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ment of the courts, but one week, in a year, is allotted for the whole court to sit in this county. In the trial of all capital offences a majority of the court, at least, are required to be present. In the trial of the present case alone, three weeks have already been taken up. Without such special session, then, three years would not have been sufficient for the purpose.
It is answer sufficient to all complaints on this subject, to say, that the law was drawn by the late chief justice himself, to enable the court to accomplish its duties; and to afford the persons accused an opportunity for trial without delay.
Again, it is said, that it was not thought of making Francis Knapp, the prisoner at the bar, a PRINCIPAL till after the death of Richard Crowninshield, jun.; that the present indictment is an afterthoughtthat “testimony was got up” for the occasion. It is not so. There is no authority for this suggestion. The case of the Knapps had not then been before the grand jury. The officers of the government did not know what the testimony would be against them. They could not therefore have determined what course they should pursue. They intended to arraign all as principals, who should appear to have been principals; and all as accessories, who should appear to have been accessories. All this could be known only when the evidence should be produced.
But the learned counsel for the defendant take a somewhat loftier flight still. They are more concerned, they assure us, for the law itself, than even for their client. Your decision, in this case, they say, will stand as a precedent. Gentlemen, we hope it will. We hope it will be a precedent, both of candor and intelligence, of fairness and of firmness; a precedent of good sense and honest purpose, pursuing their investigation discreetly, rejecting loose generalities, exploring all the circumstances, weighing each, in search of truth, and embracing and declaring the truth, when found.
It is said, that "aws are made, not for the punishment of the guilty, but for the protection of the innocent.” This is not quite accurate perhaps, but if so, we hope they will be so administered as to give that protection. But who are the innocent, whom the law would protect? Gentlemen, Joseph White was innocent. They are innocent who having lived in the fear of God, through the day, wish to sleep in his peace through the night, in their own beds. The law is established, that those who live quietly, may sleep quietly; that they who do no harm, may feel none. The gentleman can think of none that are innocent, except the prisoner at the bar, not yet convicted, Is a proved conspirator to murder, innocent? Are the Crowninshields and the Knapps, innocent? What is innocence? How deep stained with blood, -how reckless in crime,-how deep in depravity, may it be, and yet remain innocence? The law is made, if we would speak with entire accuracy, to protect the innocent, by punishing the guilty. But there are those innocent, out of court as well as in;-innocent citizens not suspected of crime, as well as innocent prisoners at the bar.
The criminal law is not founded in a principle of vengeance. It does not punish, that it may inflict suffering. "The humanity of the law feels and regrets, every pain it causes, every hour of restraint it imposes, and more deeply still, every life it forfeits. But it uses evil, as the means of preventing greater evil. It seeks to deter from crime, by the example of punishment. This is its true, and only true main object. It restrains the liberty of the few offenders, that the many who do not offend, may enjoy their own liberty. It forfeits the life of the murderer, that other murders may not be committed. The law might open the jails, and at once set free all persons accused of offences, and it ought to do so, if it could be made certain that no other offences would hereafter be committed. Because, it punishes, not to satisfy any desire to inflict pain, but simply to prevent the repetition of crimes. When the guilty, therefore, are not punished, the law has, so far, failed of its purpose; the safety of the innocent is, so far, endangered. Every unpunished murder takes away something from the security of every man's life. And whenever a jury, through whimsical and illfounded scruples, suffer the guilty to escape, they make themselves answerable for the augmented danger of the innocent.
We wish nothing to be strained against this defendant. Why then all this alarm? Why all this complaint against the manner in which the crime is discovered? The prisoner's counsel catch at supposed flaws of evidence, or bad character of witnesses, without meeting the case. Do they mean to deny the conspiracy? Do, they mean to deny that the two Crowninshields and the two Knapps were conspirators? Why do they rail against Palmer, while they do not disprove, and hardly dispute the truth of any one fact sworn to by him? Instead of this, it is made matter of sentimentality, that Palmer has been prevailed upon to betray his bosom companions, and to violate the sanctity of friendship: again, I ask, why do they not meet the case? If the fact is out, why not meet it? mean to deny that Capt. White is dead? One should have almost supposed even that, from some remarks that have been made. Do they mean to deny the conspiracy? Or, admitting a conspiracy, do they mean to deny only, that Frank Knapp, the prisoner at the bar, was abetting in the murder, being present, and so deny that he was a principal? If a conspiracy is proved, it bears closely upon every subsequent subject of inquiry. Why don't they come to the fact? Here the defence is wholly indistinct. The counsel neither take the ground, nor abandon it. They neither fly, nor light. They hover. But they must come to a closer mode of contest. They must meet the facts, and either deny or admit them. Had the prisoner at the bar, then, a knowledge of this conspiracy or not? This is the question. Instead of laying out their strength in complaining of the manner in which the deed is discovered,—of the extraordinary pains taken to bring the prisoner's guilt to light;-would it not be better to show there was no guilt? Would it not be better to show his innocence? They say, and they complain, that the community feel a great desire that he should be punished for his crimes;—would it not be better to convince you that he has committed no crime?
