The highlight of the fall term of Tuscarawas County Common Pleas Court in 1864 was the trial of William Stoffer, who was accused of fatally stabbing Montgomery Webb during an altercation earlier that year in Port Washington.
The trial lasted five days, and 120 witnesses were called. Many of Tuscarawas County's top lawyers were involved in the case. David W. Stambaugh and J.C. Hance defended Stoffer, and the state was represented by Alexander L. Neely, Abraham W. Patrick and an attorney named Collier.
The defendant was a young man from Guernsey County who had briefly served in the Army during the Civil War.
The trouble between Stoffer and Webb, 39, began on the morning of June 1, 1864, at a grocery store in Port Washington. Stoffer, who was drunk, and another man were discussing how Stoffer had once shot an Indian. Webb joined in the conversation, saying that Stoffer had only shot the Indian in the neck.
This caused a fight between the two men. They were separated, and Stoffer was thrown out of the store. Outside, he drew a knife and threatened to kill Webb.
About 11 o'clock that morning, Stoffer took a seat on the steps of Webb's house on Main Street. Witnesses for the state testified that he used vulgar language to insult Ingeby Webb, Montgomery's wife. Witnesses for the defense swore he took a seat on the steps beside a couple of female acquaintances, and "used no ungentlemanly language until he was ordered away by Mrs. Webb," the Tuscarawas Advocate newspaper reported.
When Webb came home for lunch, he learned that his wife had been insulted. He went out into the street, where he confronted Stoffer. Stoffer apologized.
Witnesses disagreed on what happened next.
Those testifying for the state said that while Stoffer was apologizing, he drew a knife and struck at Webb, cutting his coat. Webb grabbed a board and hit Stoffer, who then ran.
Defense witnesses said that after Stoffer apologized, Webb's brother Philander kicked at Stoffer, and that Stoffer struck Philander with the knife.
They all agreed that Stoffer then ran into the house of a Mr. Reed. Webb followed him into the house, and Stoffer then stabbed Webb, first on the right arm and then his chest. Webb died about five minutes later.
The jury began deliberations on a Thursday evening and came back with a verdict on a Friday morning, finding Stoffer guilty of manslaughter. Judge George W. McIlvaine, who later served on the Ohio Supreme Court, sentenced Stoffer to six years in the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus.
Stoffer's attorneys appealed the verdict to the Ohio Supreme Court, arguing that Stoffer had killed Webb in self defense.
They said that after the initial dispute, Stoffer avoided further conflict and took refuge in the house of a stranger, but "that Webb, his brother, and one Dingman immediately pursued, throwing stones at him, and crying 'kill him' as he retreated, and, forcibly opening the door, they entered the house and assaulted him, and in the conflict which immediately ensued, Webb was killed."
During the trial, the defense attorneys had asked McIlvaine to instruct the jury that the killing of Webb was excusable because Stoffer "believing that his life was in danger at the hands of Webb, and without deliberation or malice, and to save his own life, he took that of Webb."
McIlvaine refused to do that, instead telling jurors that under such circumstances, Stoffer would be guilty of manslaughter.
The justices disagreed with McIlvaine, saying that because Stoffer had withdrawn from the fight with Webb and retreated to a place of safety, his right of self defense was fully restored and he was justified in protecting himself.
The Supreme Court also ruled on a second point.
Stoffer's attorneys argued during the trial that the jury should disregard the full testimony of Frederick Swallow, Philander Webb and A.I. Dingman, key witnesses for the state, because they had lied in some instances. McIlvaine instructed the jury to disregard the false testimony but said jurors could consider the rest if it was corroborated by other witnesses.
The high court agreed with the defense attorneys, finding "that a witness who is clearly shown to have committed perjury, upon one material point in the case, should be deemed wholly unworthy of credit upon any other, and his testimony be absolutely rejected."
Because of the two errors, the case was sent back to Tuscarawas County, but the final disposition of the case is unknown.
Ingeby Webb, Montgomery's widow, did not remain a widow for long. On Oct. 1, 1865, she married Henry Stofer of Port Washington. It is unclear if Henry was related to William Stoffer.
Ingeby and Henry had a long life together, raising several children. Henry served as Port Washington's constable and postmaster. She died Aug. 7, 1918, and he died Jan. 13, 1920. They are both buried in Port Washington's Union Cemetery, the same cemetery that is the final resting place of Montgomery Webb.