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Murder of Mary Ashford continued ...

Abraham Thornton

There was consternation in court because Thornton had invoked an age old statute that allowed the prisoner to demand trial by combat. The protests from the prosecution attorney that the murderer of Mary should not be allowed to prove his innocence by murdering her brother were in vain.

William Ashford refused to accept the challenge from Thornton that the case be decided on trial by combat and expressed his intention of counter pleading, upon which the trial was adjourned.

William Ashford's solicitor, William Bedford, sought additional evidence to convict Thornton and acquired it from Omar Hall, a convicted felon awaiting deportation and imprisoned in the hulk 'Justice'. His story, told in letters, alleged that Thornton had confessed his crime to Hall whilst they shared a cell at Warwick.

It was a credible story but had to be set against the fact that a convicted felon could not give evidence, and also that Hall was seeking to secure a free pardon for himself on the basis of this evidence.

On 20th April 1818, Thornton was again charged with the murder of Mary Ashford. Again he pleaded 'Not Guilty' but this time Lord Chief Justice Ellenborough delivered the final judgement that the defendant be discharged.

Life for Thornton after the trial was by no means easy. His life was impossible in his home town and he decided to emigrate to America. His first attempt was thwarted when his fellow passengers discovered his identity and refused to sail with him. His second attempt to sail in September 1818 was successful.

As for Mary, she lies in Sutton Coldfield churchyard under a gravestone with the now illegible inscription... 'As a warning to female virtue and a humble monument to female chastity this stone marks the grave of Mary Ashford who on the twentieth year of her age having incautiously repaired to a scene of amusement without proper protection was brutally murdered on 27th May 1817'.

For more information contact:erdington.library@birmingham.gov.uk
The chronology of events leading to Mary's death.
The murder of Mary Ashford
Plan of the crime scene
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