The State of Washington vs. Samuel Smith
In the case of the State of Washington vs. Samuel Smith, charged with the murder of his wife, Hattie Smith, the prosecution has introduced witnesses who swore that:
The defendant, Samuel Smith, was violently jealous of his wife, and on numerous occasions had been heard to threaten to kill each one of several men whom he believed or imagined to have paid too great attention to the said Hattie Smith, described as a beautiful woman by all who knew her.
No direct evidence was adduced to show that he had included his wife in these threats, or coupled her name with those of the men named. This inference, however, was skilfully presented to the jury in the opening address of the prosecuting attorney. The latter further strengthened this idea by his questioning of the witnesses.
Statements were elicited from more than one that the belief of the community was, as one expressed it, "that Hattie Smith had better watch her step, or that husband of hers will kill her one of these days during one of his fits of rage."
Nor had it been shown that anyone actually had seen or heard Smith threaten or quarrel with his wife. But again the impression that he had done so was conveyed by the questions asked and the answers elicited by the prosecuting attorney, who displayed great cleverness and legal ability in his handling of the case. In more than one instance he succeeded in making very substantial mountains of solid threat out of what were, in themselves, molehills of evidence. So favorable was the impression he made, by his masterly performance of his duties, that before the case came to an end, he was mentioned as a possible candidate for the governorship in the campaign then pending.
While the evidence tending to show Smith's guilt was entirely circumstantial, it was damning in its weight and directness, in the particularity of all those incriminating details that hammer home a belief which often is fully as strong as that supported by the testimony of eye-witnesses.
To secure a conviction for murder the law requires, as a primal factor, the proof of the corpus delicti; that is, "the body of the offense" — the fact that a human being has been murdered. This essential fact being established and evidence submitted sufficient to secure an indictment, the next step is to connect, or attempt to connect, the defendant with the crime proven. Circumstantial evidence, to secure conviction, must exclude every other hypothesis except that of guilt. Time, place, motive and means are established, or sought to be established.
All of these requirements had been met by the prosecuting attorney.
The evidence adduced by the State had set up as facts the following answers to these statutory demands:
As motive, an unreasoning and unfounded jealousy and suspicion, leading to ungovernable rage beyond all restraint.
The opportunity and place for committing the crime without arousing an alarm, or even immediate suspicion, was provided by the fact that Samuel Smith and his wife lived in a house on the very fringe of the outskirts of the town of L — , some distance from the main route of travel, and with the house of the nearest neighbor fully a quarter of a mile away.
The time, as nearly as it could be determined by the prosecution, was "some time between the hour of 7:15 P. M. of November eleventh and the hour of 1:30 A. M. of November thirteenth," the first named being the hour when the deceased was known to have been seen alive the last time, and the latter the time when her dead body was discovered.
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Evidence in the Case
The method and the proof of probable circumstance may be summed up, from the evidence presented, as follows :
On the evening of November eleventh, at or about 7:15 P. M., Samuel Smith and his wife, Hattie, were seen walking along the railroad track, going toward that part of town in which they lived, by several citizens who saw and recognized them. They appeared to be in earnest conversation. While no one overheard any of the words that passed between them, Samuel Smith was seen making "very violent gestures," "waving his hands and arms like he was mad," and "making motions as if he was hitting something."
At the same time Hattie Smith seemed, according to each of several versions of her attitude and appearance, to be "depressed," "frightened," "nervous" and "acting like she was crying."
No one could be found who actually had seen either of the Smiths enter their house that evening, together or separately, but the windows of the Smith residence were observed to be lighted as late as 2 A. M. of the morning of the twelfth, by a neighbor who was up at that hour to attend to her baby, who was ill.
Owing to the comparatively isolated location of their house the Smiths still burned oil lamps. One of these, during the investigation, was found to be burned dry, possibly or probably on the night of the eleventh-twelfth. The item of the lighted window, therefore, had considerable or no significance, as one chose to regard it.
As far as could be ascertained no one had seen either Samuel or Hattie Smith at any time on the twelfth day of the month.
On the forenoon of the thirteenth, at half-past eleven, the chairman of the Foreign Missions Society of St. Luke's Church, a Mrs. Charles Garford, who knew Mrs. Smith by sight, but not personally, called at the Smith residence for the purpose of soliciting a contribution to the missionary fund. If explanation of her subsequent actions is necessary, it is to be found in the earned reputation possessed by Mrs. Garford for being a woman of determined purpose and persistence in the work of solicitation for the benefit of various and varied funds, religious and sociological, educational and reformatory, charitable and — it was said by the unregenerate — uncharitable. When Mrs. Garford issued forth for the purpose of collecting she collected or, to use her own words, "knew the reason why."
Mrs. Garford rang the bell of the Smith residence vigorously. She never used the apologetically light pressure of the unsure petitioner, but always the determined and maintained push that demands, rather than requests, immediate response and admission. Repeated and prolonged efforts to bring someone to the front door failed.
Thereupon Mrs. Garford, with that rigidity of body and precision of step that bespoke her augmented rather than lessened intent, not to accept subterfuge as adequate means of escape, proceeded around the house to the kitchen door, which she found to be partly open. Accepting this as evidence that Mrs. Smith was at home, and as confirmation of her suspicions that the silence was "on purpose," Mrs. Garford, after knocking once or twice on this rear door, entered the kitchen.
