Tillman-Gonzales Murder Trial | Palmetto Special


The video take place at the corner of Main and Gervais Streets in Columbia, same site where the murder occurred. In addition, the host comes in and out of reenactment of the trial to tie the segments together.

The Reenactment Portions of the murder trial are re-enacted. The names of the people and the greater portion of the dialogue come directly from the transcript of the trial. In these segments witnesses testify both for and against Mr. Tillman. Two reenactments of the murder are shown--one from the viewpoint of the defense, and the other from that of the prosecution. The trial sequence was videotaped in a studio-setting while the murder scenes were taped at Carowinds. A number of attorneys represented Jim Tillman. For this reenactment we took the words from several, but used only one attorney.

Background Information

James H. Tillman was a nephew of Benjamin Ryan Tillman. He had entered politics primarily on his well-known uncle's coattails. His Uncle Ben, however, was not particularly fond of him. Jim Tillman was elected Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina in 1900 and ran for the office of Governor in 1902 (the Governor's and Lieutenant Governor's offices were two year terms until 1927).

Narcisco G. Gonzales, editor and co-founder of The State newspaper, had established that newspaper in 1891 along with his brother Ambrose E. Gonzales, as an instrument to voice opposition to the Tillman Government. It must be noted, however, that they did not always disagree.

Narcisco G. Gonzales felt that Jim Tillman, particularly, was a scoundrel of the worst sort and published a number of editorials in The State to the Lieutenant Governor's detriment during the Gubernatorial Campaign of 1902. In the Democrat Primary, Lieutenant Governor Tillman ran a poor third and his political career was over. He blamed his loss primarily on Mr Gonzales

On the 15th of January 1903, just a few days before his term as Lieutenant Governor was to expire, Mr Tillman left the State House where he had been presiding over the Senate and, in the company of two senators, crossed Gervais Street and walked north on Main Street. At approximately the same time, Mr. Gonzales left his office in the first block of Main Street, north of the capital, and began to walk to his home on Henderson Street for lunch as was his usual routine. At the corner of Main and Gervais Streets, right across from the State Capital, the two adversaries met. Lieutenant Governor Tillman pulled a German Lugar automatic on Editor Gonzales and shot him in the abdomen. Lieutenant Governor Tillman immediately submitted himself to the police, was taken to the police station, and subsequently released on bond.

Mr. Gonzales died four days later as a result of those wounds. Lieutenant Governor Tillman claimed he shot in self-defense. He said that he thought Mr. Gonzales was going to shoot him. His attorneys claimed that a Tillman could not get a fair trial in Richland County. They successfully brought about a change of venue to the more rural Lexington County which was Tillman Country. The trial was long and sensational, ending with his acquittal.



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