The uproar over director Oliver Stone's "JFK" movie has once again highlighted the nation's recurring fascination with conspiracy theories -- and not only those purporting to explain the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Last week in Washington, descendants of Dr. Samuel Mudd, a Charles County doctor implicated in the plot to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln nearly 100 years earlier, presented their case for overturning the verdict of an Army tribunal they claim wrongly convicted their ancestor and rendered the family name synonymous with disgrace.
Early on the morning of April 15, 1865, Mudd was awakened by a knock on the door and was asked to attend to a man with a broken leg who claimed he had fallen from his horse. The man was John Wilkes Booth, the actor who had fatally shot Lincoln six hours earlier in Washington.
At his military trial, Mudd claimed he had done nothing more than treat an injured man who showed up at his door. But the Army tribunal, which included two judges who were personal friends of Lincoln, found him guilty and sentenced the physician to life in prison. In 1869, President Andrew Johnson pardoned Mudd, but he was never cleared of the conspiracy charges. He died a broken man in 1883.