Gentlemen, let us now come to the case. Your first inquiry, on the evidence, will be,—was Capt. White murdered in pursuance of
a conspiracy, and was the defendant one of this conspiracy? If so, the second inquiry is, was he so connected with the murder itself as that he is liable to be convicted as a principal? The defendant is indicted as a principal. If not guilty as such, you cannot convict him. The indictment contains three distinct classes of counts. In the first, he is charged as having done the deed, with his own hand;in the second, as an aider and abettor to Richard Crowninshield, jr. who did the deed;---in the third, as an aider and abettor to some person unknown. If you believe him guilty on either of these counts, or in either of these ways, you must convict him.
It may be proper to say, as a preliminary remark, that there are two extraordinary circumstances attending this trial. One is, that Richard Crowninshield, jr., the supposed immediate perpetrator of the murder, since his arrest, has committed suicide. He has gone to answer before a tribunal of perfect infallibility. The other is, that Joseph Knapp, the supposed origin and planner of the murder, having once made a full disclosure of the facts, under a promise of indemnity, is, nevertheless, not now a witness. Notwithstanding his disclosure, and his promise of indemnity, he now refuses to testify. He chooses to return to his original state, and now stands answerable himself, when the time shall come for his trial. These circumstances it is fit you should remember, in your investigation of the case.
Your decision may affect more than the life of this defendant. If he be not convicted as principal, no one can be. Nor can any one be convicted of a participation in the crime as accessory.
The Knapps and George Crowninshield will be again on the community. This shows the importance of the duty you have to perform;—and to remind you of the degree of care and wisdom, necessary to be exercised in its performance. But certainly these considerations do not render the prisoner's guilt any clearer, nor enhance the weight of the evidence against him. No one desires you to regard consequences in that light. No one wishes anything to be strained, or too far pressed against the prisoner. Still, it is fit you should see the full importance of the duty devolved upon you. And now, gentlemen, in examining this evidence, let us begin at the beginning, and see first what we know independent of the disputed testimony. This is a case of circumstantial evidence. And these circumstances, we think, are full and satisfactory. The case mainly depends upon them, and it is common, that offences of this kind, must be proved in this way. Midnight assassins take no witnesses. The evidence of the facts relied on has been, somewhat sneeringly, denominated by the learned counsel,“ circunstantial stuff,” but, it is not such stuff as dreams are made of. Why does he not rend this stuff? Why does he not tear it away, with the crush of his hand. He dismisses it, a little too summarily. It shall be my business to examine this stuff and try its cohesion.
The letter from Palmer at Belfast, is that no more than flimsy stuff?
The fabricated letters, from Knapp to the committee, and Mr White, are they nothing but stuff?
The circumstance, that the housekeeper was away at the time the murder was committed, as it was agreed she would be, is that, too, a useless piece of the same stuff?
The facts, that the key of the chamber door was taken out and secreted; that the window was unbarred and unbolted; are these to be so slightly and so easily disposed of ?
It is necessary, gentlemen, now to settle, at the commencement, the great question of a conspiracy. If there was none, or the defendant was not a party, then there is no evidence here to convict him. If there was a conspiracy, and he is proved to have been a party, then these two facts have a strong bearing on others and all the great points of inquiry. The defendant's counsel take no distinct ground, as I have already said, on this point, neither to admit, nor to deny. They choose to contine themselves to a hypothetical mode of speech. They say, supposing there was a conspiracy, non sequitur, that the prisoner is guilty, as principal. Be it so. But still, if there was a conspiracy, and if he was a conspirator, and helped to plan the murder, this may shed much light on the evidence, which goes to charge him with the execution of that plan.
