United States court Judge C. F. Amidon sentenced an officer of the law on this day in 1903. The judge found Sheriff Scofield of Minot guilty of contempt of court for his attempts to divert justice in the much-publicized Murphy case of Ward County. The Murphy case involved Major J. S. Murphy, one of Minot’s most prominent citizens. The courts accused Major Murphy of perjury associated with his involvement in the affairs of a Minot widow. Prosecutors alleged that Murphy, responsible for administering the widow’s government pension, had taken a cut for himself. Citizens of Minot were outraged at such an outlandish allegation, and Sheriff Scofield was among them.
Abusing his own public office, the sheriff escorted an influential member of the jury to a nearby hotel room to discuss the case. Attempting to persuade the jury member, the sheriff highlighted the virtues of the Major and claimed that the defendant was in no way guilty of the charges against him. Later on, during the trial, this same juryman stood before the court and testified as to the sheriff’s interference in the case. Those in attendance were left in extreme shock at the news, and Judge Amidon quickly charged the sheriff with contempt of court for his actions. The Judge imposed a ninety-day jail sentence on the sheriff and gave him quite the scolding for his uncomely behavior as an officer of the law.
Two days later, Sheriff Scofield arrived in Fargo accompanied by his wife and a United States deputy marshal to begin his sentence in the Cass county jail. As Sheriff Scofield was popular among his Minot constituents, his absence from the city was viewed as quite a loss, and encouraging messages quickly began arriving from Minot. The Sheriff’s brother also arrived shortly thereafter with plans to free his brother in exchange for the payment of a fine. His brother added “…that this is the first time that any member of the family has been in jail, and they are willing to part with all their earthly possessions to secure the sheriff’s release.” As for the residents of Fargo, they found their new “sheriff-prisoner” to be quite an amusing topic of discussion.
The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican (Evening ed.). December 12, 1903: p.1.
The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican (Evening ed.). December 14, 1903: p.1, 8, 12.
--Jayme L. Job