He noted that the doctor who examined the dead Cowboys established that the wounds they received could not have occurred if their hands and arms had been in the positions that prosecution witnesses described.
In his ruling, Judge Spicer noted that Ike Clanton had the night before, while unarmed, publicly declared that the Earp brothers and Holliday had insulted him, and that when he was armed he intended to shoot them or fight them on sight. On the morning of the shooting he was armed with revolver and Winchester rifle.
Judge Spicer noted that:
"Witnesses for the prosecution state unequivocally that William Clanton fell or was shot at the first fire and Claiborne says he was shot when the pistol was only about a foot from his belly. Yet it is clear that there were no powder burns or marks on his clothes. And Judge Lucas says he saw him fire or in the act of firing several times before he was shot, and he thinks two shots afterwards."
He also wrote in his decision that Ike Clanton had claimed the Earps were out to murder him, yet even though unarmed the Earps had allowed him to escape unharmed during the fight.
He wrote, "the great fact, most prominent in the matter, to wit, that Isaac Clanton was not injured at all, and could have been killed first and easiest."
He described Frank McLaury's insistence that he would not give up his weapons unless the marshal and his deputies also gave up their arms as a "proposition both monstrous and startling!"
He noted that the prosecution claimed that the Cowboys' purpose was to leave town, yet Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne did not have their weapons with them.
Spicer did not condone all of the Earps' actions and criticized Virgil Earp's use of Wyatt and Holliday as deputies, but he concluded that no laws were broken, saying:
"In view of these controversies between Wyatt Earp and Isaac Clanton and Thomas McLaury, and in further view of this quarrel the night before between Isaac Clanton and J. H. Holliday, I am of the opinion that the defendant, Virgil Earp, as chief of police, subsequently calling upon Wyatt Earp, and J. H. Holliday to assist him in arresting and disarming the Clantons and McLaurys - committed an injudicious and censurable act, and although in this he acted incautiously and without due circumspection, yet when we consider the condition of affairs incidental to a frontier country, the lawlessness and disregard for human life; the existence of a law-defying element in our midst; the fear and feeling of insecurity that has existed; the supposed prevalence of bad, desperate and reckless men who have been a terror to the country, and kept away capital and enterprise, and considering the many threats that have been made against the Earps.
I can attach no criminality to his unwise act. In fact, as the result plainly proves, he needed the assistance and support of staunch and true friends, upon whose courage, coolness and fidelity he could depend, in case of an emergency."
Judge Spicer then invited the grand jury to confirm his findings, and two weeks later, it agreed with his ruling and also refused to indict either Wyatt Earp or Doc Holliday.
The Trouble Only Gets Worse
Wyatt testified that he drew his gun only after Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury went for their pistols. He detailed the Earps' previous troubles with the Clantons and McLaurys and explained that they intended to disarm the cowboys. He emphasized that they fired in self-defense.
But even though that was the case and the Earps and Holliday were free, their reputations had been tarnished. And to make matters worse, supporters of the Cowboys in Tombstone looked upon the Earps as murderers and plotted revenge.
On December 14, 1881, Tombstone Mayor and Earp ally John Clum is nearly killed in an assassination attempt while he is riding on the stage from Tombstone.
The horses are spooked and take off on the run, probably sparing Clum and other passengers their lives. Clum, feeling the attempt was made on him, leaves the stage and walks most of the way back to Tombstone.
A few days later on December 17, 1881, Judge Wells Spicer receives a threatening letter from "A Miner," which told him that he should leave Tombstone or lose his life. The letter says among other thing that it is "only a matter of time," before he is not among the living.
Spicer retaliates with a defiant letter published by The Tombstone Epitaph, stating he would not bow to threats from the rabble of the city - stating "The attempt to assassinate Mr. Clum has been made, who will come next?"
Besides Judge Spicer and Mayor Clum, attorney Tom Fitch, Wells Fargo Agent Marshall Williams, and Oriental Saloon owner Lou Rickabaugh, the Earps were also threatened.
In December, Ike Clanton went before Justice of the Peace J.B. Smith in Contention City and again filed murder charges against the Earps and Holliday.
A large posse escorted the Earps to Contention, fearing that the cowboys would try to ambush the Earps on
the unprotected road.
The charges were dismissed by Judge Lucas because of Smith's judicial ineptness. The prosecution immediately filed a new warrant for murder charges, issued by Justice Smith, but Judge Lucas quickly dismissed it, writing that new evidence would have to be submitted before a second hearing could be called.
Because the November hearing before Judge Spicer was not a trial, Ike Clanton had the right to continue pushing for prosecution - but the prosecution would have to come up with new evidence of murder before the case could be considered.
After the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, the Earps relocated their families to the Cosmopolitan Hotel for mutual support and protection. As stated, they turned the hotel into a fort of sorts.
Contrary to popular belief today, back then Virgil Earp was the real lawman in the Earp family.
Though Wyatt has received a lot more attention than his older brother Virgil, yet it was Virgil who served as a lawman longer and in more ways than Wyatt.
While Wyatt apparently straddled the line when it came to being a lawful upstanding citizen during his lifetime, not all of the Earps were that way.
In fact, Virgil was the City Marshal at the time of the so-called gunfight at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona Territory.
On October 26, 1881, the day of the shootout at the OK Corral, since Morgan was already Virgil's deputy, Virgil deputized Wyatt and dentist-turned-gambler John "Doc" Holliday that very morning as "special deputy policeman."
It was Virgil who was the real lawman in the Earp family, and by my way of thinking that made him the number one target of what was left of the Clantons and McLaurys.
There is an old saying, cut off the head and the snake will die. Many governments and military units have used this rule for thousands of years.
In 1881, Tombstone Arizona was no different. For the Earps, besides being City Marshal - older brother Virgil was the head of the Earp clan. If reprisals would come, he was the their number one target.
Story by Tom Correa