'Mostly Not Guilty' Verdict Returned During Historic Dinner Theater Trial
by Alan Hunt
Not unexpectedly, Confederate war hero and Texas Rangers Capt. Leander McNelly was found "mostly not guilty" by the jury at the May 8 historic dinner theater "trial" at the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum.
The trial, which lasted four hours, attracted a sold-out crowd of more than 300 people, who served as jury members during the imaginary hearing, United States of America, Plaintiff v. Leander H. McNelly, Defendant.
While chasing cattle thieves, McNelly and his Texas Rangers caused an international incident 129 years ago between the U.S. and Mexico when they crossed the Rio Grande without authorization from the Mexican government.
The jury was charged: "To find the Defendant guilty, you must believe beyond a reasonable doubt that the Defendant did, within the territory or jurisdiction of the United States, begin or set on foot, or provide or prepare the means for, any military expedition or enterprise, to be carried on from thence against the territory or dominions of any foreign prince or state, or of any colony, district, or people, with whom, the United States are at peace."
The program was sponsored by Baylor Law School, Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, Uncle Dan's Barbecue and Catering, and the City of Waco. Producer and director was Professor Jerry Powell, who serves as the Abner V. McCall Professor of Evidence Law at Baylor Law School.
Powell said that after the trial two "wide eyed and excited" young boys came up to him and John Deaver, who played the part of Captain Leander McNelly. The boys asked them to sign their copies of McNelly's biography.
"They were very much into the trial and the events and people we presented," said Powell. "Their names were Will McNelly and Kiefer McNelly, descendants of the man himself. Will told me he is going to name his first-born son 'Leander.' It made it worthwhile for me to help turn a kid on to his history."
Below is a glimpse of some of the action during the trial.