State of Florida v. B. A. Thrasher: A sensational murder trial from 1891, Part I: Introduction
On Dec. 11, 1889, Louis Witkovski, mayor of Starke, Florida, and sometime Bradford County Commissioner, encountered the young attorney, Barton Albert Thrasher, on a Gainesville street. Later that morning, the two men entered Thrasher’s office.
A short time afterward, neighbors heard two gun shots.
One passer-by reported finding Thrasher on the street, calmly stating that he had shot Witkovski and was going to find the sheriff.
Men who entered office testified that they found Witkovski dead, sitting with his head hanging over the back of
the chair with two bullet holes in his face. After a prolonged delay, Thrasher was finally put on trial for Witkovski’s murder in February 1891 before the state circuit court at Gainesville. The trial was a sensation and covered in detail in newspapers. Thrasher retained an all-star team of criminal defense attorneys who argued that Thrasher had acted in self-defense in murdering the one-armed, fifty-year-old man he had invited into his
After three hours of deliberation, the jury exonerated B. A. Thrasher.
Who was Louis Witkovski? For that matter, who was Barton A. Thrasher?
In a series of posts to follow, we’ll explore Witkovski’s story, his initially turbulent and then successful years in Starke, Florida and the events that led to his fateful encounter with Thrasher. We’ll also explore what, if anything, this Florida trial informs us about the successful invocation self-defense by a killer who may have courted trouble and but ultimately swayed a jury despite having no witnesses to confirm his claims.