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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.
Hence it appears, that as early as January, Knapp had a knowledge of the will, and that he had access to it, by means of false keys. This knowledge of the will, and an intent to destroy it, appear also from Palmer's testimony---a fact disclosed to him by the other conspirators. He says, that he was informed of this by the Crowninshields on the 2d of April. But, then, it is said that Palmer is not to be credited; that by his own confession he is a felon; that he has been in the state prison in Maine; and above all, that he was an inmate and associate with these conspirators themselves. Let us admit these facts. Let us admit him to be as bad as they would represent him to be; still, in law, he is a competent witness. How else are the secret designs of the wicked to be proved, but by their wicked companions, to whom they have disclosed them? The government does not select its witnesses. The conspirators themselves have chosen Palmer. He was the confidant of the prisoners. The fact, however, does not depend on his testimony alone. It is corroborated by other proof; and, taken in connexion with the other circumstances, it has strong probability. In regard to the testimony of Palmer, generally,---it may be said, that it is less contradicted, in all parts of it, either by himself or others, than that of any other material witness, and that everything he has told, has been corroborated by other evidence, so far as it was susceptible of confirmation. An attempt has been made to impair his testimony, as to his being at the half-way house, on the night of the murder;---you have seen with what success. Mr. Babb is called to contradict him: you have seen how little he knows, and even that not certainly; for he, himself, is proved to have been in an error, by supposing him to have been at the half-way house on the evening of the 9th of April. At that time, Palmer is proved to have been at Dustin's in Danvers. If, then, Palmer, bad as he is, has disclosed the secrets of the conspiracy, and has told the truth---there is no reason why it should not be believed. Truth is truth, come whence it may.
The facts show, that this murder had been long in agitation, that it was not a new proposition, on the 2d of April; that it had been contemplated for five or six weeks before. R. Crowninshield was at Wenham in the latter part of March, as testified by Starrett. F. Knapp was at Danvers, in the latter part of February, as testified by Allen. R. Crowninshield inquired whether Capt. Knapp was about home, when at Wenham. The probability is, that they would open the case to Palmer, as a new project. There are other circumstances that show it to have been some weeks in agitation. Palmer's testimony as to the transactions on the 2d of April, is corroborated by Allen, and by Osborn's books. He says that F. Knapp came there in the afternoon, and again in the evening. So the book shows. He says that Capt. White had gone out to his farm on that day. So others prove. How could this fact, or these facts, have been known to Palmer, unless F. Knapp had brought the knowledge? and was it not the special object of this visit, to give information of this fact, that they might meet him and execute their purpose on his return from his farm? The letter of Palmer, written at Belfast, has intrinsic evidence of genuineness. It was mailed at
Belfast, May 13th. It states facts that he could not have known, unless his testimony be true. This letter was not an afterthought; it is a genuine narrative. In fact, it says, "I know the business your brother Frank was transacting on the 2d of April :" how could he have possibly known this, unless he had been there? The "$1000, that was to be paid ;" where could he have obtained this knowledge? The testimony of Endicott, of Palmer, and these facts, are to be taken together; and they, most clearly, show, that the death of Capt. White must have been caused by somebody interested in putting an end to his life.
As to the testimony of Leighton. As far as manner of testifying goes, he is a bad witness :-but it does not follow from this that he is not to be believed. There are some strange things about him. It is strange, that he should make up a story against Capt. Knapp, the person with whom he lived ;-that he never voluntarily told anything all that he has said is screwed out of him. The story could not have been invented by him; his character for truth is unimpeached; and he intimated to another witness, soon after the murder happened, that he knew something he should not tell. There is not the least contradiction in his testimony, though he gives a poor account of withholding it. He says that he was extremely bothered by those who questioned him. In the main story that he relates, he is universally consistent with himself: Some things are for him, and some against him. Examine the intrinsic probability of what he says. See if some allowance is not to be made for him, on account of his ignorance, with things of this kind. It is said to be extraordinary, that he should have heard just so much of the conversation and no more; that he should have heard just what was necessary to be proved, and nothing else. Admit that this is extraordinary; still, this does not prove it not true. It is extraordinary, that you twelve gentlemen should be called upon, out of all the men in the county, to decide this case no one could have foretold this, three weeks since. It is extraordinary, that the first clue to this conspiracy, should have been derived from information given by the father of the prisoner at the bar. And in every case that comes to trial, there are many things extraordinary. The murder itself in this case is an extraordinary one; but still we do not doubt its reality.
It is argued, that this conversation between Joseph and Frank, could not have been, as Leighton has testified, because they had been together for several hours before, this subject must have been uppermost in their minds, whereas this appears to have been the commencement of their conversation upon it. Now, this depends altogether upon the tone and manner of the expression; upon the particular word in the sentence, which was emphatically spoken. If he had said, "When did you see Dick, Frank ?"—this would not seem to be the beginning of the conversation. With what emphasis it was uttered, it is not possible to learn; and therefore nothing can be made of this argument. If this boy's testimony stood alone, it should be received with caution. And the same may be said of the testimony of Palmer. But they do not stand alone. They furnish a clue to numerous other circumstances, which, when