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‘Nothing but the Truth’ examines two Idaho murder cases, 100 years apart

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April Neale
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“Diamondfield” Jack Davis, who earned his nickname for his propensity to stake claims and search for elusive gems, was an unlikable antihero described as a bully pinned in 1896 for a double murder of two Latter-day Saint sheepherders. (Courtesy of Idaho Public Television)

The broadcast premiere of the program is set for Oct. 14 on Idaho Public Television

Idaho Public Television’s “Nothing but the Truth” on Idaho Experience will examine two sensational Idaho murder cases set 100 years apart and what they reveal in the evolution of DNA science in exoneration — especially when a person’s life is on the line in a capital murder case.

And Hollywood couldn’t write this script any juicier.

Idaho in the 1800s was a hotbed of outlaws, botched trials with tainted juries, bloody skirmishes between sheep ranchers and cattle ranchers, unusual murders, and a nonstop parade of abusive men who broke the law, enforced it, and made fortunes as quickly as they lost them. “Nothing But The Truth” is a no-miss event, and the broadcast premiere is on Oct. 14. Public television passport members can start streaming on Oct. 7.

One character we meet, “Diamondfield” Jack Davis, earned his nickname for his propensity to stake claims and search for elusive gems. Diamondfield Jack was an unlikable antihero described as a bully pinned in 1896 for a double murder of two Latter-day Saint sheepherders.

However, thanks to competent lawyering, he cheated the hangman’s noose. Once freed, Diamondfield made a fortune, then lost it all, and was later unceremoniously killed by a taxi. He even dated madam, producer, and all-around female entrepreneur of her time, Diamond Tooth Lil for a spell until that relationship went south.

Other backgrounds reveal the range war between cattlemen and sheepherders in the late 1800s. For example, Diamondfield’s 1896 trial attracted Idaho’s two best-known lawyers, former Idaho Sen. William Borah (team sheepherders) and former Boise mayor and Idaho Gov. James Hawley (team cattlemen). Later on, in their legal careers, Hawley and Borah teamed up as prosecutors allied against Clarence Darrow in the celebrated trial of the century following the 1905 assassination of Idaho’s fourth governor, Frank Steunenberg, by one-time union member Harry Orchard, a paid informant for the Cripple Creek Mine Owners’ Association.

“To this day, Diamondfield Jack has menu items, parks, campgrounds, and running events named for him in southern Idaho and northern Nevada,” says producer Bill Manny in a press statement to Idaho Capital Sun. “And he’s remembered and celebrated thanks to the zealous defense mounted by Hawley, the pre-eminent criminal lawyer of his day.”

And like a layered character study in an Anthony Doerr novel, Manny and his team artfully connect several true stories and characters from different times and situations. The result is a fascinating historical yarn that connects all these people to today’s vastly improved — yet still imperfect — standards and practices and the power of finding the facts and pursuing the truth.

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state.