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#52Ancestors – In the Courthouse: Assault with intent to murder one Randall Farnell

When searching for information on one’s ancestors on Google, one usually hopes to find obituaries, marriage notices, birth notices, stories of how one’s ancestor helped found a town or church, not how someone tried to murder them. Of course, in genealogy, any information is good information, even negative information, so I was excited to see my great grandfather’s name, “Randall [sic – usually spelled “Randel”] Farnell.”

Randel Farnell
Randel Farnell, 1844-1928

According to the Southern Reporter,[1] in 1887, some of my great grandfather’s livestock died. He believed they were poisoned. My great grandfather, who lived in Live Oak, Suwannee County, Florida, sued a neighbor, Perry Davis, accusing him of being the one to poison the livestock. My great grandfather lost the case, Davis was acquitted. However, that was not the end of it.

Shortly after Davis was acquitted, a large number of my great grandfather’s geese tuned up dead. He assumed Davis was responsible. The dead geese were in a lane near both properties, attracting other neighbors who gathered around the geese. The report doesn’t say, but it could be assumed my great grandfather was loudly accusing Davis and those gathered were speculating also about Davis’ involvement. The speculation apparently angered Davis. He went and got his shotgun, came back and confronted my great grandfather. According to the report, Davis leveled the shotgun at my great grandfather at point blank range. He threatened to kill my great grandfather, telling him the shotgun was loaded. Ultimately, Davis did not shoot. My great grandfather accused Davis of attempted murder. The State prosecuted Davis in Circuit Court. He was convicted in a jury trial. However, his lawyer filed an appeal saying that the State had not proved its case and that Davis had been wrongfully convicted and should have been acquitted. The case went to the State Supreme Court.

Davis’ attorney claimed that 1) the verdict was contrary to the law; 2) the verdict was contrary to the charge of the court; 3) the verdict was contrary to the evidence and the weight of the evidence; and 4) the evidence was not sufficient to sustain the verdict.[2] According to Davis’ attorney, the most significant evidence against the conviction was that Davis had not killed my great grandfather. The attorney argued that Davis had the shotgun aimed directly at my great grandfather. He could easily have shot him if that was his intention. Thus, the fact that he had not shot him proved he had no intention of shooting him, even though Davis had said, and others testified that he told my great grandfather he intended to kill him. Furthermore, the attorney argued, there was no proof that the shotgun was loaded, even though Davis had said it was loaded. In the end, the Court agreed with Davis’ attorney:

Held, that this evidence does not show an assault with intent to murder.[3]

Davis v State-Southern Reporter
Davis v. State, Supreme Court of Florida, March 4, 1889

I would love to know what my great grandfather had to say about that.


[1] Davis v. State (Supreme Court of Florida, March 4, 1889). The Southern Reporter, 5:803-804. Retrieved from: The Southern Reporter

[2] Davis v. State (Supreme Court of Florida, March 4, 1889). The Southern Reporter, 5:803. Retrieved from: The Southern Reporter

[3] Davis v. State (Supreme Court of Florida, March 4, 1889). The Southern Reporter, 5:803. Retrieved from: The Southern Reporter



7 thoughts on “#52Ancestors – In the Courthouse: Assault with intent to murder one Randall Farnell

  1. Great story, well researched 👍👍. Personally I think your great grandfather should have shot him 😂😂

    1. I’m surprised he didn’t, based on what I’ve heard, or even my great grandmother. I’ve heard she was a tough cookie. I have so many questions!

  2. I’m really curious why your great-grandfather assumed Davis killed the livestock. He must have had a good reason to think so. This story makes me appreciate my neighbors. A bad neighbor can make your life miserable. Small offenses or misunderstandings get blown out of proportion. That incident with Rand Paul is a perfect example.

    1. I agree. I wish I knew more. I have so many questions. I understand why there may not have been enough evidence to convict Davis of poisoning the livestock. I’m really curious why the court overturned the assault charge. There was more than enough evidence for that and to support the conviction. I thought the arguments were specious at best.

      1. I thought it was a specious argument as well.

    2. It does make me wonder if there was a history of other incidents between the neighbors.

      1. I agree. It feels like they had a longer contentious history than these events.

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