We mean to make out the conspiracy; and that the defendant was a party to it; and then to draw all just inferences from these facts.
Let me ask your attention, then, in the first place, to those appearances, on the morning after the murder, which have a tendency to show, that it was done in pursuance of a preconcerted plan of operation. What are they? A man was found murdered in his bed.No stranger had done the deed- -no one unacquainted with the house had done it. It was apparent, that somebody from within had opened, and somebody from without had entered. There had been there, obviously and certainly, concert and cooperation. The inmates of the house were not alarmed when the murder was perpetrated. The assassin had entered, without any riot, or any violence. He had found the way prepared before him. The house had been previously opened. The window was unbarred, from within, and its fastening unscrewed. There was a lock on the door of the chamber, in which Mr. White slept, but the key was gone. It had been taken away, and secreted. The footsteps of the murderer were visible, out doors, tending toward the window. The plank by which he entered the window, still remained. The road he pursued had been thus prepared for him. The victim was slain, and the murderer had escaped. Everything indicated that somebody from within had cooperated with somebody from without. Everything proclaimed that some of the inmates, or somebody having access to the house, had had a hand in the murder. On the face of the circumstances, it was apparent, therefore, that this was a premeditated, concerted, conspired murder. Who then were the conspirators? If not now found out, we are still groping in the dark, and the whole tragedy is still a mystery.
If the Knapps and the Crowninshields were not the conspirators, in this murder, then there is a whole set of conspirators yet not discovered. Because, independent of the testimony of Palmer and Leighton, independent of all disputed evidence, we know, from uncontroverted facts, that this murder was, and must have been, the result of concert and cooperation, between two or more. We know it was not done, without plan and deliberation; we see, that whoever entered the house, to strike the ow, was favored and aided by some one, who had been previously in the house, without suspicion, and who had prepared the way. This is concert, this is cooperation, this is conspiracy. If the Knapps and the Crowninshields, then, were not the conspirators, who were? Joseph Knapp had a motive to desire the death of Mr. White, and that motive has been shown.
He was connected by marriage in the family of Mr. White. His wife was the daughter of Mrs. Beckford, who was the only child of a sister of the deceased. The deceased was more than eighty years old, and he had no children.--His only heirs were nephews and neices. He was supposed to be possessed of a very large fortune,which would have descended, by law, to his several nephews and neices in equal shares, or, if there was a will, then according to the will. But as Capt. White had but two branches of heirs—the children of his brother Henry White, and of Mrs. Beckford-according to the common idea each of these branches would have shared one half of Mr. White's property.
This popular idea is not legally correct. But it is common, and very probably was entertained by the parties. According to this, Mrs. Beckford, on Mr. White's death, without a will, would have been entitled to one half of Mr. White's ample fortune; and Joseph Knapp had married one of her three children. There was a will, and this will gave the bulk of the property to others; and we learn from Palmer that one part of the design was to destroy the will before the murder was committed. There had been a previous will, and that previous will was known or believed to have been more favorable than the other, to the Beckford family. So that by destroying the last will, and destroying the life of the testator at the same time, either the first and more favorable will would be set up, or the deceased would have no will, which would be, as was supposed, still more favorable. But the conspirators not having succeeded in obtaining and destroying the last will, though they accomplished the murder, but the last will being found in existence and safe, and that will bequeathing the mass of the property to others, it seemed, at the time, impossible for Joseph Knapp, as for any one else, indeed, but the principal devisee, to have any motive which should lead to the murder. The key which unlocks the whole mystery, is, the knowledge of the intention of the conspirators to steal the will. This is derived from Palmer, and it explains all. It solves the whole marvel. It shows the motive actuating those, against whom there is much evidence, but who, without the knowledge of this intention, were not seen to have had a motive. This intention is proved, as I have said, by Palmer; and it is so congruous with all the rest of the casė, it agrees so well with all facts and circumstances, that no man could well withhold his belief, though the facts were stated by a still less credible witness. If one, desirous of opening a lock, turns over and tries a bunch of keys till he finds one that will open it, he naturally supposes he has found the key of that lock. So in explaining circumstances of evidence, which are apparently irrecon