Here unwashed dishes on the sink drainboard aroused that measure of righteous indignation that is expressed only by the good housekeeper — who does not have to do her own work — and added both suspicion and determination. From the kitchen Mrs. Garford pursued her way into the dining-room in search of the mistress of the house and prospective contributor to the evangelization of the heathen of foreign lands. That she was an emissary and representative of Divine Providence Mrs. Garford would have been quick to acknowledge, but that she was personifying grim-mooded Fate would not have occurred to her.
Between the dining-room and living-room of the Smith house were large double doors, of the kind known as "folding," though they never are known to perform that movement, or, sometimes, any other, despite either force or persuasion. These doors were concealed, as is the custom in well-appointed houses in such towns as L — , with curtains, called "portieres," of heavy material and ornate design.
Being convinced, so beyond all doubt or question that any idea to the contrary never entered her mind, that both her mission and missions justified the invasion of another woman's home to any required limit, especially when that woman selfishly attempted to avoid the visitation — or so one would gather from Mrs. Garford's statements — she was about to draw aside these curtains and enter the front room when the toe of her shoe struck something that, her "psychic sensibilities" at once told her, she said, was a human body.
Mrs. Gartord had "almost stepped on" the body of Harriet Smith, fully clothed, lying on the floor of the living-room, with the head resting on the small brass running-rail of the folding-doors, which were open for a space of about nine inches, just wide enough to permit the head to lie between them.
The condition of the body, especially that of the head, was such that it required only the momentary glance which Mrs. Garford gave it to show that Mrs. Smith was dead, and had been killed by someone who had indulged in a veritable frenzy of murder.
Omitting the gruesome details described by the coroner's physician in his testimony, it was evident that the weapon used had been both sharp and heavy, possibly, it was at first assumed, an axe. With some such weapon the head had been cut and battered out of all human semblance, and the trunk and limbs hacked and bruised in a score of places. Either the woman put up a strong and prolonged resistance, or, as seemed far more likely, the murderer had not been content with killing his victim, but indulged his anger or hatred to the limit of disfiguration.
The physician's expressed opinion was that death had been practically instantaneous, from some one of the numerous head wounds, and that life had been extinct about thirty-six hours, with the possibility that the period between the murder and the finding of the body might have been longer or shorter by three or four hours either way.
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A Portrait of the Murdered Woman
It was only after the house and neighborhood had been searched repeatedly that the weapon which had been used was discovered. This difficulty and delay had been due, as in Poe's "Purloined Letter," to the object sought being concealed by its very obviousness. Credit must be given to the prosecuting attorney, who personally was assisting the sheriff and local police in their investigations, for finding the heavy artillery sabre. It hung in plain view above the mantelpiece of the living-room, immediately under a crayon portrait of Harriet Smith, even this work of "art" not being able to destroy her reputation for fascinating beauty.
The prosecuting attorney had been gazing fixedly at this portrait of the murdered woman, with an expression on his face that might have been inspired by a feeling of the stern retributive justice he was called upon to enforce, or, possibly only of sorrow that such awful tragedy should snuff out the life of so charming a woman. Whatever his personal emotion, it gave way to his official keenness of observation when his eye fell upon the ornament that had reverted to its original purpose, the destruction of human life. This reversion was not apparent, however, as there was nothing in its appearance, as it rested in its usual place upon the wall, to indicate that it had been disturbed since it first had been hung from the picture molding. Justice may be blind, but the prosecuting attorney, as her advocate, was not, even to the possession, it would seem, of a power of penetration not given to ordinary mortals.
When the sheriff attempted to pull the blade from its scabbard it stuck for a moment and then came free with a jerk. It was at once apparent that the resistance was due to the blood with which it was thickly covered. It was evident that no attempt to remove this had been made by the murderer. He had been either too callous or too hurried to do more than return the sabre to its scabbard and replace it upon the wall. A closer examination also disclosed the fact that the sword was not, as is usual, dull according to army regulations, but had been sharpened to a keen, cutting edge. It was the marked curve of this blade, peculiar to old-style artillery sabres, that had been responsible for the first assumption that the wounds had been made with an axe.
The prosecuting attorney also was responsible for the further discovery, in a closet on the second floor, of a pair of low canvas shoes and a pair of heavy cotton work gloves. The ownership of these articles was acknowledged by Samuel Smith, the accused, when confronted with them during the trial. All four of these pieces of wearing apparel had been so literally soaked with blood that comment was made, by one of the deputy sheriffs, that "he must have dabbled them in it."
During the trial it was stated by the prosecution, and not contradicted by the defense, that these had been worn by the murderer — the rubber-soled shoes to enable him to creep upon his victim silently, the gloves to prevent tell-tale finger marks. The failure to destroy these damning pieces of evidence was ascribed to carelessness and misplaced confidence upon the part of the prisoner in being able to prove an alibi.
Nothing further was deemed necessary by the officials to warrant the arrest of Samuel Smith on the charge of having murdered his wife. This arrest accordingly was made on the afternoon of the fourteenth of November, when the accused was found on the edge of town farthest from his home, but walking toward it.
When apprehended Smith had not been advised of the charge laid against him until after he had been lodged in jail. While offering no resistance, he had earnestly protested against his arrest. He proclaimed both innocence and ignorance of any crime or misdemeanor that would justify it, and demanded that the accusation against him be stated immediately. Through some official misunderstanding or oversight it was not, in fact, until that evening, after dark, that he was told the reason for his arrest. It was then that the prosecuting attorney, having discovered the omission, hastened to the jail to explain in person.
