Laws and Lawyers

Defending His Client to the Extreme

Clement Vallandigham (1820-1871)
Clement Vallandigham (1820-1871)

Attorney Clement Vallandigham (former US Congressman from Ohio and famously deported to the South by President Lincoln during the Civil War) was defending Thomas McGehan, who was accused of shooting a man to death during a fight in a saloon. Vallandigham argued that his client was innocent and that the victim had accidentally shot himself. He believed the victim could have snagged his pistol on his own clothing, causing an accidental discharge of the weapon.

While trying to prove his theory, Vallandigham staged a reenactment, where he played the part of the victim. At the crucial moment, he pulled a pistol from his pocket. In the process, the weapon snagged on his waistcoat and fired, lodging a bullet in Vallandigham’s abdomen.

The bad news is that this wound proved fatal; Vallandigham died the next day from peritonitis.

The good news is that he proved his point, and Mr. McGehan was found not guilty and released from custody.

Further bad news…. Four years later, McGehan was shot to death in yet another barroom brawl.


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