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Livernash, Part 3

By the end of Edward Livernash's first trial the phrase “Livernashism” had come to be synonymous with, or in some circles surpass, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, from Robert Louis Stevenson's novella published six years prior, as a definition for multiple personality disorder.

Meanwhile, Edward's brother, John J. Livernash, had taken up residence in Los Angeles, working for the Santa Ana Blade. Sister Lizzie continued on in Healdsburg as a newspaper editor.

While spring strawberries appeared in Sonoma County and the defendant's mother recovered from an illness, the second trial of Edward J. Livernash commenced on April 13, 1893, with the accused representing himself.

Livernash paid particular attention in his questioning of prospective jurors, the impaneling of whom lasted two days. He inquired of each juror about their thoughts on hypnotism and its effects upon insanity. Every potential juror also withstood lengthy examinations about any connections they might have to well known lawyers, judges, and the like.

The prosecution once again laid out the simple facts of Livernash's shooting of Darius Ethridge in Cloverdale. While cross-examining the man he shot, Livernash tried to show that Ethridge considered the accused crazy at the time of the attack.

In opening his formal defense case before a crowded courtroom, Livernash avoided the term hypnotism, concentrating, instead, on the concept of an impaired nervous system he claimed to have inherited from his parents. According to this theory, insanity had always been lurking inside him, waiting to rear itself.


Congressman Thomas Geary (a Democrat), a former Sonoma County district attorney in the 1880s, took the stand for the defense, testifying that, in his opinion, Livernash was crazy during the assault. Other witnesses swore Livernash was "badly off" at the time. These included local physicians and the defendant's spouse, who renewed her testimony about her husband's “insane” spells in the weeks leading up to the attack on Mr. Ethridge. Under oath, Lizzie Livernash restated her testimony from the first trial about Edward's studious and industrious habits, including his first editorial stint in which he did all the literary and mechanical work with the assistance of only one man. She also related the circumstances of her brother John’s epilepsy, including an episode when he came to the house with knives, threatening to kill the entire family.

Dr. Charles Weaver testified that he had treated John Livernash for epilepsy. Weaver said he was well acquainted with the family, and that they tended toward hysteria. The doctor related how the defendant had come to his office four days before the tragedy, and that he (Doctor Weaver) believed from his actions that he was insane and should have been restrained. When he saw him the morning after the tragedy, the condition of the defendant more than confirmed his diagnosis.

Edward Livernash strode to the witness stand and presented his case for his actions in Cloverdale on the night of the attack being wholly the product of a familial predilection to insanity. The prosecution rebutted with several men in government and business who testified to Livernash's lack of trustworthiness. Those included a county recorder who said the defendant's reputation for truth telling was poor. With a smile on his face the recorder added that Livernash had made false statements in transactions. At that, Livernash shouted from his seat, “You're a liar yourself, if you say that.”

The smile disappeared from the recorder's visage. A frown replaced it and the muscles of his right arm twitched as he turned to the Judge as if imploring for help from a referee. The judge rapped for order and it was restored and the proceedings resumed in more hushed tones, if not complete tranquility.

When the county assessor was called to take the witness chair, the man stated, “I won't go on the stand until that man [pointing at Livernash] is searched. He's a dangerous man, may have weapons, and might hurt somebody.” No weapons appeared at any point, but later while Assistant District Attorney Leppo argued for conviction, Livernash took exception, sprang to his feet, faced Leppo, and shouted, "You are a liar, sir."

The judge gaveled, "Sit down, sir, sit down. Don't you let me hear another word from you now." Livernash sat, remaining quiet while the ADA concluded. In his own five hour summation, the defendant reviewed his insanity theory for the jury and an enthralled, packed courtroom. The San Francisco Call reported that his closing argument “was very exhaustive. [At one point though,] he became very bitter, and in referring to Judge Dougherty, the Superior Judge who committed him to the asylum, took occasion to criticize him in unmeasured terms. This argument was of such a nature that Judge Crawford at one time called him to order and commanded him to conduct his argument with more propriety. Throughout the entire trial, Livernash conducted the case with consummate ability, and not until the last two days did he in any way lose control over his temper.”

The Healdsburg Tribune, in its April 27 edition, described Livernash's closing remarks this way, “His plea to the jury was one of the most remarkable ever heard in Santa Rosa. It abounded in brilliant metaphor and biting sarcasm.”

The jury in this second trial exited the courtroom for scarcely longer than was possible to be seated in their private quarters, take a vote, and returned in four minutes. The verdict: Not guilty.

An out of town attorney rose from the audience, saying, “A very unjust verdict.”

The judge gaveled him to silence, fined the man, and sent him to the county jail. Reportedly, the lawyer later apologized and his penalty was reduced.

This trial is by no means the end of the Livernash saga. More next time: Part 4

(Want a UFO story from the 1890s? Try an Oct. 10, 2018 post in

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