By: Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
Robert Frazier’s story didn’t seem to add up from the start. Though he had injuries of his own, cuts on and about his wrists and hands as well as evidence of having been struck on the head, officials were suspicious. And his niece, Stella Kinney, was dead.
The girl, who had serious wounds to her head, died the morning after her attack, within ten minutes of being returned to her parent’s home in Pleasant Valley. She never regained consciousness, so no one ever got to hear Stella’s story.
Her uncle, Robert Frazier, claimed they had been attacked as they crossed Clark Hill on that late spring day in 1915. Two men stepped out into the road and took the horse by the reins, stopping their buggy, he said. He claimned to have gotten down and grappled with them, ostensibly how he obtained his wounds, but was choked and knocked unconscious. When he woke up he found that he had been robbed of $25 in cash and a check, and that Stella – who had been staying at his home in Fleming County as a hired girl – was injured.
Frazier’s calling, apparently, alerted folks living nearby who brought the pair into town for examination and attendance by a Dr. Rose, the coroner.
Frazier claimed he didn’t get a good look at his assailants because the sun was going down as they attacked, but officials suspected there weren’t any other assailants. Frazier was examined carefully by local authorities and the County Attorney, a man named Yates, before being taken to Grayson by Sheriff Potts for an examination by a county judge. Because Frazier was related to Judge Thornsberry, however, the honorable G.W. Armstrong presided at his examination trial. After holding an evening session Frazier was held over to the grand jury, without bond.
It wouldn’t be a quick journey to justice for Frazier though. He’d be convicted, and appeal his conviction multiple times, before being sentenced a final time to life imprisonment after his sixth trial. In June of 1916, for instance, just over a year after the attack, we see an item where his father, Evan Frazier, is expected in Carter County from Fleming to post bond for his son.
In February of 1917 we see that Frazier is ready to have his fourth trial, and his second in Lawrence County. Frazier’s first trial resulted in a hung jury, and the second in a conviction and sentence of life imprisonment. But Frazier apparently appealed that on grounds that the case was too well known in the county to get a fair trial. His third trial, his first in Lawrence County, apparently led to a hung jury as well. In his fourth trial, though, Frazier (sometimes spelled Frazure) would once again be sentenced to life in prison, with the sentence in his fourth trial handed down in March of 1917.
Frazier’s lawyer would eventually get two more trials, presided over in Lawrence County with jurors from Madison County in the sixth and final trial – jurors who insisted they had no previous knowledge of the case. After that trial, and associated life sentence, it seemed Frazier’s only recourse would be “to appeal to the Governor for freedom” through a pardon, according to the Herald.
After the Melvin Collins shootings, in 1918, there were those who tried to pin the Kinney murder on him, but the editor of the Herald considered those claims spurious and unworthy of further consideration.
Editor’s Note: This is the 30th in a series of articles drawn from historical newspaper clippings.