HomeJuly 2023Orange County's Jewish History- Change of Venue

Orange County’s Jewish History- Change of Venue


Article about the Torres Trial, LA Times, Aug. 17, 1892; Francisco Torres

Louis Aaron Mendelson, the oldest child of Max and Clara, was born in Mississippi in 1866. His family moved to San Juan Capistrano when he was a small child, and he grew up helping with his younger siblings and doing whatever was needed at the family-run Mendelson Mission Inn. After high school he attended University of California, Berkeley, and graduated with a law degree, becoming president of the Junior Bar Association and notary of Santa Ana.
    But his biggest claim to fame was undoubtedly the notorious Francisco Torres case, where he did his best, against all odds, to provide a fair defense for Torres. Torres was a local Mexican farm worker who had admitted killing his boss, William McKelvey, in self-defense over a financial dispute. The defendant was described by the media as a “savage brute” and a “short, villainous-looking Mexican,” so Mendelson, reading the room, asked for a change of venue, arguing that his client’s life was in danger and that Torres couldn’t possibly have a fair trial in Orange County. Sadly, at 1 a.m. on the morning of Aug. 20, 1892, this proved to be true when a mob of masked men rushed past the night guard on duty, broke down the doors, and dragged Torres from his cell. His body was discovered a few hours later hanging from a telephone pole, the only person ever to have been lynched in Orange County. In a cruel nod to Mendelson, the murderers pinned a placard on Torres’ chest reading “Change of Venue.” No one was ever held accountable for the lynching, and Mendelson, again reading the room, moved his practice to Los Angeles.  


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