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revolting crimes, and who also, it was supposed, would have the audacity to appear in defence of the wretch who bad committed them. The clergyman who conducted the funeral, carried the excitement to a higher pitch, by appealing to the instincts of self-preservation and against the indulgence of moderation and forbearance toward “ adroit counsel,” in their efforts to lower the standard of moral accountability by the plea of insanity. Mr. Seward's law-partners and his friends, overpowered by these demonstrations of popular prejudice, gave pledges to the public that he would not outrage the prevailing sentiment, by defending the prisoner. The governor, Silas Wright, responded promptly to the popular demand for a special term of the court, to try both Wyatt and Freeman on the 1st of June. In the meantime, Mr. Seward returned from Washington, and heard the strange facts in the case with pain and surprise. They raised a suspicion that the prisoner was a lunatic. He thereupon wrote to the most eminent members of the Medical Faculty in New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, and called their attention to the case, as one which interested science and humanity not less than justice, and requested them to attend on the trial and make the necessary examinations of the prisoner, to the end that if he was sane the law might have its due vindication, and if he was not, the country might be saved from the crime of inflicting judicial murder upon a lunatic. He received favorable answers, and then rested, willing and anxious to leave the conduct of the case to any proper member of the bar who might be in any way em ployed, or induced, or assigned to defend the prisoner. The court assembled. The physicians pronounced the prisoner a lunatic. No counsel, however, appeared in his behalf, and the people who thronged the court-house and streets were expecting an unobstructed triumph. Mr. Seward however appeared and interposed a preliminary plea that the prisoner was insane. The plea was received, but it drew down upon Mr. Seward the public indignation in that vicinity and throughout the whole country, and his conduct became the subject of a political issue. His own party generally recoiled from a proceeding so unpopular, while the other party condemned him without reserve, and without moderation. After a trial of a fortnight, as to the sanity of the prisoner, the jury went out for consultation. Eleven were for a verdict that he was sane, and one for a verdict that he was insane. A private intimation of these facts was conveyed to the court, and a message returned that a verdict might be rendered that the prisoner was sane enough to distinguish between right and wrong. The twelfth juror joined in this verdict, believing it insufficient to put the prisoner on his trial; the other eleven, however, privately knew that the court would decide it to be sufficient. The trial proceeded, (Mr. Seward's efforts to set aside the verdict having failed), and after the lapse of another fortnight, a verdict of guilty was rendered, and the unconscious prisoner was sentenced to be executed. Mr. Seward applied to the governor for a pardon, but was denied. He then appealed to the Supreme Court for a new trial. John Van Buren, Attorney-General, appeared in opposition. After a patient hearing of the case, however, the court reversed the judgment, and granted a new trial. The same judge, who had before tried and condemned the prisoner, now refused to try him again, on the ground of his manifest idiocy. Indeed, the time soon arrived when all doubts were at an end.
Freeman died in his cell, about a year after his trial and conviction. A post mortem examination was made of his brain, and seven of the physicians of Auburn concurred in a statement that it was the subject of a chronic disease, remarkable in its extent. Such is a brief outline of this most extraordinary case. For other facts in this interesting trial, the reader is referred to the “Trial of William Freeman, by B. F. Hall, Esq, Auburn, N. Y., 1847,” to the Memoir, and to the following argument :-Ed.
MAY IT PLEASE THE COURT—Gentlemen of the jury: “Thou shALT NOT KILL," and, “WHOSO SHEDDETH MAN'S BLOOD, BY MAN SHALL HIS BLOOD BE SHED,” are laws found in the code of that people who, although distracted and dispersed through all lands, trace their history to the creation ; a history that records that murder was the first of human crinies.
The first of these precepts constitutes a tenth part of the jurisprudence which God saw fit to establish, at an early period, for the government of all mankind, throughout all generations. The latter, of less universal obligation, is still retained in our system, although other states, as intelligent and refined, as secure and peaceful, have substituted for it the more benign principle that good shall be returned for evil. I yield implicit submission to this law, and acknowledge the justness of its penalty, and the duty of courts and juries to give it effect.
In this case, if the prisoner be guilty of murder, I do not ask remission of punishment. If he be guilty, never was murderer more guilty. He has murdered not only John G. Van Nest, but his hands are reeking with the blood of other, and numerous, and even more pitiable victims. The slaying of Van Nest, if a crime at all, was the cowardly crime of assassination. John G. Van Nest was a just, upright, virtuous man, of middle age, of grave and modest demeanor, distinguished by especial marks of the respect and esteem of his fellow-citizens. On his arm leaned a confiding wife, and they supported, on the one side, children to whom they had given being, and, on the other, aged and venerahle parents, from whom they had derived existence. The assassination of such a man was an atrocious crime, but the murderer, with more than savage refinement, immolated on the same altar, in the same hour, a venerable and virtuous matron of more than three-score years, and her daughter, the wife of Van Nest, mother of an unborn infant. Nor was this all. Providence, which, for its own mysterious purposes, permitted these dreadful crimes, in mercy suffered the same arm to be raised against the sleeping orphan child of the butchered parents and received it into Heaven. A whole family, just, gentle, and pure, were thus, in their own house, in the night time, without any provocation, without one moment's warning, sent by the murderer to join the assembly of the just; and even the laboring man, sojourning within their gates, received
the fatal blade into his breast, and survives through the mercy, not of the murderer, but of God.
For William Freeman, as a murderer, I have no commission to speak. If he had silver and gold accumulated with the frugality of Crosus, and should pour it all at my feet, I would not stand an hour between him and the avenger. But for the innocent, it is my right, my duty to speak. If this sea of blood was innocently shed, then it is my duty to stand beside him until his steps lose their hold upon the scaffold.
