Hugh Nibley had said about this trial record from Bishop Tuttle, ".
. . if this court record is authentic it is the most damning evidence in
existence against Joseph Smith." But before we assume that case is now
proven, let us examine what facts we know about this case.
Mr. Stowell continued to be interested in Joseph's work and was in attendance at the Smith home in Palmyra, the night that Joseph brought home the plates of the Book of Mormon. He dictated a letter in 1843 where he said, "he has never staggered at the foundation of the work, for he knew too much concerning it" Even though they had stopped digging for burried treasure in November, for some reason Joseph was charged and taken before a Judge in March of 1826. We don't know what event precipitated this action, but it might have been related to Josiah Stowell's interest in the Joseph's work and the Book of Mormon.
|Person Bringing charges.|
|Benton (1831)||The Public|
|Cowdery (1835)||very officious person|
|Fraser's (1873) & Tuttle (1882)||Peter G. Bridgman (nephew of Josiah Stowell)|
|Purple (1877)||the sons of Mr. Stowell|
|Judge Neely bill||The Public|
|Benton (1831)||as a disorderly person|
|Cowdery (1835)||complained of him as a disorderly person|
|Fraser's (1873) & Tuttle (1882)||a disorderly person and an imposter|
|Purple (1877)||as a vagrant, without visible means of livelihood|
|Number of Witnesses|
|Benton (1831)||not mentioned|
|Fraser's (1873):||(5) Joseph Smith Jr., Josiah Stowel, Arad Stowel, McMaster, Jonathan Thompson|
|Tuttle (1882)||(6) Joseph Smith Jr., Josiah Stowel, Horace Stowel, Arad Stowel, McMaster, Jonathan Thompson|
|Purple (1877)||(4) Joseph Smith Jr., Joseph Smith Sr., Deacon Isaiah Stowell, Mr. Thompson|
|Constable bill||12 witnesses|
|Witness testimonies (besides Joseph Smith)|
|Benton (1831)||not mentioned|
|Cowdery (1835)||no cause of action|
|Fraser's (1873) & Tuttle (1882)||Josiah Stowel (never deceived him, . . . most implicit faith in prisoner's skill), Arad Stowel (deception appeared so palpable. . .went off disgusted), McMaster (likewise came away disgusted), Thompson (believes in prisoner's skill)|
|Tuttle (1882) extra witness||Horace Stowel (marked out size of chest in the leaves on ground)|
|Purple (1877)||Joseph Smith Sr. (he and his son were mortified that this wonderful power which God had so miraculously given him should be used only in search of filthy lucre), Isaiah Stowell (He swore that the prisoner possessed all the power he claimed), Thompson (He could not assert that anything of value was ever obtained by them)|
|Benton (1831)||tried and condemned . . .designedly allowed to escape|
|Cowdery (1835)||being no cause of action he was honorably acquited|
|Fraser's (1873) & Tuttle (1882)||the Court finds the defendant guilty There is serious doubt that this could be the verdict.|
|Purple (1877)||as the testimony of Deacon Stowell could not be impeached, the prisoner was discharged|
There was some conflict among the accounts about the charges, but is there a common theme among the testimony of the witnesses? In a trial you would expect there to be witnesses for the prosecution and witnesses for the defense. But this does not appear to be a trial, mainly because the accounts show that Joseph testified first. If it was a trial, why did Joseph Smith testify first. Wesley P. Walters says, "When Joseph was arrested on the warrant issued by Albert Neely, he would have been brought before Neely for a preliminary examination to determine whether he should be released as innocent of the charges or, if the evidence seemed sufficient, brought to trial." (Wesley P. Walters, Joseph Smith's Bainbridge, N.Y. Court Trials, p. 139) The order of the witnesses in the trial records would seem to indicate these accounts are dealing with a preliminary examination and not a trial. The records of charges also supports the fact that this is a hearing.
Since this is a preliminary hearing and not a trial, there is no way that the proceedings would result in a verdict. It is only in the two accounts that come from the record obtained by Miss Emily Pearsall that it mentions a guilty verdict. And that seems out of place. After the last testimony with no comments from the judge or any other information these accounts simple end with the declarative statement, "And thereupon the Court finds the defendant guilty." or "And therefore the Court find the Defendant guilty". In light of the testimony and the other records, this would seem to be an addition provided by Tuttle or Marshall. At least it definitely is out of place in the record of a preliminary hearing.
The witnesses don't seem to be presenting two sides of a charge for deliberation. All of the witnesses testified that Joseph demonstrated the ability to observe things in his stone. Although Arad Stowel and McMaster were disgusted at Joseph's demonstations where he read from a book with his back turned or told about objects from a distance. They didn't tell us why they didn't believe; they only said that the deception was palpable. Maybe they were so convinced that he couldn't do what he claimed that they wouldn't accept any demonstration.
We know that under a New York law it was a crime "to tell fortunes, or where lost or stolen goods may be found" (see the legal definition of "Disorderly Persons," The Justice's Manual, Albany, New York, 1829, p. 144) But what if a person actually could tell where "lost or stolen goods may be found"? Would it be a crime to tell the truth?
I am reminded of a television show I saw once where a man killed someone because he said that individual was going to kill him. He had no proof since it was his own perception. He also had no motive. He only had his claim to his psyhic abilities. Well the jury convicted him. But before the jury announced the verdict the accused gave his lawyer a slip of paper with the voting record of the jury. He correctly recorded that it took three votes to arrive at a verdict and the count for each vote. Was he psyhic? Apparently so. But was that admissable as evidence? No.
If Joseph actually did possess the ability as the witnesses testified would he be judged guilty of glass looking? Yes. But wouldn't that also mean that he was innocent of deception and the reason the law was created?
Does this give us a clue as to why the results of this trial was not used against him in the 1830 trial or any anti-Mormon literature in the 1830s. Because to use this trial results would give support to the fact that Joseph did indeed possess extra talents. This can also explain why there is discrepancies among the verdicts. Because he was both guilty and innocent.
What else do the facts show.
"Then the white stone mentioned in Revelation 2:17, will become a Urim and Thummim to each individual who receives one, whereby things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms will be made known. And a white stone is given to each of those who come into the celestial kingdom, whereon is a new name written, which no man knoweth save he that receiveth it. The new name is the key word" (Doctrine and Covenants 130:10-11)
For example, at the low end, crimes such as trespass, disorderly person,
and shoplifting carry minimal penalties and rarely result in a jail sentence
Indeed, often such offenses are not prosecuted at all but rather siphoned away from the courtroom by referral to a pre-trial diversion program.