Stifling his natural horror of the deed and abhorrence of the perpetrator of it, the prosecuting attorney had displayed great consideration and humanity in choosing his words and in his manner of speaking when he told Samuel Smith that his crime had been discovered; the body and incriminating evidence found. Indeed, he had been quite severely criticized by a number of the townspeople for being so "mealy-mouthed" in "confronting that Molochian monster with his heinous homicide" — the quotations being from the account published in the weekly newspaper of L — .
The prisoner had added considerably to the resentment felt against him by his manner of receiving the news and his attitude and actions during the interview in jail with the prosecutor.
At first he did not seem to realize the portent of the prosecuting attorney's opening remarks, and, the latter said in describing the incident, pretended not to comprehend that his wife was actually dead. When disgusted with the man's pretensions of ignorance, the Attorney had bluntly stated the bald fact of the mutilated condition in which the body of Harriet Smith had been found, the prisoner had simulated overpowering shock. He staggered to the cell cot on which he fell, or sat, with his head in his hands. He remained in this attitude, silent, for over a minute, until the representative of the law impatiently ordered him to cease his mummery. Then he sprang to his feet with a single, sharp, inarticulate exclamation, and would have attacked the prosecuting attorney if it had not been for the fortunate presence of the deputy sheriff, who restrained him by force. Subsequent to this one outburst Smith had assumed and maintained that attitude of cool aloofness, apparently almost of indifference, in which he had obstinately persisted until the very end of the trial.
Later, in interviews with the police, newspaper-men and one or two privileged citizens, including the rector of St. Luke's, Smith talked freely of the affair and seemed, if anything, anxious to discuss every possible detail of the case. It was as if he was an interested onlooker, rather than the mortal most vitally concerned in the murder and the proceedings that were the outcome of that crime.
While Smith asserted his innocence and total ignorance of every thing or circumstance connected with the tragedy, except as it had been told to him, he displayed what was deemed to be a morbid, if not ghoulish, curiosity in even the most minute descriptions of every detail connected with it. He questioned and cross-questioned everyone with whom he was allowed to talk, asking them to tell him of the discovery of his wife's body, the wounds, the weapon, how it and the bloody shoes and gloves happened to be found, what was said and by whom, the exact position of the furniture in the living-room when Mrs. Garford, and later the officers, entered, the failure to observe footprints on the ground outside the house before all chance-of identifying them had been obliterated by the crowd of human flies attracted by the smell of blood, and the actions of everyone connected, however remotely, with the investigation and his own indictment.
Unlike most men in his predicament. Smith was not only willing, but eager, to talk of the crime in all its phases and consequences, not excepting his own danger of conviction and execution as the possible or probable last act of the tragedy. For this freedom of speech and openly displayed curiosity he was even more severely criticized than are those more "natural" prisoners who take refuge in sullen silence. "Hyena," "cold-blooded snake," "degenerate," "Bluebeard" (ignoring the lack of plurality of wives and crimes), and "bloodthirsty butcher" were some of the mildest of the epithets applied to the accused by the indignant residents of L — , if not of houses of glass.
The feeling of the community, which extended to the surrounding countryside, ran so high against this occupant of the county jail, which formed the basement of the courthouse, that more than once lynching was suggested and, on one occasion, nearly put into effect. On the occasion alluded to, it had only been by the fearless observance of his duty in upholding the majesty and fairness of the law, assumed, in the absence of the sheriff, by the prosecuting attorney, that the prisoner escaped summary and extra-legal execution by the mob. Suddenly appearing before the jail, this mob had demanded that the man be turned over to them, with threats of storming the jail if any resistance was made to their entry and seizure of this creature who had so outraged the quiet orderliness and morality of the town's existence.
As good fortune would have it, for the honor of the county and the impartial administration of justice, the prosecuting attorney happened to arrive at the jail in time to appeal to the respect for law and its orderly processes of those citizens assembled. And, when the mob refused to heed his exhortations to disperse, accompanied by his solemn promise that ''he would see that justice was done in full measure, to follow this appeal by a threat to shoot the first man who attempted to mount the courthouse steps.
It is probable that it was more the fear that he would carry out his threat rather than respect for the law or confidence in his promise of justice being enforced that finally prevailed upon the assemblage and induced them to relinquish their purpose. The prosecuting attorney was known to be a man who would face any danger for the accomplishment of a purpose he had in mind, or to fulfil any threat or promise he made.
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A Fish Story
Smith's story, which was received with the sneering incredulity its weakness and implausibility deserved, briefly stated, was as follows:
On the evening of November eleventh, when he had been seen walking along the railroad track with his wife, he was telling her of a fishing trip he once had taken up the North Fork. His gestures had been those of explanation of how he had hooked so large a trout that he had been forced to use a club to finally land it. His wife, he said, had been neither frightened nor crying, as her actions had been interpreted to indicate, but, on the contrary, she had been laughing at what she conceived to be the extravagance and exaggeration of his account.
He had told her the story at that time, because he had arranged to start that same evening, of the eleventh, for another fishing trip to the same part of the river. He did, in fact, according to his statement, leave his home less than an hour later — that is, about eight p.m. — in order that he might reach the desired location in time to start fishing by dawn of the twelfth, as he succeeded in doing.
He fished, he claimed, all that day and all day of the thirteenth. He started home the morning of the fourteenth, reaching L — about — two p.m., the time he was arrested.
He accounted for his empty hands when he returned by saying that he had stopped fishing when he did, having intended to stay at least another day, due to the fact that, while wading waist deep in the river, he had slipped on a smooth stone, fallen, and lost hold of his rod, which had been carried away by the stream. The creel of fish he already had caught, his hat, book of flies and other tackle also had been lost at the same time, owing to his unexpected immersion. He had nearly lost his life as well by reason of the swiftness of the stream and the depth of the pool into which he had stumbled.
