Despite being known as “Bloody Mingo” and serving as the scene to dozens of notorious shootouts and grisly murders, early Mingo County authorities took a very lenient attitude toward capital crimes, waiting more than fifteen years and a countless number of homicides before sentencing the first murderer to hang.
The dubious distinction of being the first person ever sentenced to hang in Mingo County, West Virginia, was local resident Columbus Belcher.
On April 1, 1909, Belcher shot and killed Mingo County sheriff’s deputy, Curtis “Kirk” Carter, on Gilbert Creek.
Following the murder, Belcher was quickly arrested, indicted and given an early trial, resulting in a conviction of first degree murder
In early-June of that same year, an overflow assembly gathered in Williamson, West Virginia, to hear news of Belcher’s fate.
According to Beckley’s Raleigh Herald, “There was an immense crowd in the courthouse in expectancy of the event. Many relatives of the convicted man were there, anxiously awaiting news of his fate. The jurors and attorneys who figured in the case were also present.
“With deep solemnity Judge Sampselle pronounced the death sentence, fixing the date of execution on September 13.”
Interestingly, Belcher appeared to be the least shaken individual in the courtroom, when his sentence was read. Others “seemed greatly agitated, and even strangers seemed to feel the stress of the situation…”
It was the first occasion which the death sentenced had been pronounced upon a Mingo County citizen and news of the monumental act spread like a wildfire through the mountains surrounding the Tug River.
Following the news, Belcher was carried off to the county jail. There, local law enforcement officials took great precautions to prevent his escape –fearful of the possibility that some of Belcher’s relatives may attempt to stage a rescue attempt.
Ultimately, Belcher would be taken to Moundsville, West Virginia, where he would join two other prisoners, both from McDowell County, who were awaiting their date of execution.
In the weeks and months ahead, Belcher and his attorneys would engage in a legal tap-dance with Mingo County authorities, postponing the execution on multiple occasions.
After having unsuccessfully appealed his case before the West Virginia Supreme Court, Belcher found himself just weeks from the date of his scheduled hanging when Governor Glasscock made the decision to commute his sentence on August 3, 1911. Rather than face the hangman’s noose, Belcher was sentenced to a life in prison.
Unlike its neighbor to the east, Virginia, a state that has executed 110 individuals since 1976, capital punishment in West Virginia has been illegal since 1965.
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