The Testimonies of John Robertson and Martin Branham: Killing Rock The Defense Part 4

John Robertson and Martin Branham will give their testimonies for the defense.

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John Robertson and Martin Branham will give their testimonies for the defense. So far, the defense has presented five of its fourteen witnesses. Thanks to newspaper articles and the often-told story, we were able to find a few tell-tale signs of editing in the transcript of their testimonies.

A picture of Charles A. Johnson, the author of "A History of Wise County, Virginia", collected all of the testimonies from the Doctor M.B. Taylor case.
A picture of Charles A. Johnson, the author of “A History of Wise County, Virginia”, collected all of the testimonies from the Doctor M.B. Taylor case.

But for the most part, these five have been pretty much straightforward. This… is about to change. The testimonies of the next nine witnesses and the rest of the transcript are a bit confusing and very convoluted… We believe that this is because the transcript from this point on has been heavily edited and/or redacted.

For example, the testimonies of the next two witnesses, John Roberson and Martin Branham, stand out in the transcript for the same oddities.

First, they are extremely short and tell us nothing of importance. In fact, the only thing they tell us is that Ira Mullins was a moonshiner. This fact had been established early in the trial with the testimony of magistrate John Vint Bentley. Other witnesses had also testified about Ira’s elicit moonshining. This included testimony about the incident in which Ira was thought killed. This incident was the one which had left Ira Mullins a paraplegic.

But more importantly, neither testimony tells us anything about the witness other than their names. In most cases, the witness had testified as to where they resided and, in some cases, how far their residence was from the crime scene. This is true for all but 8 out of 37 witnesses. This breaks down to 4 witnesses for the prosecution and 4 for the defendant.

The only available copies of the testimonies from the Doctor M.B. Taylor trial can be found in this book.
The only available copies of the testimonies from the Doctor M.B. Taylor trial can be found in this book.

This made sense with the prosecution witnesses when we look at who they were and what they had given testimony about. John Harrison Mullins had been Ira’s juvenile son. S. T. Smith had only testified about his visit with Dr. Taylor at the jailhouse. Mulburn Gilliam was the son of William Gilliam and had testified about the same incident as his father. And W. B Renfro had been the deputy sent to the Tazwell Va jail to retrieve Dr. Taylor and had given testimony about that incident.

But the four defense witnesses whose residence is not established make no sense. Mrs. Clifton Roberson and Mrs. Ellen Alley both give testimony in which the establishment of their residence seems vital to the relevance and importance of those testimonies. But the absence of residence in the testimonies of John Roberson and Martin Branham combines with their complete irrelevance. This makes us believe that a good portion of what they may have testified about has been redacted. We also believe that the same thing occurred in the testimonies of Mrs. Roberson and Mrs. Alley.

Addressing our Skeptics

We know and fully understand that skeptics, who have not spent as much time researching this case as we have, will immediately scoff at this claim. We imagine that the most pressing question the skeptics would ask would be along the line of; “What, pray tell, do you think may have been redacted from the testimonies for the defense?”

Ira Mullins
Ira Mullins

Our answer, of course, is; “The same thing that had been edited and/or redacted from the testimony of prosecution witnesses every time it had been brought up.”We are of course speaking about the events that had transpired just before “The Pound Gap Massacre” and in particular the incident which had occurred on Thursday, April 14th, 1892.

This incident is first mentioned in the transcript by Jemima Harris but is testified about by multiple witnesses. Each time it appears in the transcript it is simply referred to as “someone shot into Ira’s bed.” Several of these testimonies, even among the prosecution witnesses, establish an alibi for Doctor Taylor.

But we think the evidence for redaction actually appears in the transcript during the rebuttal phase of the trial. And we also believe that what was stated about the incident during the rebuttal, may have been heavily edited and/or redacted. This belief comes from Newspaper articles from April 19th telling us about the incident. As well as an interview of a deputy sheriff shortly after the Pound Gap Massacre. These newspaper articles tell us a different story from the simple one told in the transcript.

