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Archive for Wednesday, March 30, 1960

Clutter murders sentenced to hang

March 30, 1960

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— Two young men, outwardly indifferent to the jury's verdict, were convicted Tuesday and condemned to hang for the savage slaying of the Herbert W. Clutter family.

Richard Eugene Hickock, 28, and Perry Edward Smith, 31, smiled and held whispered conversations with their guards as the verdict was read.

The Clutters, a prominent and wealthy farm family, were bound, gagged and shotgunned to death Nov. 15 in a robbery.

"How cheap!" exclaimed a special prosecutor, Logan Green, in his closing argument to the jury of 12 men. "The loot was only about $80, or $20 a life."

Confessions introduced in evidence quoted Hickock and Smith as saying they killed Mr. and Mrs. Clutter, a son, Kenyon, 15, and a daughter, Nancy, 16, because they didn't want any witnesses to the robbery.

The intruders expected to find a safe containing $70,000 to $80,000. They heard about it while serving time at the Kansas Penitentiary. It was only scuttlebutt. Clutter had no safe at his farm home eight miles west of Garden City near Holcomb, Kan.

Harrison Smith and A.M. Fleming, court-appointed attorneys for the accused, did not contest the state's evidence but pleaded for life imprisonment. Smith argued capital punishment is "a miserable failure."

Fleming described Perry Smith as a man "who lost his way in that nest of violence, the state penitentiary, where the imagination of Wells triggered this affair."

He referred to Floyd Wells, the state's star witness, who was brought from the prison to testify. Wells worked for Clutter a dozen years ago. Wells testified he talked to his cellmate, Hickock, about Clutter's wealth. He denied he inspired the crime. When he heard the Clutters had been slain, he told prison authorities about Hickock. The tip led to the arrest of Hickock and Smith.

Smith attempted in his confession to shoulder the blame for the slayings, for the sake of his companion's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Walter S. Hickock of Edgerton, Kan. They attended the trial.

Green told the jury the evidence showed Hickock master-minded the crime. Hickock said in his statement he just wanted to rob the Clutters, not kill them.

"But he took his shotgun, shotgun shells and knife along," Green said.

The jury deliberated less than two hours.

"A courageous verdict," Dist. Judge Roland Tate told them.

The judge set a hearing Monday morning on motions by the defense for new trials. An appeal to the Kansas Supreme Court is almost automatic.

"I knew what the verdict would be before they ever held court," said Hickock's father. "They never had a chance in this town."

Hickock's mother broke down in sobs and had to leave the courtroom at one point Tuesday. A friend said she "was prepared for the decision."

Two married daughters inherit the Clutter estate, estimated at about $250,000.

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