Double-crossing the D.A. was dangerous


For The Madera Tribune Thomas Benton Parent, shown here, went to prison for double-crossing the Madera County D.A.

On the night of May 4, 1901, Thomas Benton Parent made the second biggest mistake of his life. On that evening, he decided to join a band of hooded vigilantes in the hill country of Madera County, near O’Neals. They were going to give their neighbor, William Sellers a whipping. They thought he had turned them in for taking lumber from nearby government land.

With torches lit, they burst into Sellers’ cabin and found him in bed with his two teen-aged sons. They yanked the trio to the floor and dragged them outside. After tying them to a tree, they gave them a whipping and told them to take off, which they did.

The next day Sellers reported the men to Sheriff W.B. Thurman, and they were arrested, all ten of them, including Parent. They were arraigned and trial was set for Sept. 21, 1901.

In the meantime, charges against six of the men were dropped because of a lack of evidence — Sellers couldn’t positively identify them with their masks on. The four remaining men, however, he was sure of: John McMann, Theophile Lopez, Clinton Harland, and Thomas Benton Parent. With the date for the trial set, Parent made the biggest mistake of his life. He cut a deal with the law. He told District Attorney Fowler that he would confess to the crime and would identify all of other men who had originally been accused of whipping Sellers and his sons. Fowler took him up on it and dropped the charges against Parent. Then when Fowler put the turncoat on the witness stand, Parent dropped a bombshell.

Everyone in the courtroom thought that Parent would implicate all of the other defendants, given the fact that he had cut a deal, and the charges had been dropped. Parent, on the other hand was under the impression that because the charges had been dropped, he was home free. When he took the stand, he refused, with an arrogant attitude of defiance, to implicate any of the accused. His whole bearing was obnoxious in the extreme, but that wasn’t the worst of it.

Parent acted as though, since the charges against him had been dropped, that action protected him from any legal jeopardy. After he claimed he knew nothing of the activities of the other defendants, Parent proceeded to boast of his role in the whippings. He called Sellers vile names and said he had been intending to thump him for years.

When Parent was dismissed from the witness stand, the District Attorney had him arrested and charged with perjury. Fowler produced the document, signed by Parent, that he had taken part in the whippings and confirmed that the others had committed the crimes as well, identifying them by name. Unbeknownst to Parent, the fat was in the fire. When it was all said and done, the three remaining defendants were found guilty of simple assault and received only a slap on the wrist. Parent, however, got a big surprise. Fowler was about to get his revenge.

In January 1902, Parent was found guilty of perjury and sentenced to two years in San Quentin. So unsettled was the perjurer at the thought of going to San Quentin just for lying, that he lost his mind. They took him to prison but he didn’t stay there long. His attorney filed an appeal, and while he was waiting, they brought him back to the Madera County jail.

On the night of Aug. 30, 1902, Parent went berserk. He rushed at the wall with his head down and began smashing it against his cell. It took the jailer and several prisoners to keep him from killing himself. They put him in a straight jacket and waited on Dr. Reid to come examine him.

The next morning, Parent was taken to the State Asylum in Stockton. He remained there a few weeks and was then returned to the Madera Jail to await the outcome of his appeal. Apparently the local folks didn’t want to take any chances with Parent, so they let him out of jail on bond.

On July 25, 1903, the word came. His appeal was denied, and back to prison Parent went to serve out the remainder of his sentence.

We don’t know how things went with Parent in San Quentin. After he served his time, he returned to the hill country of Madera County, but he must have behaved himself. Nothing was heard from him after he learned the lesson the hard way that double crossing the law in Madera County was not a good idea.

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