“Thou shalt not kill," is a commandment addressed not to him alone, but to me, to you, to the court, and to the whole community. There are no exceptions from that commandment, at least in civil life, save those of self-defence, and capital punishment for crimes in the due and just administration of the law. There is not only a question, then, whether the prisoner has shed the blood of his fellow-man, but the question, whether we shall unlawfully shed his blood. I should be guilty of murder if, in my present relation, I saw the executioner waiting for an insane man, and failed to say, or failed to do in his behalf, all that my ability allowed. I think it has been proved of the prisoner at the bar, that, during all this long and tedious trial, he has had no sleepless nights, and that even in the day time, when he retires from these halls to his lonely cell, he sinks to rest like a wearied child, on the stone floor, and quietly slumbers till roused by the constable with his staff to appear again before the jury. His counsel enjoy no such repose. Their thoughts by day and their dreams by night are filled with oppressive apprehension that, through their inability or neglect, he may be condemned.
I am arraigned before you for undue manifestations of zeal and excitement. My answer to all such charges shall be brief. When this cause shall have been committed to you, I shall be happy indeed if it shall appear that my only error has been, that I have felt too much, thought too intensely, or acted too faithfully.
If error on my part would thus be criminal, how great would yours be if you should render an unjust verdict! Only four months have elapsed since an outraged people, distrustful of judicial redress, doomed the prisoner to immediate death. Some of you have confessed, before you came here, that you approve that lawless sentence. All men now rejoice that the prisoner was saved for this solemn trial. But if this trial, through any wilful ault or prejudice of yours, should prove only a mockery of juscice, it would be as criminal as that precipitate sentence. If any prejudice of witnesses, or the imagination of counsel, úr any illtimed jest shall at any time have diverted your attention, or if any gre-judgment which you may have brought into the jury box, or any cowardly fear of popular opinion shall have operated to cause you to deny to the prisoner that dispassionate consideration of his case which the laws of God and man exact of you, anū if, owing to such an error, this wretched man shall fall from among the livag, what will be your crime? You will have violate' tne commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” It is not the form or letter of she trial by jury that authorizes you to send your feliuw-u.an to his dread account, but it is the spirit that sanctifies that great institution; and if, through pride, passion, timidity, weakness, or any cause, you deny the prisoner one iota of all the defence to which he is entitled by the law of the land, you yourselves, whatever his guilt may be, will have broken the comnianament, Thou shalt do no murder."
There is not a corrupt or prejudiced witness, there is not a thoughtless or heedless witness, who has testified what was not true in spirit, or what was not wholly true, or who has suppressed any truth, who has not offended against the same injunction.
Nor is the Court itself above that commandment. If these Judges have been influenced by the excitement which has brought this vast assemblage here, and under such influence, or under any other influence, have committed voluntary error, and have denied to the prisoner or shall hereafter deny to him the benefit of any fact or any principle of law, then this Court will have to answer for the deep transgression, at that bar at which we all shall meet again. When we shall appear there, none of us can plead that we were insane and knew not what we did ; and by just so much as our ability and knowledge exceed those of this wretch, whom the world regards as a fiend in human shape, will our guilt exceed ais, if we be guilty.
I plead not for a murderer. I have no inducement, no motive to do so. I have addressed my fellow citizens in many various relations, when rewards of wealth and fame awaited me. I have neen cheered on other occasions by manifestations of popular anprobation and sympathy; and where there was no such encouragement, I have had at least the gratitude of him whose cause I
defended. But I speak now in the hearing of a People who have prejudged the prisoner, and condemned me for pleading in his behalf. He is a convict, a pauper, a negro, without intellect, sense, or emotion. My child, with an affectionate smile, disarms my care-worn face of its frown whenever I cross my threshold. The beggar in the street obliges me to give, because he says “God bless you,” as I pass. My dog caresses me with fondness if I will but smile on him. My horse recognizes me when I fill his manger. But what reward, what gratitude, what sympathy and affection can I expect here? There the prisoner sits. Look at him. Look at the assemblage around you. Listen to their ill-suppressed censures and their excited fears, and tell me where among my neighbors or my fellow men, where even in his heart, I can expect to find the sentiment, the thought, not to say of reward or of acknowledgment, but even of recognition. I sat here two weeks during the preliminary trial. I stood here between the prisoner and the Jury nine hours, and pleaded for the wretch that he was insane and did not even know he was on trial : and when all was done, the Jury thought, at least eleven of them thought, that I had been deceiving them, or was self-deceived. They read signs of intelligence in his idiotic smile, and of cunning and malice in his stolid insensibility. They rendered a verdict that he was sane enough to be tried, a contemptible compromise verdict in a capital case; and then they looked on, with what emotions God and they only know, upon his arraignment. The District Attorney, speaking in his adder ear, bade him rise, and reading to him one indictment, asked him whether he wanted a trial, and the poor fool answered, No. Have you Counsel ? No. And they went through the same mockery, the prisoner giving the same answers, until a third indictment was thundered in his ears, and he stood before the Court, silent, motionless, and bewildered. Gentlemen, you may think of this transaction what you please, bring in what verdict you can, but I asseverate before Heaven and you, that, to the best of my knowledge and belief, the prisoner at the bar does not at this moment know why it is that my shadow falls on you instead of his own.
I speak with all sincerity and earnestness; not because I expect ny opinion to have weight, but I would disarm the injurious impression that I am speaking, merely as a lawyer speaks for his client. I am not the prisoner's lawyer. I am indeed a volunteer