The Carthage Conspiracy (Joseph Smith Murder) Trial: A Chronology

Joseph Smith reviewing troops (the Nauvoo Legion) in Nauvoo, Illinois

The prophetic career of Joseph Smith begins.  Smith claims to have had a vision in which God told him that all existing Christian churches were apostate and that he was to create a new, true church.
April 6, 1830 One year after Joseph Smith publishes his Book of Mormon, a group of six men including Joseph Smith organize "The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints" (later often called the Mormon Church) in Fayette, New York.
Facing suspicion and persecution because of his religious beliefs, Smith and his followers flee New York and settle in Kirtland, Ohio, where "the laws of the kingdom" are revealed.
Smith raises a small Mormon army and sets off for western Missouri, where Mormon settlers have aroused the ire of old settlers (in part because of their bringing to the region free black who, it was feared, might inspire subversion among Missouri slaves).
October 30, 1838
After the Missouri Governor Lilburn Boggs calls out the state militia to suppress a Mormon rebellion in Daviess County, a militia unit of about 200 massacres at least eighteen unarmed men and boys in the Mormon village of Haun's Mill.  (No members of the militia unit are ever charged for the crime).  To avoid further bloodshed, Joseph Smith surrenders to Missouri officials to face charges of treason against the state.  After a preliminary hearing, Smith is jailed at Liberty, Missouri for six months without further proceedings.
April 1839
Joseph Smith escapes from a Missouri jail and arrives in northwestern Illinois, near the banks of the Mississippi, where Mormons had begun to gather in large numbers.  The new city of Nauvoo is established and soon becomes a magnet for Mormons in the eastern U.S. and Canada.   Nauvoo will become, for a brief time, the largest city in the state of Illinois.
Joseph Smith is arrested, but successfully defeats the attempt to extradite him to Missouri to face charges....Thomas C. Sharp of Warsaw, Illinois (and editor of the Warsaw Signal) organizes an anti-Mormon political party.  Sharp began publishing editorials sharply critical of Joseph Smith's power, the creation of the Nauvoo Legion,and Mormon land speculation.
Joseph Smith declares that man's attempt to establish a just government have failed, and it is now time to build a theocracy (a government build on God's laws).  John C. Bennett, a former Mormon church leader, publishes charges that Smith and other church officials are practicing polygamy.
Relations between Mormons and non-Mormons in Hancock County deteriorate.  Joseph Smith is arrested outside of Nauvoo by deputies who seek to send him back to Missouri to face charges, but he is rescued by members of the Nauvoo Legion.  The Nauvoo City Council adopts a law authorizing review by the mayor of all legal process from outside the city.
Mid-May 1844
A group of about 300 dissenting Mormons (opposed to polygamy and theocratic power), headed by former Mormon counselor William Law, begin holding meetings.  The dissenters push for repeal of the Nauvoo Charter.
June 7, 1844
The first and only issue of the Nauvoo Expositor is published.  The paper accuses Joseph Smith and other Mormon leaders of "abominations and whoredoms."  Among its incendiary charges is that Smith brought innocent females to Nauvoo under the pretext of religion to add to his harem. 
June 8 to 10, 1844
The Nauvoo City Council meets to discuss what action to take against the Nauvoo Expositor.
June 10, 1844
The Nauvoo City Council adopts an ordinance ("Ordinance Concerning Libels") declaring the Nauvoo Expositor a "public nuisance." On the orders of Joseph Smith, a group of Mormon residents of Nauvoo destroy type and press equipment of the Nauvoo Expositor.
June 12, 1844
An arrest warrant, on the charge of inciting a riot resulting in the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor's press, is issued in Carthage for Joseph Smith.  Smith files a writ of habeas corpus with the Municipal Court for the City of Nauvoo.  After a hearing before the Nauvoo court, the arrest warrant is dismissed and Smith is found not guilty on the rioting charge.
June 13, 1844
Non-Mormon citizens of Hancock County meet in Carthage and adopt a resolution expressing outrage with the legal proceedings the day before in the Nauvoo Municipal Court.  The resolution castigates "the wicked and abominable Mormon leaders" and demands that all Mormons in the county either denounce Smith or move to Nauvoo and warns that a "war of extermination" against the Mormons might be necessary.
June 16, 1844
Joseph Smith is urged to go to Carthage to appear before a judge and answer the charges specified in the June 12 writ.  Smith writes a letter asking Governor Ford to come to Nauvoo to help resolve the controversy.  Smith instructs the Nauvoo Legion to resist should a mob of non-Mormons attack Nauvoo.
June 17, 1844
Joseph and Hyrum Smith agree to appear before Judge Daniel H. Wells to answer to the charge that they inciting a riot that led to the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor's press.
June 18, 1844
Smith issues a declaration of martial law for Nauvoo.  Smith gives a final speech to the Nauvoo Legion in which he says, "I am willing to sacrifice my life for your preservation."
June 22, 1844
The personal narrative (diary) of Joseph Smith comes to an end.  Fearing imminent arrest and/or death, Smith crosses the Mississippi River into Iowa and makes plans to flee to the Rockies.
June 23, 1844
Informed that if he failed to surrender to authorities a mob might attack Nauvoo, Smith abandons his plans to flee west and returns to Nauvoo.
June 25, 1844
