On October 10, 1898, at about 7 p.m., a fight breaks out in downtown Everett between James Wright Connella (1859-1939), editor of the Everett News, and Ole Nelson (1861-1898), a wood and coal dealer. Shouting leads to a scuffle, Nelson reportedly knocking Connella to the ground. Connella pulls his revolver, shoots Nelson in the groin, and the wound soon proves fatal. Nelson is taken upstairs to a room in the Commercial Hotel and then to Everett Hospital, where he dies at 12:30 a.m. on October 11. At issue is an editorial written by Connella, personally accusing Nelson of taking down a photo of Democratic U. S. Congressman J. Hamilton Lewis (1863-1939) when the Republican convention met in Everett in September 1898.
Connella was immediately arrested, taken to jail and held over for Superior Court without bail. The coroner’s inquest determined that Nelson died from a bullet fired with criminal intent.
Prior to publication of the Labor Journal, Connella’s Everett News acted as the union voice in the community, one account listing it as "the official paper of the Everett Trades Council" (An Illustrated History …). Nelson was well known and liked in Everett and considered a peaceful, law-abiding man who had a legitimate gripe against Connella. Since editor Connella had two previous libel suits against him, many sided with Nelson, and public sentinent was strong enough against Connella that the case was transferred to Kitsap County.
Surprising many, a jury in Sidney (later Port Orchard) acquitted Connella, deciding that he had acted in self-defense. The jury's decision was based on Judge Frank T. Reid’s determination that Connella was small and "crippled" and likely feared for his life, being no match for the angry, 250-pound Nelson ("Connella a Free Man").
Public outrage followed the acquittal. On January 2, 1899, 500 citizens, including Everett Mayor Jacob Falconer (1869-1928), met to oppose Reid’s determination and to call for his resignation, saying that the judge’s charge to the jury had "misstated the law and grossly abused his judicial discretion ... The citizens of Everett are emphatically opposed to the return of James W. Connella to this city to live therein or for any purpose whatever" ("Washington Judge ..."). Selling the Everett News to publisher James Logie, Connella decided to move on. The Everett News eventually merged with the Snohomish Eye.
A Pioneer Newspaperman
Connella’s years in Everett were a small part of his journalistic career. Born in Alabama, he received a liberal arts degree from Howard College in Marion, Alabama, and upon graduation headed west, writing for and starting several newspapers. Most of his years were spent in Nevada. Census listings track him in Seattle and Tacoma prior to his moving to Everett in 1890, when he began the Everett News, locating it at Swalwell’s Landing near the Snohomish River. His colorful news writing left a striking account of the early years of Everett’s boomtown development. In addition to his newspaper writing, Connella edited several mining publications. In the late 1930s he was severely injured in an automobile accident, which left him partially paralyzed. He died on September 14, 1939, without family.