"One story you may have heard while looking into the Preston School of Industry's history, is the story of Sam Goins. Goins was an African-American inmate who was fatally shot by John Kelly or J.E. Kelley (also seen spelled as Kelly). Samuel Goins was born on June 24, 1899 in Iredell County, North Carolina. He had been transferred to Preston from Alameda, where he was originally serving time for burglary charges. At the time of his death he was only 19, about to turn 20.
According to the Amador Ledger dated April, 19, 1919 entitled “Guard Kills P.S.I. Escape,” states:
“Samuel Goins, colored, an inmate of the Preston School was fatally shot by guard J.E. Kelley last Saturday. Goins escaped from the school the day before and the guards found him at the Thornton Ranch. He threatened to kill anyone who attempted to take him. Kelly , failing to halt him by command, fired to hit him in the leg, but just as he pressed the trigger, Goins stooped to go under a wire fence and the bullet struck him in the back.
He lived several hours, and before dying, exonerated the guard, declaring he alone was to blame for the affair. Kelly was acquitted by the coroner’s inquest held Tuesday. The funeral was held in Ione, Wednesday. Goins was a native of North Carolina, aged 20 years. He went to the school from Alameda County for burglary.”
Samuel Goins was just two months shy of being released when he attempted his third escape. It was reported in the newspapers that ward J. Lopez, who was with Goins when he died, testified on J.E. Kelly’s behalf at the inquest. However, the inquest records state that his name was actually Joe Acosta. Acosta claimed that Goins, “tripped going over the fence and he got shot after he tripped over.” Eight months later, a ward by the name of James Lopez died from bronchial pneumonia. He is also buried in the cemetery at Preston. It does not appear that Joe Acosta and James Lopez are the same person.
Who Was J. E. Kelley?
According to census records and Amador County records there were only two men named John Kelly in Ione at the time, and one was named J.E. Kelley or Kelly and the other was J.K. Kelly (who was his son). I spoke with the grandson of a J.E. Kelly who claimed he had no knowledge of his grandfather being involved in any shooting of an inmate at Preston or that he ever worked there. I also spoke to the Amador County Librarian, Laura, who found the same information as I did about the two men named John Kelly in Amador County.
According to records, one J.E. Kelly was born in 1865 in Plymouth, CA. He was the Constable of Ione for a lengthy period of time according to the old newspaper archives. Another Kelly, J.K. Kelly was only 18 years old at the time of this incident and there is no record of him working for Preston. When this escape attempt occurred, John E. Kelly would have been about 54 years old. It is quite possible that he had been the Constable and also maintained a presence at Preston for certain incidents such as an escape. This would not be unusual. If you recall, in Chapter 4, when Superintendent O’Brien threatened a young boy from Ione, his guard Officer Phillips was also an Amador County Sheriff's Deputy.
So you see, in Amador County at that time, the local authorities and Preston’s officers were basically intertwined. Regardless of which Kelly it was, there were only two possibilities in Amador County at the time, so it had to be one or the other. According to Guard John Kelly’s statement, he claims he meant to shoot Goins in the leg and that Goins had waved a hammer towards the other guard Mr. Hunter approaching him prior to his running and ducking under the wire fence. John Kelly went on to say:
“I knew what he told me before, that the next time he ran away whoever tried to catch him would either kill him or he would kill the person that was after him. I seen him watching Mr. Hunter and holding the hammer and I knew he would strike him if he would get a chance. He was nearing a low fence, I should judge it was three feet probably. It was what they call ‘hog wire’ on the bottom, two barb wires on top. As he neared the fence, I thought he was going to leap over it because I seen him jump before. He was a good jumper. I raised my gun and was just in the act, when he either tripped or fell as he was about to make the jump, and as I pulled the trigger, that I calculated on him jumping over, he fell through the fence.
We went down to where he was. Mr. Hunter was the first one to him. He went to where he was lying and he said, “Goins, are you hurt?” He said “Yes, sir.” I went up to the house to get some water. Mr. Thornton came with me. I asked Mr. Thornton where was the nearest doctor? He first said Burson, but afterward he said Ione was as near. I wanted to get medical aid for the boy. He said “no.” We then laid Mr. Goins in the machine, proceeded to Ione, drove to the doctor’s office. The doctor was not in. We then went to the school and left him there at the school and the authorities up there sent for Mr. Gall at Jackson.”
After Goins’ death, the school made sure his funeral was taken care of and even mentioned it in the local papers. Most of the time when other wards died at Preston, their deaths were basically unmentioned.
Many people speculate that Goins was shot with little to no regard for his life, but I believe that was not the case here. Think about it. He had escaped from Preston and was on the run. He was a fugitive who had escaped in the past and who had already made threats that he would not be taken alive again. He had also threatened that anyone who stood in his way would be taken out as well. Kelly was aware of Goins’ past threats. Upon seeing Goins with a hammer that he had retrieved from a shack on the Thornton ranch, Kelly felt that he had to protect his partner, Mr. Hunter.
Testimony showed that Hunter’s opinion was that Goins wasn’t really that much of a threat to him at all. Hunter claimed that he was too far from Goins for him to have struck him with the hammer and that Goins was running in front of Hunter. From Kelly’s perception, Hunter and Goins seemed close in proximity. In the inquest records testimony, Kelly remained adamant that he didn’t mean to kill Goins. He claimed that he meant only to wound him in order to stop him.
Several witnesses claimed that they did see Goins trip and fall just as he reached the fence, meaning one of two things. He was either shot and fell on the fence, or Kelly was telling the truth about Goins fall. Perhaps, he did shoot at him while Goins was in the act of attempting to jump the fence but instead tripped and fell, causing the bullet to penetrate his lower back as opposed to the intended target of hitting him in the leg.
Testimony of Dr. A. M. Gall, who examined Goins’ body stated that the bullet “entered the back, mid-way between the lower rib on the left right side and the upper border of the pelvic bone. Passed through, slightly upward and the exit was about two and one-half inches from the sternum and below the last rib.”
Sam Goins later died from his wounds, after claiming that it was no fault of anyone involved, other than his own. He was later buried at the cemetery out behind the “Castle.” His story is one that will always cast doubts in many minds. Did Kelly purposely shoot Goins? Or was it just an accident? Did Kelly honestly feel that his partner was in direct danger? Or did he just want to catch Goins by whatever means necessary? We may never truly know."-- Chapter 8. from the book "Behind The Walls" by J'aime Rubio. (Copyright 2012 - ISBN: 13: 978-1481075046)