Though born into circumstances that would usually free him from such labors, George McMurray worked as a coal miner, apparently unreliably, at National Coal Company in the coal fields west of Pittsburgh. Already 30 years old, McMurray had yet to demonstrate the qualities that would grant him access to the family business.
After breaking his arm on the job, McMurray, the son of a wealthy Oakdale family, was fired. He appealed to his foreman, 29-year old, British-born James Rudge, to be allowed to return, only to be told his position had been filled.
McMurray responded by threatening Rudge. He then tried to borrow a gun to confront Rudge. Unable to do so, he bought a gun on February 17, 1900, and went directly to Rudge’s Noblestown home. After asking again for his job and being denied, he shot and killed Rudge. He then turned himself in to police.
The facts of the case were straightforward and uncontested. At trial, McMurray’s defense was that he was intoxicated. He was convicted of first-degree murder on May 10, 1900, and sentenced to death on June 1.
Drawing on the resources of his wealthy father and friends, McMurray vigorously pursued an appeal. His claim that his culpability was mitigated by passion and alcohol was rejected again (Commonwealth v. McMurray, 198 Pa. 51, 1901).
Unsuccessful in the courts, McMurray sought a pardon. In the midst of an upsurge of violent crime and a widespread belief in the inadequacy of punishment, McMurray’s efforts drew harsh criticism from District Attorney Haymaker.
Despite those protestations, after being respited six times, McMurray’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by Governor Stone on November 22, 1901.
Continuing his campaign to gain release, McMurray was recommended for a full pardon in December 1913 and released from prison on December 20, 1913, months after his father’s death. The Pardon Board was remarkably forthcoming in identifying the factors that influenced their favorable recommendation.
George W. McMurray, Jr., suffered a heart attack and died while traveling on business related to the family’s oil interests in Richmond, Virginia, on February 24, 1926. He was 55 years old.
Alice Eliza (Martin) Rudge, whose friends feared she would die as a result of the trauma of her husband’s murder, remarried and lived to age 84. She died in 1956.
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