The Incident According to Testimonies

Wise County Court House
Wise County Court House

According to these articles, on April 14th at least a dozen men surrounded Ira’s cabin at the Pound. These men shot the cabin up with at least one bullet striking the bed on which Ira lay. The articles tell us that Ira Mullins narrowly escaped death because his family hid him in a wagon amongst his “merchandise.” This fact leads us to believe that Ira’s cabin may have had an escape tunnel connected to the barn.

But more importantly, these articles tell us that the April 14th shooting was over a land dispute in Virginia. This is interesting as a newspaper article, the often-told story, and Vanover family legend tell us that Ira had been in Kentucky the week ending Friday, May 13th, 1892, because of a court case over a land dispute with the Widow Vanover.

After the death of Henry Vanover, the widow Vanover faced over 100 lawsuits related to the land holdings of her husband. According to some versions of the often-told story, Dr. Marshall Benton Taylor gave testimony on behalf of the widow in many of these suits.

Returning now to the transcript of the trial, only one defense witness testifies about the April 14th shooting. This testimony firmly establishes Doctor Taylor’s whereabouts on Thursday, April 14th, and provides a solid alibi for that incident. An interesting point here is that multiple witnesses come forward to state that Ira Mullins was trying to have Doctor Taylor killed.

This probably arose from Taylor’s time as a revenue agent and Ira seeking revenge. But it could have arisen because Doctor Taylor was a witness against Mullins in the Vanover land dispute. And it could just as well be over Ira accusing Dr. Taylor of the April 14th incident… as we stated only one testimony is recorded for the defense about this incident. Yet prosecutor Robert Bruce calls multiple witnesses in his rebuttal and questions them about this incident. The question is why?

Establishing Ira Had Other Enemies

Doctor M.B. Taylor
Doctor M.B. Taylor

The defense had discredited Jane Mullins and her testimony while she was on the stand. They had also opened their case with two strong witnesses who had further cast doubts about their testimony of Jane. They had then presented a witness who testified that the posse sent by sheriff Holbrook to escort Taylor and the Flemings back to Wise, had told her that they (the posse) had intended to kill Doctor Taylor.

The defense had presented a total of three solid witnesses who had testified that Doctor Taylor and the Fleming brothers had never behaved as “men on the run” prior to the botched arrest attempt by this posse which had been led by R. D. McFall… This fact had also been testified about by multiple prosecution witnesses as well.

Now, with most of the remaining nine witnesses, we believe that the defense team was trying to establish that Ira Mullins had made multiple enemies in the state of Virginia and Kentucky. Both as a moonshiner and as a land squatter.

This is interesting in and of itself…

Because the only motif, that would make any kind of sense, in this case, had to do with the land. But because of the timing and the political situation in both Kentucky and Virginia. If this case had been about the land on any level, it would have been damaging to both the local governments and the companies responsible for the new monetary investments in both states. But that is a topic for another video.


The witness testified as follows:

“I am acquainted with the reputation of Ira Mullins in the community in which he lived, and he had the reputation of being a dealer in illicit and moonshine liquor.”


The witness testified that he was acquainted with Ira Mullins and his reputation in the community in which he lived and that he, the said Ira Mullins, had the reputation of being a moonshiner and dealer in illicit liquor and whiskey.

Thank You

We at Kentucky Tennessee Living would like to thank you for watching our series on The Killing Rock. Don’t forget to hit that like button as the more likes we receive the more likely YouTube is to suggest our videos to other viewers. Also, to receive notice when we upload a new video be sure to subscribe and click the bell notification. 

We thank you for continuing to support Kentucky Tennessee Living. As we bring to you the history of the Appalachian Mountains. We must remind everyone that the story names Killing Rock: The Oft Told Tale (s) and Killing Rock: The Untold Story and Killing Rock: the Trial and KillingRock: The Defense are all under Kentucky Tennessee Living copyright.

Source Information

A Narrative History of Wise County, Virginia By Charles A. Johnson Pub. 1938.

Copyright and Other Information

All photos are in the public domain unless otherwise noted. This includes photos dated before 1923. All other photos are used with permission or under the education fair use statute of the US copyright law.

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