The trial of William H. Irvine for the murder of Charles E. Montgomery in October of 1892 in Lancaster County District Court captured statewide (and national) attention. The crime for which Irvine, a Salt Lake City real estate man, was placed on trial for his life was the fatal shooting of Montgomery, president of the German National Bank of Lincoln. The crime occurred in the Lincoln Hotel on May 26, 1892, amid a May 25-26 celebration in Lincoln of the twenty-fifth anniversary of Nebraska’s admission to the Union.
The Omaha Daily Bee said on October 10, 1892: “The shooting occurred a few minutes before 8 o’clock [a.m.] in the dining room of the hotel. The room was crowded with guests of both sexes, and some of the most prominent people of Nebraska were quietly enjoying their morning repast, . . . Suddenly, without a word of warning, the report of a pistol shot rang through the room and then another. A gentleman sitting at the table nearest the door was seen to arise from his chair, stagger blindly around the table out into the corridor and fall at the foot of a divan.”
Irvine took Montgomery’s life because he believed that the latter had had an affair with his wife. When the case went to trial in October 1892, Irvine’s lawyers, according to the Bee on October 14, “set up in defense of their client the plea of . . . mania transitoria.” The prosecution, said the Bee on October 25, denied that the prisoner had been temporarily insane at the time of the killing, “and contended that if Irvine had been a poor man, without means to employ from twelve to fifteen attorneys for the purpose of working up a sentiment in his favor, the jurors would not find it necessary to leave their seats to find a verdict of guilty.” The defense, while not disputing that Irvine had shot Montgomery, appealed to the jury for a “verdict that was based upon a higher law than that found in the statutes.”
What did the jury decide? Learn the outcome of this memorable trial in a Timeline column on the Nebraska State Historical Society website. — Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor/Publications