Certain dark stains on his corduroy coat and trousers he explained by stating that they were not only months old, but had been made by the blood of fish and game. Under other circumstances this might have been easily credible, since Smith was known to be an ardent sportsman. But the prosecuting attorney reported that, having sent the garments to a chemist for examination of the stains, they were found to have been due to human blood.
To the essentials outlined in the foregoing resume there was added a large number of contributory details against Smith. None of these minor incidents was incriminating in itself, but, taken as a whole, they added considerable weight to the case for the State as assembled and presented by the prosecuting attorney. They included depositions, affidavits and testimony as to actions, words and looks used by Smith on different occasions, extending over a period of several years previous to the tragedy.
This history covered, in fact, almost the entire time that Smith and his wife had lived in L — , and even reverting to their residence in another State. These details, while without direct connection with the crime, were skilfully introduced by the prosecution to show that the accused was a man of violent temper, easily aroused; that he was of a suspicious as well as jealous disposition; that he was prone to imagine injuries and insults where none existed or was intended; and that he had small regard for life, animal or human.
It is true that the testimony offered as being proof of the qualities or faults in the character of the prisoner might, with equal reason and justice, be brought against any man of normal impulses and disposition, wrenched, as they were, out of the context of the years during which the alleged incidents occurred. It is more than probable that out of the life of anyone of us there could be taken disconnected circumstances, actions and speeches that, placed in series, and bound together by implication, would convict us of being potential if not actual criminals, or demonstrate that we should be placed in close confinement as hopelessly insane. In life, as in literature, context often supplies the basis or the belief of illusion created.
The only unusual feature of the trial that made its progress especially different from scores or hundreds of other trials for murder was the unique and astonishing refusal of the accused to accept legal counsel for the conduct of his defense upon so serious a charge. Despite the urgings of the Court and the insistence of the prosecuting attorney, the latter making his protests on the basis of his proclaimed desire that all the rights of the defendant should be fully conserved and safeguarded, Smith insisted upon and finally succeeded in establishing his right to conduct his own case without aid from anyone, and so did conduct it.
This characteristic expression of strong individuality, or, it may have been, belief in the righteousness of his cause as he himself saw it, was not only the cause of widespread adverse comment, but also was made the occasion, by the prosecution, for further hammering home of the idea of the prisoner's obstinacy and erraticism.
The prosecuting attorney, as a good lawyer, did not fail to make capital of the additional fact that the accused declined to cross-examine the State's witnesses, or call to the stand witnesses of his own. Nor of the further innovation of the defense also allowing the entire case for the State to be presented to the jury without so much as a single objection made, exception taken, or comment on any of the proceedings during the days that the trial consumed, until the last.
Not even during the selection of the jury did Smith avail himself of his legal constitutional rights of examination or challenge. He gave every evidence of entire indifference to the personnel of the body of men who had in their hands the decision as to his innocence or guilt, his freedom or his execution. With perfunctory nods or formal expressions of acceptance he permitted the prosecuting attorney to, practically, choose his own jury, displaying a lack of interest in their personalities or possible prejudices that could not have been greater had he been no more than a mere spectator in the courtroom.
When the prosecuting attorney closed the case for the State with a truly masterly summing up, it was felt by many who were in attendance at the trial that the jury would render a verdict of murder in the first degree without leaving their seats, or, at least, that they might as well do so, except for the formality of retiring for wholly unnecessary deliberation and casting of a ballot.
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A Fool For A Client
This, then, was the situation when Samuel Smith, his manner cool, his bearing confident, his voice low-pitched, but vibrant with feeling, his attitude that of deep respect for the Court and deference to the jury, rose to his feet, saying:
"May it please Your Honor, Foreman and gentlemen of the jury: It has been said that the man who pleads his own case has a fool for a client. I presume that the converse is equally true that the client has his equal in that respect for a counsellor. Possibly, long experience in courts has proven the correctness of that opinion. Right or wrong, wise or foolish, I have wilfully taken whatever risk is involved in the double disqualification for proper presentation of my claims before you.
"When the Court offered to appoint an attorney to defend me I declined for several reasons. I did not have enough money to employ a good lawyer. Emphatically, I did not want to risk my life with one of lesser ability. However earnest and industrious, any but the best might place me in additional jeopardy through his inexperience or incompetence. Nor was I willing to accept counsel paid by the State. With the inadequate fee allowed under such circumstances, even a good lawyer could not feel that deep and abiding interest which I conceive my defense both deserves and needs. Not seeking the burden in the face of the cumulative evidence that has been presented against me, and poorly paid, he would have been apt, however conscientious he might be, to go through with this trial in a perfunctory manner. That risk would be too great for me to assume. My circumstance is perilous enough as it is. I must avoid every possible weakness. I must compel every element of strength.
"I say this with all due respect to His Honor, the Court, and the legal profession which he enlightens and advances as a member, and for which I have the highest admiration and most profound regard.
"I have studied for the law myself, but, possibly fortunately for any clients I might have had, I failed to pass the necessary examination for admission to the Bar. Therefore, if I am guilty of technical errors in the conduct of my defense, or overstep the bounds of my rights or propriety, I trust that His Honor will bear with and correct me, in so far as his position on the bench permits. I hope also that you gentlemen will be lenient in your judgment of my mistakes due to ignorance. Other consideration, except that for truth and justice, I neither ask nor desire.
