Weston State Hospital Investigation

Weston Democrat
August 12, 1899

The Asylum Investigation

The Board Meets to Investigate The Charges Preferred Against Superintendent Stathers.

The much mooted and widely rumored charges affecting the private character of Dr. W. E. Stathers, Superintendent of the Hospital for the Insane, and alleging improper relations with certain female employes of the institution came up for investigation before a special meeting of the Board of Directors on Wednesday. All the members of the Board are present except Messrs. Gibson (Dem.) of Jefferson county and Hardman (Rep.) of Tyler.

Although the matter of the investigation was announced to begin promptly at 1 o'clock Wednesday afternoon, it was not until late yesterday when the first witness was called by the prosecution.

There were many preliminary questions to be first settled before the case was begun. Among these were the insufficiency of the signing of the specifications. The Board insisting that persons preferring the charges should sign them as individuals and not as a committee, thus fixing a responsibility upon some one. After a long contention the matter was arranged to the satisfaction of the Board. Then there was the question of costs, the summoning of witnesses and other details attending the trial.

About 3 o'clock yesterday, after the Board had announced its readiness to begin the hearing of evening, Senator Geo. C. Cole was deputized to bring in their first witness, and in a short time he appeared with Mrs. Mary L. Sommerville, whose affidavit had been previously obtained, and which has recently appeared in several newspapers of the country. After an oath had been administered to her by the secretary, Mr. John F. Hayden, and assurances given her that she would be afforded protection by season [sic] of any evidence she might give, J. M. Foster, one of the attorneys for the prosecution, took her in charge.

Mrs. Sommerville, who is young and pretty, attracted no little attention when she assumed the witness stand. In answer to questions put to her, she told the story substantially as contained in her affidavit. About three years ago she was admitted to the Hospital as a patient from Grafton, but in a short while began to improve and was soon fully restored, although she is of a very nervous disposition. She was after her discharge given a position and is at this time in charge of the store room of the institution.

When she came to the subject of her connection with the charges she related in a modest way the circumstances attending the relations existing between Dr. Stathers and herself. The [She?] told the story of the Superintendent going to her room and the occasions when he endeavered [sic] to make her "his pet." The witness also explained in answer to her attorney, the counter statement given to Dr. Stathers denying her former affidavit, the incident relating to the publication of her photograph in the papers; the rumor of an attempt to take her own life and many other things pertaining to her employment at the Hospital. After a most rigid examination by the prosecution, the witness was turned over to the defense.

Mr. W. B. McGary, counsel for Dr. Stathers, had hardly propounded his first question when a legal battle begun resulting in an adjournment of the case for the day.

Mrs. Sommerville is one of the main witnesses for the prosecution and it was regarded as important that the Board should know her history in order to give proper credence to her evidence.

"You will please state to the Board," continued Mr. McGary, "where you were born, your age, former residence, your husband's name and the circumstances and place of your marriage."

No sooner had the question been put and the consequences fully realized than objection was promptly interposed. Mr. Foster contended, and in a speech that did him credit, that as it was not a question as to the private character and past history of the witness, but an investigation into the conduct of the Superintendent, and protested against reviewing the past or enquiring into private relations between man and wife, affirming that it was solely due to these unfortunate relations that had driven the witness to this institution. He made a strong plea to relive her of those embarrassing recitals and raised the question of the admissibility of such evidence.

Mr. McGary stated that if they were to be denied the right to question and show the character of the witnesses making the charges, they might as well abandon the case. His associate, Mr. W. W. Brannon, in arguing the point, presented the case in such light as to impress the Board with his thorough knowledge of the law of evidence, and that all authority would sustain him in the position which he had taken.

The Board took the matter under consideration and adjourned until this morning in order to allow the attorneys an opportunity to produce their authorities.

The investigation is only fairly begun. Much more evidence will be produced, as a number of other witnesses have been summoned in the case.

Health and Medicine

West Virginia Archives and History