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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? Do they mean to deny that Capt. White is dead? One should have almost supposed even that, from some remarks that have been made. 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, "circumstantial 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 confine 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 blow, 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 case, 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
cilable, or unaccountable, if a fact be suggested, which at once accounts for all, and reconciles all, by whomsoever it may be stated, it is still difficult not to believe that such fact is the true fact belonging to the case. In this respect, Palmer's testimony is singularly confirmed. If he were false, then his ingenuity could not furnish us such clear exposition of strange appearing circumstances. Some truth, not before known, can alone do that.
When we look back, then, to the state of things immediately on the discovery of the murder, we see that suspicion would naturally turn at once, not to the heirs at law, but to those principally benefited by the will. They, and they alone, would be supposed or seem to have a direct object, for wishing Mr. White's life to be terminated. And strange as it may seem, we find counsel now insisting, that if no apology, it is yet mitigation of the atrocity of the Knapps' conduct, in attempting to charge this foul murder on Mr. White, the nephew and principal devisee, that public suspicion was already so directed! As if assassination of character were excusable, in proportion as circumstances may render it easy. Their endeavours, when they knew they were suspected themselves, to fix the charge on others, by foul means and by falsehood, are fair and strong proof of their own guilt. But more of that, hereafter.
The counsel say that they might safely admit, that Richard Crowninshield, jr. was the perpetrator of this murder.
But how could they safely admit that? If that were admitted, everything else would follow. For why should Richard Crowninshield, jr. kill Mr. White? He was not his heir, nor his devisee; nor was he his enemy. What could be his motive? If Richard Crowninshield, jr. killed Mr. White, he did it, at some one's procurement who himself had a motive. And who, having any motive, is shown to have had any intercourse with Richard Crowninshield, jr. but Joseph Knapp, and this, principally through the agency of the prisoner at the bar?-It is the infirmity, the distressing difficulty of the prisoner's case, that his counsel cannot and dare not admit what they yet cannot disprove and what all must believe. He who believes, on this evidence, that Richard Crowninshield, jr. was the immediate murderer, cannot doubt that both the Knapps were conspirators in that murder. The counsel, therefore, are wrong, I think, in saying they might safely admit this. The admission of so important, and so connected a fact, would render it impossible to contend further against the proof of the entire conspiracy, as we state it.
What, then, was this conspiracy? J.J. Knapp, jr. desirous of destroying the will, and of taking the life of the deceased, hired a ruffian, who with the aid of other ruffians, were to enter the house, and murder him, in his own bed.
As far back as January, this conspiracy began. Endicott testifies to a conversation with J. J. Knapp, at that time, in which Knapp told him that Capt. White had made a will, and given the principal part of his property to Stephen White. When asked how he knew, he said "black and white don't lie." When asked, if the will was not locked up, he said "there is such a thing as two keys to the same lock." And speaking of the then late illness of Capt. White, he said, that Stephen White would not have been sent for, if he had been there.