"No one can know this case better than I, because no one else has or can have the same vital interest in understanding its essentials or the significance of its details. I am not, as a lawyer would be, interested in winning it for the protection of my client, my own reputation and my earned fees. I literally am pleading for both my life and my liberty. And more. I am fighting for the vindication of my honor and standing amongst my fellowmen.
"I am accused, gentlemen of the jury, of a most horrible crime. A crime for which, were I guilty, mere hanging would be wholly inadequate punishment. Had I committed this abhorrent act, then the ancient rack and wheel, or tearing asunder by wild horses, would be more nearly fitting as expiation. But no expiation is possible in this world for such a deed. Nothing the law can inflict, nothing that I could suffer, would serve to lighten the darkness of such a crime by the depth of a shadow.
"I say this soberly and with full realization of what it means should you gentlemen believe me guilty and so render your verdict. I say to you seriously that, were I in your place, and believed me guilty of this crime, I would, the law permitting, wreak some such terrible vengeance upon so base and despicable a wretch as the man who had so stained his hands and soul.
"I am not guilty. I thank God I can look you in the face and say that. I am not guilty as charged, and expect to prove my innocence to you beyond the peradventure of a doubt.
"You have heard the testimony of the witnesses for the prosecution. I am not blaming them for what they have said. I consider them honest men and women, laboring under a most awful and mistaken conception of the truth. I think they testified according to their understanding and belief. But I know that misunderstanding to be contrary to the facts. I know that belief is based on their inability to know those facts. The facts have not been presented to them, either before or during this trial. The facts have not been laid before you, gentlemen of the jury. Even I do not know all of them, much as I know. Only one man does. I mean that he shall tell.
"I shall not, however, cross-examine these well-meaning but deluded witnesses who have done their best, and worst, to convict me. I am not sufficiently skilful in the ways and art of the clever advocate to do so successfully. I have no desire to impugn their motives or question their intent. There is a marked distinction, which I want to preserve, between discrediting the testimony and discrediting the witness. I shall allow their testimony to stand without other question than that with which I challenge the entirety of the indictment against me.
"You will have noticed also, since your attention has been called to it by the learned counsellor for the State, that I took no exceptions, in either the technical legal sense or the literal, to anything that was said by any of these witnesses, or by the prosecuting attorney. Statements have been made in the guise of evidence that I do not think are admissible according to legal procedure. But I do not care to argue that point, or take any advantage of it. The truth shall prevail. I have no intention or desire to appeal this case to a higher court, either State or Federal. If you find me guilty as charged, the only court to which I shall carry my appeal is that Higher One, before which we all must appear sooner or later to answer for our conduct here below.
"I have, in fact, no longer any incentive to live or cling to this existence. Merely to die would be a welcome release from the abyss of sorrow in which I am steeped. My wife made life a joy and a blessing. Without her to share it, the balance is of neither worth nor moment. But, for her sake rather than for my own, I am not content to go hence by a shameful route and branded as a criminal.
"Before that Higher Court I shall have no fear of a possible verdict of guilty, for there only the truth shall be known. I am not afraid of the truth. Nor am I afraid of that same truth in this Court, but only of its being undiscovered or misunderstood.
"I cannot know what impression has been made upon your minds by the testimony to which you have listened. Being men of common sense and actuated by emotions common to all of us, I cannot see how, at this time, you can be anything but most violently prejudiced against me. Everything, so far, has been conceived, planned and presented with the sole idea of creating such a prejudice in your minds.
"Understand me clearly — I am not criticizing or blaming the prosecuting attorney for anything he has done or said here in this courtroom. Both you and I must presume that he is an honorable man, and performing his sworn duty as he sees that duty. We have heard no word or evidence to the contrary. He, we should have every reason to suppose, honestly and impartially believes me guilty of the crime of murder as charged. If that were not so he could not, as an upright man and a trusted officer of the law, have brought that charge against me. If he did not so believe in my guilt to the exclusion of every other reasonable hypothesis' any reputable attorney, any decent man, would have refused to conduct this case on behalf, and in the name, of the people whose public servant he is.
"I have, as I said, been placed before you in the most unfavorable light possible. I have been made to appear as a being less than human and more brutish than the brutes. I have been painted in colors that would make a wolf blush and a hyena hide his head in shame, that would cause a snake to shun my society and a tiger to shudder at my ferocity.
"Yet I not only hope, I expect to change all this, to remove this prejudice now in your minds, to wash away this stain that reveals me in such loathsome guise. I intend to convince you of my innocence and show you that I have been most abominably and cruelly misjudged and misnamed — whether by accident or design remains to be seen. And I shall do this, not by an array of witnesses in rebuttal of those who already have appeared upon the stand, but by a single one upon whose testimony, reluctant though it will be, I shall rest my defense. Nor is this witness even a friend of mine. Rather he is my dearest enemy. His fondest wish would be my undoing. If to desire a man's death were enough I should be rotting in my grave long before this charge had been brought against me and you would never have been called to the solemn duty of judging me.
"Your honor, I respectfully pray that Randolph Raggan be sworn and placed upon the stand as a witness in this case."
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Prosecutor As Witness
When the witness called by the defense had been sworn and taken his seat on the stand, not without a murmur of surprise and questioning comment rippling over the crowd that packed the room, and after the usual preliminary questions, Smith proceeded to examine him as follows:
"You are too well known, Mr. Raggan, to make it necessary for me to put the usual questions regarding your identity, place of residence and occupation, except for the purposes of court record. The jury is tired, as we all are, and will appreciate, I hope, my desire to shorten the remaining part of their labors as much as possible. To that end I promise to be brief, to limit my questions to essential points only, and, if at all possible, to omit any summing up for the defense upon the completion of your examination. If you will be equally brief and to the point in replying to my questions I do not think that this case need take many more minutes.
