TRIAL OF GEORGE C. HERSEY FOR MURDER
SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT--SPECIAL TERM
SATURDAY, JUNE 8, 1861. COURT CALENDAR
On Friday morning G.S. Sullivan, Esq., made the closing argument for the defense, and said in opening that the circumstances of the case had depressed his mind to a degree before unknown. A more practiced tongue might so depict them as to excite the pity and sympathy of the jury, but he should only appeal to their reason. The counsel then reviewed the evidence to ascertain if any motive was shown for the commission of the offence alleged, and claimed that it would rather have been for the prisoner's advantage to marry Miss Tirrell than to have destroyed her. She was of a higher station than himself, and though it is said his engagement with Miss Loud would be a bar to their union, from her own testimony it was shown that the engagement was broken off a week before the death of Frances. The evidence which had been adduced to attempt to fix upon Hersey the guilt of the act was not at all direct. -- The witness Coburn, who swore that Hersey bought poison of him, might easily have been mistaken in his identity. Even Mr. Warren, the policeman, who saw Hersey in the apothecary store, said he supposed him to be a friend of his who had "the same cast of the eye". Further all there was no other evidence that he ever had any strychnine, or that he had given it to the deceased.
After criticizing with considerable severity the evidence brought forward by the government, he proceeded t:o state the hypothesis of the defense as to the cause of death, which was --that bereaved and saddened by the death of her sister, at enmity with her step-mother, and pregnant by no matter whom-she committed suicide in her despair. To this conclusion her declarations, testified to by two of her female Friends, that she wished she was dead, strongly point. The counsel dwelt at length upon this point, bringing forward many circumstances detailed in the evidence tending toward that conclusion.
The character of the prisoner had not been assailed, while all the witnesses had spoken well of him. And his conduct at the time of Frances' death shows him to be an innocent and humane man.
Mr. Sullivan, after having spoken three hours, closed with a concise review of the parts which he had presented, and which he commended to the jury as affording more than a reasonable doubt of the guilt of the prisoner.
Attorney General Foster made the closing argument for the government. He agreed with all that had been said in regard to the importance of the case, by the defense. He gave a sketch of the case as developed by the evidence, stating the intimacy, which had grown up between Hersey and the deceased after the death of her sister. His frequent conversations and inquiries about poisons were mentioned, and the testimony thoroughly reviewed to show the probability that Hersey was concerned in the transaction to tile extent of guilt. The statement of Hersey that Frances would make way with herself was made to direct attention from himself as the perpetrator of the act.
There was no reason to believe that Miss Tirrell had ever procured poison for the purpose of committing suicide, nor any just conclusion from her manner and appearance that she meditated or was guilty of self-murder.
Having settled the point that the death could not have been the result of suicide, the Attorney next discussed tile question of who could have been the author of her death. In this connection, he considered the intimate relations between Hersey and the deceased, and the statement of Dr. Morrill that the prisoner had consulted with him in regard to the result of that intimacy. The fact of his purchasing poison for a fictitious purpose, and his presence in her room before her parents were summoned, formed a chain of circumstances, which fixed guilt upon him. If he had a heart of flesh, he could not have remained in the room during the time the autopsy was being made. The various allegations of the indictment were rehearsed, the points which the government proposed to establish reviewed, and the conclusions reached by the evidence pointed out. The Attorney closed by expressing the hope that the mercy, which belongs to another branch of the government, should not be allowed to tinge the justice, which it was the duty of the jury to grant upon the issue.
The address of the Attorney General, which occupied about two hours, was an admirably clear and concise presentation of the facts in the case, and was listened to with deep attention by a large concourse of auditors.
The charge was delivered by Chief Justice Bigelow. In answer to objections made by counsel for the defense against two counts of the indictment, the Court decided that it was not necessary to allege the intent to kill, as that was understood from the allegation that a deadly poison had been administered. The fourth count, which charges that the defendant killed the deceased by some means to the jury unknown, had not been substantiated by the evidence, and on that the jury should return a verdict of not guilty. The jury need not discuss whether it was murder in the first or second degrees, for if committed at all ill this case it must be murder in the first degree. He instructed the jury that tile prisoner was presumed to be innocent until he was proved guilty, and that they were not to convict unless their reason and judgment were convinced that the prisoner committed the act.
The Chief Justice continued at some length upon the nature of circumstantial evidence, which was not, as by some supposed, of necessity unsatisfactory, but when the separate circumstances were well established and pointed to the same result, they should have the same weight as direct evidence. If either of these points should fail it would be your duty to declare the prisoner innocent.
In reviewing the evidence adduced, the Chief Justice paid a high compliment to the skill of the scientific witnesses--Dr. Hayes and Prof. Horsford--who had testified to the manner in which the analysis of the stomach of the deceased was carried on. -- He did not believe that in any other country could stronger evidence be found of the high state to which science has been brought.
The evidence was thoroughly canvasses and its peculiarities pointed out in their bearings for and against the prisoner. The jury were instructed that unless they should be satisfied that she took the poison by his instigation, for the purpose of committing suicide, they must give a verdict of not guilty on the third count. The evidence of previous good character should be allowed to weigh in his behalf if there appeared a reasonable doubt of the guilt of the prisoner.
With an earnest recommendation to do their duty, the Court dismissed the jury to make up their verdict. Mr. Sullivan asked that the exceptions made by the counsel for the defense, on account of the absence of an allegation of intent in the indictment, might remain open for argument. To this the Court assented.
The judges then retired to their lodgings to await the return of the jury, and the prisoner was remanded to jail. At 10 o'clock on Friday evening, after being out about five hours, the jury agreed upon a verdict, and the Court having been sent for, the prisoner was brought in, and the foreman rendered a verdict of Guilty. -- The jury took no action upon the third and fourth counts, which were not prosecuted. The prisoner received the verdict with composure.
On Saturday morning Chief Justice Bigelow stated that the counsel for the defense in the case of Hersey had filed exceptions against the indictment, and the 18th of June was fixed upon as the time for hearing the arguments at the courthouse in Boston.
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