulation.”

Under hypnosis, Livernash's words sung out so resonantly one courtroom observer remarked, “That voice must have been what won his wife.”

The defendant recalled establishing the Pacific Sentinel at age sixteen, for which he wrote nearly every article and editorial for two years. In the election year of 1884 he ran the Sonoma Index then immediately afterward reported for the Press Democrat until his health failed and he recovered at home. That rest period led to the study of law, which he began practicing in Ukiah at nineteen. He remembered clearly how he worked sixteen to twenty hours a day on the Livermore Herald for five months. He admitted that the strain gradually produced an insensibility to his surroundings. He wrote and published editorial after editorial without any conscious knowledge of the labors.

He related detail upon detail of conversations and actions in the time leading up to the attack on Darius Ethridge. The young lawyer and journalist rambled on about his wife, their baby, about wandering the streets of San Francisco, the compulsion to send an express letter to his father-in-law, Judge Overton. He went on to describe a conspiracy of fifteen men against him and that he had to return to Sonoma County because they would all be in Cloverdale together. The men in this conspiracy included Darius Ethridge, Judge Joachimsen, Judge Overton, and the reincarnation of President James Garfield, among others. In whatever state one could describe Livernash as having been in, he felt he must go to Cloverdale and dispatch all the conspirators.  

Still under oath and hypnotized, Edward Livernash told how he had tried to procure fifteen pistols, one each to exterminate the conspirators working against him. He claimed he tried a well known gun store in The City, but a clerk dismissed him as being drunk.

Livernash recited a convoluted account about the bottle he left at Ethridge's home being wine that would lure the supposed conspirators to that locale. Returning to his hotel room he couldn't find the sleeping powder he used during restless nights. Without sleep, he eventually raced back to Ethridge's abode. Running inside, he was certain he stood before Judge Joachimsen, trying to disguise himself in Ethridge's clothes. His certainty lay in his observation that the man rubbed his thumbs together in the same manner as Joachimsen. “Now make your will,” Livernash directed, “and make it mighty quick.”

The defendant testified, “He struck out and hit me, but do you suppose he could hurt me? Not the least particle. I was invulnerable. He fought like a tiger, but it had no effect. I kept shooting at him, I judge forty-three times. Every shot took effect except one that went into a wall and killed a relative.”

The deputy district attorney cross-examined Livernash, who held to his tale. The Examiner's reporter wrote that the accused “could not be led into absurdities.  He would not be trapped.  In the thrust and parry he had all the better of it.

“His story was plausible, logical, and though simply told, forceful and dramatic. Surely there is much beside insanity in that long head with the shock of tumbled hair... He could have more than held his own with any man in the courtroom, or with all.”

Eventually, Dr. Gardner brought the defendant out of his hypnotic state, simply by saying, “Ed, Ed, that will do. Now, when I wake you up, you will wake up well, happy and contented. You must sleep soundly nights and you must not go into this condition again without my permission. Now when I count three you will wake up. One, two, three.”

Livernash opened his eyes, appeared flustered for a second, then asked, “Are you through? You don't need me any longer?”

He noticed the needle still sticking into the back of his hand and yanked it out with a wince. His face flushed and he rubbed at the ear lobe where earlier another needle had been.

Livernash returned to his seat at the defense table as Dr. Robertson again took the stand. The doctor stated he had been seeing Edward for many months, that the patient's somnambulism could occur at any time. The physician said that, in his normal condition, Livernash proved unusually bright. In his abnormal condition he was dull, irritable and secretive.

Robertson gave a detailed description of the stages of hypnotism. According to the doctor, about one-third of the population was susceptible to hypnotism. He went on to declare that Edward Livernash's father was a peculiar man and his mother existed on the border of insanity. Edward had more than once attended sessions at which an epileptic brother had been put into hypnotic trances. The good doctor theorized that this was largely responsible for bringing about the defendant's recent condition. “The somnambulist is frequently imitative.”

Dr. Robertson recounted tracing the location of Edward's wanderings in search of the fifteen pistols. He  pinpointed O'Brien's dry goods store, finding the very clerk who had ejected Livernash, thinking the man inebriated. Robertson explained the circumstances to the clerk, who inquired, “Isn't this man dangerous to be at large? Will he not commit other murders?”

“Not as long as Dr. Gardner controls him,” the physician replied. “His health may be built up so that this somnambulistic condition will not recur.”

Dr. Robertson concluded his testimony with his opinion that he had never met a more brilliant man than Edward James Livernash. The next day Dr. Gardner's presence on the witness stand mirrored Robertson's evaluation. He finished by pronouncing Edward Livernash one of the most intelligent men in the state.

Dr. Wachendorf, the Russian born physician, was called by the prosecution as a rebuttal witness. Though he would not criticize Drs. Robertson or Gardner, Wachendorf described Livernash's time on the witness stand in these words, “The whole thing was a fraud and vexed me greatly. That man was no more under the influence of hypnotism than I am.”

He claimed that a man under hypnosis does not see or respond to anything or anyone other than the person who put him under. Yet the defendant had not only responded to Dr. Gardner, but answered the deputy district attorney's queries, and though his eyes looked drowsy, they obviously had been open during the entire exam and cross-examination. Dr. Wachendorf re-iterated, “It's a fraud and a farce and is an imposition upon the people.”

The defense countered with Dr. Gardner claiming that Livernash had been cured of his somnambulistic meanderings through the method of “suggestion.” In that the good doctor could control  his patient by commanding him not to enter into the trance stage.

To counteract Dr. Wachendorf's claim of fraud, Dr. Robertson returned to the stand to recount the test he put Livernash under the night before. Dr. Gardner had put the defendant “under” and instructed him not to smell anything. At that juncture, Robertson held an open bottle of ammonia directly under Livernash's nostrils for a minute without the subject showing the least sign of irritation. The same bottle was passed among the jurors, all of whom winced at the first whiff of the ammonia.

The prosecution brought Wachendorf back. The tall, slender man, speaking in a slight accent stated that at the approximate time of the ammonia test he (Wachendorf) had brushed Livernash's eyelid ever so slightly, but Livernash threw back his head a bit and his eyelid quivered.

The defense attacked Wachendorf as only a homeopath and that he had been licensed to practice for a mere nine months. Wachendorf countered with his theories about hypnotism. Both sides concluded with closing arguments and the judge sent the twelve good men and true to their chamber to deliberate.

When the jury returned after thirty hours of argument, the foreman stated that they remained deadlocked, eight for conviction and four in favor of acquittal with no hope of any change. The judge dismissed the jury. Edward Livernash was  bound over for a new trial, but released on $3,000 bail.

Next time: Edward Livernash is tried once again: Part 3

(More anomalies from the 19th Century at

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