Joseph and Hyrum Smith enter Carthage around midnight and go the Hamilton House hotel.  In the morning, Governor Ford meets with the Smiths.  The two Smiths voluntarily submit for arrest on the charge of rioting.  Later that day, they are also charged with treason (for declaring martial law), a capital crime.  Justice of the Peace Robert Smith orders Joseph and Hyrum to be committed without bail to jail.  A hearing is scheduled for June 29.
June 26, 1844
Widespread rumors circulate around Carthage that a mob will storm the jail where the Smiths are being held.  Governor Ford works to avoid a confrontation of military forces in Nauvoo.
June 27, 1844
A large group of men, many disguised with blackened faces, approach the Carthage Jail from the west.  The small party of guards is quickly pushed aside and men rush up the stairs to the room where the Smiths are housed.  Shots are fired in both directions through the door.  One bullet hits Hyrum in the face and he is killed.  Joseph runs toward the window as bullets hit him from behind.  He hangs briefly from the window sill, then falls to the ground, and dies seconds later from the bullet wounds.
July 1, 1844
The Nauvoo City Council adopts a resolution urging citizens not to seek "private revenge on the assassinators of General Joseph Smith."
July 10, 1844
Thomas Sharp argues in the Warsaw Signal that the killings of the Smiths was a justified response to the threat they posed to liberty.
August 5, 1844
In an election to fill offices in Hancock County, Mormon-supported candidates are swept to office.  The election results (especially the election of Sheriff Minor Deming) make a trial of the Smiths' killers a realistic possibility.  Soon after the election, Deming declares that 200 to 300 people were involved in the murders.
September 1844
Governor Ford and a military force of 450 men arrive in Hancock County.   Many people involved in the murders, fearing arrest, flee to Missouri. 
September 22, 1844
A special agent appointed by the Governor arrives in Nauvoo and begins taking testimony concerning the murders.  One of the most important witnesses to testify is eyewitness John Taylor.  Based on the affidavits of Taylor and others, Justice of the Peace Aaron Johnson issues arrest warrants.
September 27, 1844
Governor Ford announces rewards for the arrests of Levi Williams, Thomas Sharp, and Joseph H. Jackson.
October 1, 1844
After reaching an agreement concerning procedural guarantees the day before, Sharp and Williams (who had fled to Missouri) surrender themselves to Illinois authorities. 
Early October 1844
After grand jury indictments are handed down, the prosecution and defense agree to postpone the trial until the May, 1845 term.
December 26, 1844
Defendant Jacob Davis, who as a state senator had been working to revoke the Nauvoo Charter, is arrested by Sheriff Deming during a session of the state legislature in Springfield.  Under pressure from the Senate, outraged by the arrest, David is soon released.
March 3, 1845
The county commissioner's court chooses grand and petit juries for the May term.  About half of the jury members chosen are Mormons, raising alarm among defendants and their anti-Mormon supporters.
April 23, 1845
Mormon John Taylor, eyewitness to the murders, in a Nauvoo Neighbor editorial, urges fellow Mormons not to participate as witnesses in the upcoming trial because "state officials were not trustworthy when it came to protecting them."
Early May 1845
William M. Daniels, the prosecution's key grand jury witness, publishes a 24-page booklet with details concerning the murders of Joseph and Hyrum Smith.  The booklet proves very useful to the defense in its preparation for the trial.
May 19, 1845
The case of People vs Levi Williams (and four other indicted assassins, Thomas Sharp, Mark Aldrich, Jacob Davis, and William Grover) is called in Carthage before Judge Richard M. Young.  Bail is set for each defendant at $1000. 
May 21, 1845
As the trial opens, the defense moves to discharge the panel of potential jurors because of the alleged bias of county commissioners who participated in their selection.  Judge Young grants the defense motion.  The judge's decision reinforces the general feeling of Mormons that the justice system is stacked against them and they should have nothing to do with the trial.
May 22, 1845
A new array of potential jurors is selected from among bystanders at the court.  The bystanders are predominantly non-Mormons.  (Only four of the 96 members of the array are known to by Mormons.)
May 23, 1845
Jury selection for the Joseph Smith murder trial is completed.
May 24, 1845
Opening statements are offered in the case of People vs Levi Williams.  The prosecution begins presenting its witnesses.
May 27, 1845
The defense calls its first witnesses in the case of People vs Levi Williams.
May 28, 1845
Closing arguments begin in the case of People vs Levi Williams.  Prosecutor Josiah Lamborn concedes that he had not presented enough evidence to convict two of the defendants, Davis and Grover.
May 30, 1845
Judge Young instructs the jury.  Two hours later, the jury announces it has reached its verdict: all five defendants are acquitted.
June 24, 1845
A second trial of the same group of defendants, this one for the murder of Hyrum Smith, is expected to open, but the prosecution fails to show up.  Judge Young discharges the defendants.
October 1845
A jury in a trial of Mormons charges with destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor returns a verdict of not guilty.  The Mormons of Hancock County agree to leave Illinois. 
February 1846
Brigham Young announces to his Mormon followers in Nauvoo that it is time to begin their exodus, and wagons cross the ice-covered Mississippi and head west on a journey that will eventually take them to Salt Lake City. (After the death of Joseph Smith, disagreement over who should succeed him as President of the Church led to a schism within the Mormon community, and those Mormons who did not accept Young's leadership did not join him on the trek west.)

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