Mudd family presses bid to clear Civil War kin

Dr. Samuel Mudd treated Lincoln's assassin

April 06, 1997|By CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - The 11-foot drop from the State Box of Ford's Theatre to the stage resulted in a broken left leg for John Wilkes Booth. The treatment of that leg by Dr. Samuel Mudd cost the doctor his freedom and his name.

Today, 132 years later, Dr. Richard Mudd is working to clear the name of his grandfather, who was convicted by an 1865 military court for conspiring to kill President Lincoln and for harboring Booth overnight at his Charles County farmhouse.

Richard Mudd and others are pressing administration officials to ask the secretary of the Army, Togo West, to exonerate the doctor. Michigan state Sen. William Van Regenmorter wrote a letter Jan. 31 on Richard Mudd's behalf, asking President Clinton to urge West to reconsider the verdict.

The White House has not taken a position on the matter, said a spokeswoman, April Mellody.

For Richard Mudd, an Anacostia native who celebrated his 96th birthday in January, a positive response from the president would cap 70 years of work begun while he was still a student at Georgetown University.

At Georgetown, he read a book on Samuel Mudd's life, and his interest was piqued enough to act.

"I was shocked to find out that my grandfather was a federal prisoner," Mudd said from his home in Saginaw, Michigan. Samuel Mudd was sentenced to life in prison.

Ever since his days at Georgetown, Richard Mudd has waged a campaign in the media, appearing on television programs such as "Good Morning America" and making countless speeches at throughout the country.

He argues that Samuel Mudd's conviction should be overturned because of a jurisdictional error. He says his grandfather was a civilian in Maryland and trying him before a military court in the District of Columbia was the incorrect jurisdiction.

In 1990, Richard Mudd was granted a hearing before the Army Board for Correction of Military Records.

Candida Ewing Steel, a great-great granddaughter of Samuel Mudd's defense lawyer in the 1865 trial, served as lead counsel for the Mudds before the five-member board of examiners.

The board decided, by a unanimous vote, that the original board did not have the authority to try Samuel Mudd.

The Mudds' elation was short-lived, however, because one month later, William Clark, acting assistant secretary of the Army, declined to adopt the board's recommendation. Clark argued that it is not the role of the Army to deal with historical disputes.

"It made me sick," Richard Mudd said.

More than 30 family members continue to work to clear Samuel Mudd's name.

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat whose district embraces Charles County, also has gotten involved.

"He's a bit of an historian, so he'd be interested in this regardless," said Hoyer press secretary Jerry Irvine.

Hoyer is considering trying to "slip language" into a defense funding bill "to clear Mudd's name," Irvine said.

Richard Mudd says that his grandfather met Booth on two occasions before the night of the assassination and that no evidence exists that he knew of the plot to kill Lincoln.

! Pub Date: 4/06/97

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