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William Branson

William Branson, 23, and Anna Booth, 32, were convicted of the murder of her husband, William Booth, on October 8, 1915, in Hamhill County, Oregon.  The prosecution alleged that the two were lovers and murdered Booth when their affair was discovered. The charge was based on various sightings of the two talking together outside the Booth home, although Anna stood on the porch, while Branson remained on the sidewalk below.
 
Witnesses claimed that they saw Branson and Anna Booth walking separately in the direction of the murder location just before the event occurred. Booth was shot with a .38 caliber gun and, coincidentally, Branson had borrowed a .38 caliber gun from his uncle for a fishing trip several months earlier. Branson testified that he had been a victim of a home invasion and the gun, as well as jewelry, had been stolen.
 
Other witnesses testified that the killer wore a black or dark blue jersey with a black hat, while evidence indicated that Branson had worn a red sweater and no hat on the day of the murder. Evidence also showed that shoeprints found in the soil near the victim’s body indicated that the killer wore hob-nailed shoes, while Branson wore shoes that were smooth on the bottom.
 
The first trial of Branson and Booth, during which they were tried jointly, ended in a hung jury; when retried in 1916, they were convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. The convictions were reversed on appeal due to improper jury instructions and, in 1917, Branson was tried again, convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. Booth, seeking leniency so that she could eventually return to her children, pled guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 1 to 15 years.
 
In May of that year, William Riggin, a mental patient, signed a confession to the murder while he was in prison for larceny, saying he acted alone in the murder of William Booth. He also directed officials to the crime scene and described the incident in detail. The confession is said to have been later recanted.
 
In January 1920, Anna Booth was paroled and, later that year, remarried. The Yamhill County District Attorney opposed a new trial for Branson, and after a campaign by Branson’s supporters, Oregon Governor Ben Olcott signed an unconditional pardon on September 11, 1920, and Branson returned home to assist his aged parents.
 
- Andrew A. Connor and Dolores Kennedy
State:OR
County:Yamhill
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Reported Crime Date:1915
Convicted:1916
Exonerated:1920
Sentence:Life
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:23
Contributing Factors: