Bastrop County judges and lawyers stepped out of their courtroom element and onto the stage to raise scholarship money for local students.
In the play, A Trial That Never Was: The Shooting of Richard Armstrong Shirley, the litigators—joined by local actors—tried the 1882 case of a Bastrop man who shot and killed the much-older suitor of his blind sister in Elgin.
The crime was never prosecuted, so using the true facts of the incident—with a few name changes—the litigators and local thespians acted out a trial over a century later.
A highlight of Bastrop’s Yesterfest, which celebrates the history of the small town, the April 30 and May 1 showings raised money for scholarships the Bastrop County Bar Association hands out annually to a student at each of the county’s high schools.
“It’s difficult when you’re going to college to find funding, especially in this county,” Bastrop County Bar Association President Caroline A. McClimon said to attendees. “We’re fortunate to be able to support the students.”
With money raised this year, the bar association plans to give $1,000 to each student and then another $1,000 after their first year in college if they maintain a C-average or above, McClimon said.
This was the third year David F. Bragg, an attorney and past president of the Bastrop County Bar Association, penned the script for the play.
After poring over historical records, he writes the first three scenes of the production, then hands over a list of the facts of the case to the actors and lets the prosecution, defense, and witnesses come up with their own questions and answers—modeling the process after learning experiences he had while a student at Baylor Law School.
“To me, that’s part of what makes it entertaining,” Bragg said. “You never know what’s going to happen.”
This time around, the audience-turned-jury found the Bastrop man guilty of second-degree murder following the at-times humorous performance by actors and legal professionals, including Bastrop attorney Derek Van Gilder, District Attorney Bryan Goertz, and 423rd Judicial District Judge Chris Duggan.
“This truly has been a trial that never was,” Duggan said at the close of the play, “at least until tonight.”
Photos by Jillian Beck. Top: Left to right: Retired Texas Ranger and attorney Maurice Cook, as the bailiff; 423rd Judicial District Judge Chris Duggan, as Judge Hans Teichmueller; and Bryan McDaniel, an attorney and vice president of the Bastrop County Bar Association, as Jeff Meeks, act during a scene of the April 30 performance.
Middle: Bastrop County Bar Association President Caroline A. McClimon speaks about the student scholarships during intermission.
Bottom: Bastrop County District Attorney Bryan Goertz, as 1882 District Attorney J. M. Bethany, gives his opening statement during the play.