Only 18 years old, Philip Murray was already an experienced ironworker employed at Shoenberger’s Mill in the Strip District. He and his brother and fellow millworker, Michael, lived in Mrs. McGuigen’s boarding house in Lawrenceville.
The Murray brothers had previously worked at Zug’s Mill, at Walnut (13th) and Etna Sts., also in the Strip District. While there, they had feuded with co-worker James White, who had previously boarded with Mrs. McGuigen.
The tension between the young men intensified in August 1874. Threats were exchanged by both sides, with both Murray and White having been heard to say they would kill the other.
After another round of threats was made, Murray went to Zug’s Mill on September 3, 1874. After pushing and shoving, Murray shot White several times. White died of his wounds eight days later.
At trial, Murray claimed self-defense, citing the history of hostility between the men and White’s threats to kill the brothers. With testimony from Mrs. McGuigen that Murray had sworn to kill White and testimony from multiple ironworkers indicating Murray was the aggressor, he was convicted of first-degree murder on April 17, 1875, after lengthy jury deliberations.
Murray’s motion for a new trial received unusually long consideration before being rejected. He was sentenced to death on June 12. He is the youngest person to be sentenced to death in Allegheny County.
Concluding that the state could not support a conviction above second-degree murder, Murray’s conviction was reversed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on November 15, 1875 (Murray v. Commonwealth, 79 Pa. 311, 1875). In support of its conclusion, the court cited the history of provocations involving the men and the absence of clear evidence that Murray acted with a well-formed intention to kill White.
On retrial, Murray was found guilty of manslaughter and recommended to mercy on June 12, 1876.
That result was much more in keeping with the reluctance of Allegheny County jurors to impose the full force of the law on young, white native-born men.
On June 24, Philip Murray was sentenced to ten years imprisonment in Western Penitentiary.
A serious explosion, resulting in numerous deaths, occurred at Zug’s four months later.