This is Part 5 of Death in Knoxville. Need to catch up on the earlier parts of the story?
Peter said he left town after Minnie shot herself at Mrs. Hall’s home. He’d gone to Etowah, Tennessee, 70 miles south of Knoxville. He stayed there through Thanksgiving and Christmas. He stayed through the New Year. He might’ve stayed forever, if Minnie hadn’t written to him in February and asked him to come home.
For a month, he saw her every day and they were happy. Then she began to talk of suicide again.
At last, Peter agreed. They decided to carry out their suicide pact on March 13 but his nerve failed him again. Two days later, Minnie confronted him: she was determined to end her life that day.
“Go home,” he told her.
“If I ever go in that home again, I’ll be carried in,” Minnie cried fiercely. “I mean to get out of my worry this night, if I have to walk down to the bridge and jump off in the river.”
Minnie insisted on visiting her cousin before she died and Peter asked why she was so anxious to go. Minnie said she had told her husband that she was going there and “I want the last thing I told Will to be true.”
They agreed to meet in a few hours, on the corner of Church and Lithgow. While Minnie visited her cousin, Peter fortified himself with alcohol.
His narrative continued:
“She came back . . . and put her arm around my neck, and said: ‘Now, dear, I am ready to leave this troublesome world with you, and do it before someone comes by that knows me. I don’t care after I am dead.’
“So I placed the gun to her head and fired, and she slapped her hand on her stomach and said, ‘Right here,’ and I put the gun there and fired, her arm still around my neck and mine around her waist.
“But when I fired that time, she hollered and said, ‘Once more, and I’ll be dead.’ So I turned her loose and put the gun to my own head, and it failed to go off, and I couldn’t go on with her.
“But I am going to her, just as willing as she was; for as she is dead, I don’t want to live.”
Judge David Deaderick (D.D.) Anderson was an alternating circuit judge, and he did not buy Peter’s story. And if it was true, it made no difference. Turner intentionally caused Mrs. Scott’s death, and a first-degree murder was a death penalty offense. He sentenced Peter to hang.
His attorney whispered to him. They would appeal, he said comfortingly. His client looked at him hopelessly. What chance did he have?
Frank Sanders did appeal the conviction. He stood by Peter Turner and argued his case before the Supreme Court of Tennessee on September 1, 1907. The victim insisted upon death, Sanders asserted. Yes, Peter Turner killed her but he had planned to die, too. There was no malice.
The Supreme Court did not immediately give a verdict. They deliberated as September slid into October. Peter sensed things were not going his way, and attempted to hang himself in his cell. He was caught and prevented.
His premonition, however, proved correct. Justices Shields and McAlister said the murder was willful, deliberate, and premeditated. It didn’t matter that the victim wanted to die or that a suicide pact existed. Malice–hatred of the victim–was unnecessary.
Peter Turner was sentenced to hang Tuesday, December 10, 1907, at 2 p.m.