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Mormon founder Joseph Smith back in court, 169 years after his murder

Published June 27, 2013 12:33 pm

Illinois to re-enact controversial extradition hearings with focus on habeas corpus
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Mormon founder Joseph Smith spent a lot of time in courtrooms, fighting allegations of wrongdoing and wrangling for his legal rights.

Finally, Smith was murdered June 27, 1844 — 169 years ago today — by an armed mob in Carthage, Ill., while awaiting yet another trial.

Now, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, a division of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and Illinois Supreme Court Preservation Commission, are taking up one of his cases in a re-enactment. And LDS apostle Dallin H. Oaks, former Utah Supreme Court justice, will weigh in.

While living in Illinois, Smith was accused of treason and an assassination attempt against a former Missouri governor. Missouri sought to extradite Smith to face these charges, while Smith sought a "writ of habeas corpus" to free himself.

After Smith died and the Mormons fled to the West, Illinois Gov. Thomas Ford wrote that "it was good for the Mormons to have been driven out of the state and said that their beliefs and actions were too different to have survived in Illinois," according to a news release.

The library and historic commission will sponsor a series of events this fall to "explore whether the role of the court is to be the safeguard for community values and whether someone from a polarizing political community can obtain a fair trial."

On Sept. 24, the museum will be the site for a re-enactment of the three Smith habeas corpus hearings.

The re-enactment will be followed by a panel discussion on the use of habeas corpus during the past two centuries, from Smith to Abraham Lincoln — who suspended the right of habeas corpus during the Civil War — to Guantanamo Bay.

On Sept. 23, experts will lead tours of historic sites in Nauvoo, the Mormon city in western Illinois near Quincy. That evening, Oaks, former dean of the University of Chicago Law School who wrote a book about the aftermath of Smith's murder titled "Carthage Conspiracy: The Trial of the Accused Assassins of Joseph Smith," will speak at the LDS Visitor Center in Nauvoo.

An encore presentation of the re-enactment and discussion is scheduled for Oct. 14 at the University of Chicago's Logan Auditorium.

For more information, visit http://www.josephsmithcaptured.com.

Peggy Fletcher Stack