Thursday, January 25, 2018

Jury of Lawyers finds Wyatt Earp innocent in OK Corral shootout

by Matt Kelley
The Associated Press
June 25, 1999

PHOENIX, AZ - The legendary shootout at the OK Corral was a case of self-defense, an audience of lawyers decided after a high-tech mock trial of the 118-year-old case.

"We were vindicated," declared Wyatt Earp, the great-grandnephew of the legendary lawman, who played his namesake at the trial.

Designed to show off advances in trial technology, yesterday's presentation at the State Bar of Arizona convention used witnesses in 19th-century clothing to offer testimony taken from contemporary accounts of the gunbattle.

Since Earp and John "Doc" Holliday were formally cleared of murder charges back in 1881, the case was styled as a civil lawsuit by Kathleen McLaury, the mother of two brothers killed in the fray.

The 30-second shootout in Tombstone, Arizona Territory, has been played and replayed on film, video, computer disc and print, mostly as a good-and-evil tale with Earp in the hero's role. Lawyers for Mrs. McLaury tried to make a dent in that good-guy image, portraying Earp as a violent and politically ambitious man.

What both sides agreed on is this: On the afternoon of Oct. 26, 1881, nine men shot it out in a vacant lot next to Fly's boarding house, behind the OK Corral. On one side were Holliday, town marshal Virgil Earp and his brothers, Wyatt and Morgan. On the other were brothers Ike and Billy Clanton, Tom and Frank McLaury and Billy Claiborne.

Both McLaurys and Billy Clanton were killed. Virgil and Morgan Earp were wounded and Holliday got a scratch.

Lawyers for Mrs. McLaury said Holliday and the Earps were the aggressors, pistol-whipping Ike Clanton and Tom McLaury before the gunfight and firing the first shots.

Holliday, a drunken gambler with a nasty reputation, and Earp were enraged that the McLaurys and Clantons were saying that Holliday had killed a man in a stagecoach holdup.

Wyatt Earp, a Republican, also had political and personal motives: He had been passed over as Cochise County sheriff in favor of John Behan, a Democrat and friend of the Clantons. At the time of the shootout, Behan's former fiancee had moved in with Wyatt Earp, who was married.

The Clantons' and McLaurys' talk of wanting to fight the Earps and Holliday was not enough to justify the Earps gunning for them, said Deborah Fine, one of Mrs. McLaury's lawyers.

"Fighting words are not enough to kill a man for, but Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp think it is," Fine said. "These men sitting here cannot make the law; they cannot make up the law as they go along."

Earp and Holliday were deputized by Virgil Earp and therefore were acting as police officers when they confronted the cowboys and told them to turn over their weapons, defense lawyers said. Earp testified the McLaurys and Clantons had a reputation throughout the West as "cattle rustlers, stage robbers and even, on occasion, murderers."

Earp said he fired one of the first two shots in self-defense after Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury drew their guns on him.

The hundreds of lawyers in the audience, voting with electronic keypads at their seats, agreed with Earp, voting 2-1 to reject Mrs. McLaury's claim for damages.

"Cases are often decided on how likable witnesses are, and Wyatt Earp was an extremely likable person," Fine said after the verdict.

-- end of The Seattle Times article.

The above article is reprinted here just as it appeared in 1999 in The Seattle Times. I hope you found it as interesting as I did.

Tom Correa


  1. Elizabeth L. Johnson said, Thanks for the old article. Next time I see the movie again (having seen it many times), I'll pay closer attention.

  2. Allow me to begin by saying that do-it-yourself lawyering has its limits.kurzfeld


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