Rejecting the recommendation of a military board, the Army has decided that Samuel A. Mudd, the doctor who set John Wilkes Booth’s broken leg in the hours after Lincoln’s assassination, will continue to stand convicted as a co-conspirator in the President’s slaying.
The decision is only the latest in a long series of setbacks for Mudd’s descendants, who have been trying for 75 years to prove that he was an innocent man wrongly convicted by a military court amid hysteria that followed the assassination.
Twenty of those descendants appeared at a daylong hearing in Washington last January before a five-member panel of the Army Board for Correction of Military Records. The board later recommended that the conviction be reversed, partly on the basis of the evidence but largely because the panel questioned the military court’s jurisdiction over Mudd, a civilian.
But the service’s decision, issued Wednesday by William D. Clark, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army, said the records board itself had strayed beyond its jurisdiction.
“It is not the role of the A.B.C.M.R. to settle historical disputes,” Mr. Clark wrote.
“Neither is the A.B.C.M.R. an appellate court. The precise issue which the A.B.C.M.R. proposes to decide, the jurisdiction of the military commission over Dr. Mudd, was specifically addressed at the time in two separate habeas corpus proceedings.”
The Mudd descendants’ 91-year-old patriarch, Dr. Richard Mudd of Saginaw, 90 miles northwest of here, said in a telephone interview: “I am devastated and I am shocked, and so are the 505 descendants. I guess we’re going to appeal. I don’t know what else to do.”
But Candida Ewing Steel, the descendants’ lawyer and great-great granddaughter of Gen. Thomas Ewing Jr., who was the defense lawyer for Samuel Mudd, said she was uncertain where such an appeal could be filed.
Booth shot Lincoln at Ford’s Theater in Washington on April 14, 1865, and then leaped from the President’s box to the stage. He fell onto the stage, breaking his leg, after being snared in bunting that lined the box. Booth and an accomplice fled on horseback, stopping before dawn the next morning at Mudd’s Maryland farmhouse, where the doctor set Booth’s leg in a splint and put him to bed.
Arrested nine days later, Mudd said that far from having taken part in a conspiracy to kill the President, he did not even know of the assassination when Booth arrived and would not have recognized Booth as the assassin in any case.
Mudd escaped the gallows by one vote and was sentenced to life in prison.