"Did you, Mr. Raggan, know the deceased, Harriet Smith?"
"How well — to what degree did your acquaintance or friendship extend?"
"Very slight. A casual acquaintance only."
"You had spoken to her?"
"How many times?"
"Oh, once or twice, possibly three or four at the most."
"On what subject or subjects?"
"I cannot remember. Nothing more than the ordinary civilities of chance meetings."
"Where were these meetings?"
"On the street, in stores, where I might meet anyone."
"You never met, talked with her alone?"
"You are positive?"
"Did you ever call at the home of Harriet Smith to talk with her?"
"Or for any other purpose?"
"Have you ever been inside the Smith residence, except in your official capacity, at the time of the investigation of the murder of Harriet Smith?"
"When and where did you last see the deceased?"
"I saw her body at the undertak — "
"Never mind that. When did you last see her alive?"
"Alive? Let me see. I cannot say with any degree of certainty. I do not recall having seen her for several weeks, possibly a month or more, prior to her — death."
"You are sure that you did not talk with her at any time immediately preceding or on the date of November eleventh ?"
"I did not."
"Did you at any time carry on a correspondence with the deceased Harriet Smith, wife of Samuel Smith, the defendant in this case?"
"Did you ever receive letters from her?"
"Not a single letter?"
"Did you ever write letters to her?"
"Not even one?"
"Not even one."
"Your eyesight is good, Mr. Raggan?"
"Yes, reasonably so."
"You do not have to use glasses to read?"
"Nor to distinguish and identify ordinary objects at the normal distance for reasonably good eyesight ?"
"No. I enjoy normal vision."
"I show you these notes that I have been making. Can you, at this distance, distinguish the handwriting sufficiently to recognize it if you were familiar with its individual characteristics?"
"What are you driving at?"
"Never mind what I am 'driving at' — just now. Answer my question, please. Can you see this writing clearly?"
"I suppose so — yes."
"Good. I now show you a letter written in an even larger and more distinct hand. Can you see the writing?"
"I ref — ."
"Yes, I can see the writing."
"Do you recognize it?"
"How do you mean, 'recognize' it?"
"Is it the handwriting of anyone you know?"
"Possibly. I cannot be sure."
"Are your eyes troubling you at this moment, Mr. Raggan?"
"No. What of it? Of course, they are not."
"I am relieved to hear that your sight is not suddenly impaired; that they have not suffered any sudden shock. I thought — but, to save time and so not weary the jury unduly, I now step closer to you and hold this letter as near to you as I can without placing it within your reach. Now can you recognize the handwriting — sufficiently to tell the jury who, in your opinion, might have written this letter?"
"It looks familiar."
"How familiar? Whose handwriting, with which you are familiar, does it resemble?"
"It — it looks like my own."
"Ah, now we are progressing. Did you, Randolph Raggan, write this letter which I hold in my hand?"
"I don't know."
"You do not know whether you wrote a letter in a hand that 'looks like' your own? In a hand of markedly individual characteristics, such as yours?"
"I could not say that I did or did not write it — not without reading it. It might be a forgery."
"You are right, Mr. Raggan, it might be a forgery, but it is not, as I think you will acknowledge sooner or later. To prove a forgery, as to prove a murder, it generally is necessary to prove a motive for the crime. And I cannot conceive of anyone having any motive to forge the contents of this letter. So again I ask you: Did you write this letter?"
"It isn't signed with my name."
"Your eyesight, Mr. Raggan, is truly remarkable. I have not shown you the end of this letter, purposely did not do so, and yet you are able to say that it is not signed with your name. How do you know that it is not — supposing your assertion is correct?"
"I didn't sign it."
"Oh! So you recognize this letter, this particular and individual letter, with sufficient certainty to remember that you refrained from signing it?"
"Nothing of the sort! You are twisting my meaning!"
"If I am it is without intent, and I beg your pardon. But you have not replied to my question."
"Some of your questions are so involved that I cannot answer them. I don't know what you are driving at."
"That is the second time I have earned the same rebuke from you. Mr. Raggan. If you do not know what I am 'driving at' — though I think you do only too well for your own peace of mind — I will make it most clear very soon. Meanwhile I ask you again: Do you recognize this letter as having been written by you and recall the circumstance with sufficient clarity to remember that you did not sign it?"
"I don't remember anything at all about it."
"Then why did you declare, without having seen the ending, that it was without signature?"
"I guessed it wasn't."
"On what previous knowledge did you base that 'guess'?"
"I wouldn't be such a fool as to sign that kind of a letter."
"Another step ahead. You 'wouldn't be such a fool as to sign' such a letter as this, you say. How do you know what kind of a letter it is ?"
"I can see — I can read part of it from here."
"So? We are getting on. A little more and the end of our long jodrney should be in sight. Will you kindly repeat to the jury that portion of the letter that you can read?"
"Of course I refuse."
"You have not proved that I wrote that letter."
"That is for the jury to decide, not for you or me, Mr. Raggan. But, if you did not write it, why should you refuse to read it aloud — such portion or portions as you can decipher?"
"It — the jury would receive a wrong impression."
"Because you read it, or because you wrote it?"
"Because they would think I wrote it."
"Why should they think you wrote it, if you swear that you did not do so? You do swear that you did not write it, don't you?"
"'No' what? Which fact is it that you are denying ?"
