FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A judge assassinated while serving on Kentucky's highest court more than a century ago has been memorialized with a portrait in the Capitol.
Judge John Elliott was gunned down in Frankfort in 1879 by "a deranged man" angry about a ruling he had written for the Court of Appeals, which at the time was Kentucky's highest court.
Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Bill Cunningham said history records that Elliott, a Floyd County native, was walking from the former Capitol to the Capitol Hotel in downtown Frankfort when Thomas Buford stepped up to him with a loaded shotgun and fired.
Cunningham said the painting of Elliott, the only Kentucky high court judge ever assassinated, was long overdue. It was hung this week just outside the Supreme Court chambers on the second floor of the Capitol.
"What's really poignant about it was that it directly related to an opinion he wrote," said Cunningham, who spearheaded the effort to commission the painting by Princeton artist James Asher.
Cunningham said Elliott, walking alongside fellow judge Thomas Hines, was shot just days after he wrote the opinion in Buford vs. Guthrie, which dealt with the estate of Buford's late sister who had lost her property in a complicated land deal.
Besides being an appeals court judge, Elliott had also served in both the U.S. Congress and the Congress of the Confederate States of America and as a circuit judge in Bath County. Cunningham said Elliott was, by all accounts, "a very good man."
"After the shooting, Buford immediately gave up his weapon and peacefully — even cordially — surrendered to the sheriff," Cunningham said in a narrative about the assassination. "In fact, he had taken his hat off of his head and placed it under the head of the dying judge on the ground. It soon became apparent to all that Thomas Buford had serious mental problems. He 'wasn't right.' Although quite educated and a solid citizen before, he had become so possessed by his sister's lawsuit that he had lost his reason."
The trial, held in Owen County nearly two years after the shooting, ended with a jury finding Buford not guilty by reason of insanity. A judge ordered him taken to a mental institution in Anchorage.
"Totally disconnected from reality, Buford airily protested that it was a waste of time and that he had 'rather be out hunting and fishing,'" Cunningham said. "Not long after he arrived, Buford escaped from the mental institution and fled to Indiana. That state refused to recognize our extradition efforts since he had not been convicted."
A monument on Elliott's grave in a Frankfort cemetery bears the inscription: "Assassinated for having done his duty as a judge."