1966 - 1967
#53 - "A Question of Guilt"
Mrs. Morton finds Bright Star bending over the dead body of Clara McDermott, who has been stabbed to death. Her screams attract the attention of Chad and Erik, returning from a patrol. Chad takes down the fleeing Bright Star. With Erik's help he's arrested.
Despite urging from Captain Parmalee, Chad, Erik and his old friend Joe, Bright Star won't say more than that he didn't kill Mrs. McDermott, he loved her. They know that she had saved his life, nursed him back to health and that he loved her. But if he doesn't give them more information, they can't help him.
In the meantime, Mrs. Morton is stirring up a crowd, especially Jake Taggert who was Clara McDermott's rejected suitor. Frank Foster even urges Taggert to use a gun to dispose of Bright Star. When Cotton breaks up the crowd, he wins the admiration of Abby Heffernan, a widowed mule skinner whose looking for a fifth husband.
Although the jury selection process is a little odd and appears to be stacked against the defendant, it does include Joe, Cotton and Abby. The others include Murdock, a burly fellow who is automatically foreman because his name was chosen first, an undertaker who tries to beg off because the price of ice is so high in the summer and he has bodies waiting, Frank Foster's daughter who he claims is too high-strung for jury duty, and a woman who has an eye for the undertaker. The costs of paying actors who have lines means we will find out nothing about the other five jurors.
After Erik and Mrs. Morton testify, the only witness left is Bright Star who refuses because he knows no white person will believe him. He doesn't want to beg for his life. However, the Captain persuades him that if he does not, Clara will be remembered as a stupid woman who got what was coming to her for taking in a savage. Bright Star testifies that to him Clara was  a queen. He was out checking his rabbit traps when he was attacked by a mountain lion. He fights off the lion with his knife which accounts for the scratches on his face and the absence of his knife. When he goes to Clara for medical aid, he finds her dead. He runs when Mrs. Morton starts screaming.
When the judge starts to clear the court so the jury can deliberate, the foreman gets up and declares it's an open and shut case with no need to deliberate. Only Joe holds out for at least talking about the evidence. Juror Foster, a friend of Clara's, tells the jury that she had packed her trunk three weeks earlier and was planning to leave without Bright Star.
While Joe tries to convince the other jurors that the murder was not committed in the fashion that an Indian brave would kill a woman, Chad becomes the first lawman to actually investigate Bright Star's story and visit the scene of the crime. Out by the rabbit traps he finds a piece of lion fur and evidence of a large carcass being dragged away. At Clara's he finds that she had sliced bread for company prior to her murder and packed her trunk with china wrapped in that day's newspaper. Back in town, during dinner recess, Erik and the Captain hold off another mob wanting to cut short the trial with a hanging.
Based on Chad's discoveries, the Captain persuades the judge to reconvene the trial at the scene of the crime. It doesn't take long for juror Adeline Foster to to wither under the Captain's questions and confess that she killed Clara because she herself was in love with Bright Star. She was distraught that Clara was leaving Laredo with Bright Star. In fact, it was her father who beat Bright Star before Clara found him and nursed him. It was also Frank Foster who dragged away the lion carcass and tried to end any inquiry by getting Taggert to kill Bright Star.
Murderer or not, Chad gets the girl in the end, if only to escort her to jail. Cotton takes off in the last scene when he finds Abby is looking for the judge to conduct a marriage ceremony. He is long gone before she lets the others know that the intended couple is the undertaker and the female juror who found him appealing.
NiteOwl Review: We have to give the producers a little credit for presenting one story which recognizes that all the prejudice against Indians was not warranted. This story reminds us that Joe was a white orphan raised by Indians, a fact which never seemed to soften the harshness of the Rangers toward the Indians who were always convenient villains and comic relief. This was not a terrible story although everything was much too coincidental and convenient. And any modern day lawyer would be horrified by the ease with which a supposed close friend of the victim and a friend of the defendant could end up on a jury with the judge's blessing. And having juror Joe talk about the deliberations with the other Rangers is mistrial material. But having the killer on a jury was not an uncommon plot device.
Our Favorite Scene: We liked the fact that in the modern age of video playbacks we could now see where Chad traded in his regular horse with the white sock and the blaze for the stunt horse with no socks and a star. It looked like Peter, an excellent horseman, stayed on board for the chase until the actual jump onto the fleeing Indian. With Slow-Mo we could even see the stuntman take the tumble sans spurs while Peter jumps up from the fall with spurs intact.
Cast Notes: This was Claude Akins' fourth of five appearances as Cotton Buckmeister. To a man (and woman) our group really warms to this ubiquitous actor. Although he doesn't spark the more intense fan feelings we have for William Smith and Peter Brown, it's impossible not to like this guy. Akins was in one of our group's top ten classic westerns, Rio Bravo and made appearances in all our favorite western series from Maverick to Laramie to Bonanza to Rifleman to Rawhide and most everything in between. He was also in one of our top ten Twilight Zone episodes which is recognizable by it's title: "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street."
Joe's old friend Bright Star goes on trial for murder
Bright Star with Clara's body
Mrs. Morton screams
Erik and Chad respond
Bright Star is taken prisoner
Bright Star is proud
Chad and Erik are puzzled
Joe urges him to talk
Mrs. Morton inflames Taggert
Foster urges violence
Cotton intervenes
to Abby's admiration
An impatient judge
Murdock, the foreman
The undertaker and friend
Abby cottons to Cotton
Adeline Foster
Joe the lone holdout
Bright Star testifies
Joe demonstrates how the
murderer used the
A backstabbing wouldn't cause
scratches on the stabber

During a recess, the juror Rangers
discuss the case with the others

Chad has an idea
Chad finds mountain lion fur
and a recent newspaper
Gathering at the crime scene
The Captain raises questions
While Chad and Cotton watch
Murder victim's dress
Adeline's tearful confession
Her father unrepentant
Chad escorts the lady to jail
Abby talking wedding
Original air date Mar 10, 1967
Directed by Leo Penn
Written by Joseph Bonaduce

Regular Cast
Neville Brand as Reese Bennett
Peter Brown as Chad Cooper
William Smith as Joe Riley
Robert Wolders as Erik Hunter
Phil Carey as Capt. Parmalee

Guest Cast
alter Burke as Jake Taggert
aughn Taylor as Judge Lamprey
isa James as Adeline Foster
d Peck as Frank Foster
laude Woolman as Bright Star
atsy Kelly as Abbie Heffernan
arry Swoger as Cal Murdock
obert Donner as Patrick Clancy
live Dunbar as Mrs. Morton
arcelle Fortier as Annabelle
Official Peter Brown Fan Site