"You deny having written the letter and deny also that denial? I am afraid, Mr. Raggan, that the jury will fail to understand just what you are intending to swear to. Come, for the sake of the jury and brevity, I will go back to first principles and reword my question. Did you, Randolph Raggan, write this letter that I intend to offer in evidence, and which I again show you?"
"I refuse to answer."
"On what grounds?"
"Then it is at least possible that you might have written this letter — otherwise you would have no hesitancy in denying its authorship?"
"Anything is possible."
"You are right, Mr. Raggan, though I had thought, previous to this case, that there were certain things beyond human possibilities — such a letter as this, for instance, such a sequel as followed the writing of this letter, for another. But I will proceed to my next question. Why do you refuse to repeat aloud in this courtroom the part of this letter which you are able to read ?"
"Because — because it would have a tendency to incriminate and degrade me."
"The letter — or the reading of it? But — never mind. I will not force the issue. I am more interested, and I am sure the gentlemen of the jury are likewise, to have you identify the hand-writing of this letter as being yours. Is it or is it not?"
"I said before that it looks like mine."
"Sufficiently like your handwriting that, if it should be a forgery, as you previously suggested, it would be a very clever one?"
"I see that you have your fountain pen in your pocket, Mr. Raggan. May I look at it? Thank you. … Your Honor, I offer this pen belonging to Randolph Raggan in evidence … .
"This pen is your personal property, Mr. Raggan?"
"I now ask you if this letter in question is or is not written in the same color of ink — a peculiar and unusual shade of green — as that contained in this pen?"
"I suppose so. Something like it."
" 'Something like it' is not sufficiently definite, Mr. Raggan. You do not happen to be color blind, do you?"
"No. I told you before there is nothing the matter with my eyes."
"Thank you. That is one thing I wanted to establish. — Then — here — I will make several marks on the margin of this letter, using the pen that is your property. Are these marks and the body of the letter written with the same color of ink?"
"It is a peculiar shade of ink, isn't it?"
"I don't know that it is. There must be plenty like it."
"Do you know of anyone who uses the same color of ink — habitually, as I will be able to show, if necessary, that you have?"
"Then, if the letter is written in a hand that is a facsimile of your own, and with ink that is the same as that which you use, and which no one else that you know uses habitually, and the pen was a heavy stub as this belonging to you, and you recognized the contents sufficiently to 'guess' that you 'would not be such a fool as to sign' a letter of this kind — if these are the facts which they appear to be, will you kindly tell the jury, basing your opinion on your, wealth of experience in similar cases, who could have written this letter if you did not?"
"I told you I don't know anything about it. You are conducting this examination, not I."
"Indeed! I had an impression exactly to the contrary, as to who was conducting this case, Mr. Raggan. But, if you persist in denying all knowledge of this letter or its author I now will offer it in evidence and, with the Court's permission, read it to the jury, allowing them to decide who wrote it. . . .
"This letter, gentlemen of the jury, reads, in part, as — . But before I read it I will ask the indulgence of the Court, to allow me to take the stand for a few moments, that I may state, under oath, how this letter came into my possession and some of the attendant circumstances. I am endeavoring to avoid the calling of other witnesses, though I am prepared to do so, to substantiate my testimony, if His Honor so directs. . . . I would request, Your Honor, that Randolph Raggan be instructed not to leave this courtroom, as I shall recall him to the stand when I have made my statement regarding this letter. . . .
"This letter was handed to me by Mrs. Charles Garford. She has made affidavit that she found it on the floor of the living-room of my home at the time she discovered the body of my wife, that it was partly hidden by the dress of the deceased, and that she, Mrs. Garford, thought the deceased had it in her hand when she was killed. Mrs. Garford asserts that she had allowed her curiosity to overcome her discretion to such an extent that she carried the letter home with her and read it, and then was too frightened, at first, to bring it to the attention of the authorities, as she should have done, as, from my standpoint, it is very fortunate that she did not do.
"Viewing her action from the strictly technical point of the law there can be, of course, no excuse for this suppression of vitally important evidence on the part of Mrs. Garford. But for the ultimate ends of justice she could not have done better. She should not have taken the letter in the first place. Having taken and read it she should have, as a matter of duty and right, turned it over to the Prosecuting Attorney. But again I repeat that her technical error in act and judgment was, possibly, the result of that Divine guidance upon which the just administration of the law so often must depend. 'God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform.'
"When I was arrested and indicted for the murder of my wife — the wife whom I loved and love more than I do my hopes for present or future salvation — Mrs. Garford was moved by her conscience, she told me, to go to the rector of her church and to him confess what she both had done and refrained from doing.
"Again I will state that, if necessary, I will have both Mrs. Garford and the Reverend Mr. Sweyd come upon this stand and repeat under oath, in their own words, the facts that I now am stating as these two persons told them to me.
"Moved by his advice, Mrs. Garford consented to visit me in the county jail in company with the rector. There Mrs. Garford told me her story and, rightly or wrongly, gave me this letter which I have retained in my possession ever since. Mrs. Garford recognized the handwriting, knew the author, as did the Reverend Mr. Sweyd, because they were intimately acquainted with both. The man who wrote this letter was — is — one of the vestrymen of St. Luke's church, and in that capacity had written many times to each of them, without failing, those times, to sign his letters.
"I now will read this letter, which, though without signature, as correctly stated by Mr. Raggan, is directed, on this envelope which contained it, to 'Mrs. Harriet Smith.' There is no other address given. Simply the name, 'Mrs. Harriet Smith.' The woman who was so brutally murdered. My wife.
