'Mostly Not Guilty' Verdict Returned During Historic Dinner Theater Trial

  • News Photo 1946
    Trial participants pose for the camera in their period costumes.
  • News Photo 1948
    The four-hour trial featured a number of authentically attired prosecution and defense witnesses.
  • News Photo 1947
    Captain Leander McNelly, played by John Deaver, is flanked by his defense attorneys, Ben Selman, left, as Thomas M. Jack, and Professor Jerry Powell, right, as John Sayles.
  • News Photo 1945
    Dick Baker, as Brigadier General E.O.C. Ord, gives evidence to the court.
  • News Photo 1944
    Nicole Rodriguez, in the role of Maria Gonzales, gives testimony about the death of her husband during the border incident.
  • News Photo 1943
    Professor Jerry Powell, left, playing the role of defense attorney John Sayles, cross-examines Craven Green, in the role of U.S. Secretary of State Hamilton Fish. At right is Sheriff Larry Lynch, as U.S. Marshall Lemuel Dale Evans.
  • News Photo 1942
    Byron Johnson, director of the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame & Museum, welcomes the capacity crowd at the dinner theater trial of Captain Leander McNelly. Seated are, from left, Professor Bill Underwood, playing the role of U.S. Attorney General Edwards Pierrepont; Tim Fults, playing the role of U.S. Attorney Andrew Jackson Evans; and Professor Jeremy Counseller, as Temple Houston.
  • News Photo 1941
    His trusty revolver at the ready, U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade administers the oath to the jury in the role of the U.S. District Judge in Galveston in 1876, Amos Morrill.
May 10, 2004

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.

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