"It is probable, though that can be only pure supposition, that it was delivered by hand, either that of the one who wrote it or a messenger of his. I have not been able to discover who carried it on its fateful mission. That it was written, sent and received is enough. Enough to prevent the guilty man from escaping the consequences of this and his subsequent acts. A grave lapse from his habitual caution, one of those errors which even the keenest minds make — to their undoing.
"I also will state under oath, Your Honor and gentlemen of the jury, that I have positive knowledge of the fact that this letter, while the last, was by no means the first, written to my wife by the same man. It was, in fact, only one of many that I saw with my own eyes in the possession of my wife.
"Great stress has been laid in this trial upon what has been called my 'ungovernable temper,' and my threats to do great bodily harm, to kill men who I conceived to be paying unwelcome attentions to my wife. In so far as that refers to one man, it is true. I did threaten to kill him if he continued his insulting persecution. That man was Randolph Raggan. Had I seen this last letter before I left town on the night of the eleventh of November, it is possible, even probable, that I now would be undergoing trial for his murder instead of for the murder of the woman he so vilely wronged in thought and act.
"It has been alleged that the fishing trip which I took was a subterfuge, a 'blind.' In one sense it was. I had brooded over the letters received by my wife from this man until my temper was getting beyond my control. I went away, ostensibly to fish, but really to wrestle with myself — to have a quiet place in which to 'take stock' of myself and the situation, to decide upon what I should do.
"Consider, gentlemen, the conflicting emotions that you would have felt had you been in my place. It is a serious matter to deliberately ponder the killing of a man. Sometimes, as in this instance, not because of the man, nor because of yourself or the penalty you may suffer, but because of the effect on innocent others. I will not inflict upon you the wearisome rounds of the conflict I fought with myself, the countless pros and cons of the silent argument there in the woods by the river. A soul in torment is not a sight for the eyes of others. Enough that I won the battle, that I started back home determined to find some other means short of killing to put an end to the persecutions of Randolph Raggan.
"I knew and know that my wife was a good woman, pure-minded almost to the point of innocence, more faithful to me and my interests than I could be myself. She bitterly resented the approaches of this man, his attempts to supplant me in her affections. But even I was not able to appreciate the full worth and strength of Harriet Smith's nobility and purity — qualities which, gentlemen, cost her her life, a price which I am sure she paid willingly rather the one with which she could have bought her safety.
"I might dwell upon this theme for hours, contrasting the whiteness of the woman with the blackness of the man — but I must hasten to my conclusion, trusting to your own sentiments for that understanding which any words of mine would fail to convey.
"I imagine, gentlemen of the jury, that, knowing I was to be out of town for several days — and I have reason for my belief that he did know it — this man went to my house with the hope and intention of accomplishing one of of two things — or both: The final accomplishment of his evil desires, and — or — the recovery of the letters which he had written to my wife and which he knew she had kept.
"In the latter purpose he succeeded partially, but not entirely. Not entirely because, by some intervention of providential justice, he overlooked, or was prevented by some means from securing, this one and the most important of all those letters. I say 'the most important.' I had read the others before I left home. They contained no threats. This one undoubtedly was delivered the evening of the eleventh, and that delivery closely followed by the writer in person. No one now alive, except the man himself, can know all the circumstances that preceded and took place during that clandestine call. But that he murdered my wife, arranged the 'evidence' that he planned would convict me of his own crime, and has done everything in his power since then to sacrifice my life on the same satanic altar upon which he slew her — of this I am as sure as if I had been his shadow.
"This, then, gentlemen of the jury, is the letter in which Randolph Raggan has written his own indictment in advance of his final crime:
"'Most Beautiful of Women' — it begins, and that is the only worthy statement in it — 'I have learned that S, is to be away on a fishing trip for several days. When such an opportunity is offered us, why throw it away needlessly for the sake of the idle conventions of a society to which you are superior and which I despise? You cannot doubt my overpowering love for you, my passionate devotion beside which that of S. is cold, pale and perfunctory. To such a woman as you, my Queen, a husband is a drag and a worse than useless incumbrance. You deserve a lover with the fire that I bring to the altar of your worship … .'
"There is much more in this same strain, gentlemen, but with your permission, and since you will have the opportunity of reading it for yourselves, it is with relief that I will skip to that portion of the letter where the passion is of a different, though no more lovely kind. The concluding paragraph reads:
"'I have reason to believe that you have not destroyed my previous letters to you, according to my request and instructions. When I call this evening I warn you that unless you return them to me, or allow me to destroy them then and there, I will take whatever measures are necessary. You might as well be a good girl and make up your mind not to cause me any trouble in getting either of the things I want and am coming after. I am in the habit of having my own way and this time I mean to do so at any cost. So be prepared. Tonight I am going to take the best thing in this world — or you are going to get the worst.'
"I now ask, Your Honor, that the previous witness, the only one except myself that I have called to testify in my defense, be recalled — "
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A Higher Court
The defendant's closing remarks, in the case of the State of Washington vs. Samuel Smith, never were heard, as at that moment the almost breathless quiet of the courtroom was shattered by the loud explosion of a revolver shot and Prosecuting Attorney Randolph Raggan took the stand before a higher court to answer for his crimes.
~ The End ~
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By Thrya Samter Winslow
(56 min read)
The Black Mask | Aug. 1922 | Vol. 5 No. 5
The story about the execution of Stuart Dennison shook Irma as she recalled her old life back in New York. Before she was Irma Martin. When she was Mrs. Stuart Dennison.
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