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Source: The Authentic Life of William McKinley
Source type: book
Document type: book chapter
Document title: “Czolgosz Pays the Penalty” [chapter 29]
Author(s): McClure, Alexander K.; Morris, Charles
Edition: Memorial edition
Publisher: none given
Place of publication: none given
Year of publication: 1901
Pagination: 448-53

McClure, Alexander K., and Charles Morris. “Czolgosz Pays the Penalty” [chapter 29]. The Authentic Life of William McKinley. Memorial ed. [n.p.]: [n.p.], 1901: pp. 448-53.
full text of chapter; excerpt of book
Leon Czolgosz (indictment); Leon Czolgosz (arraignment); Leon Czolgosz (trial); Leon Czolgosz (sentencing).
Named persons
Patrick V. Cusack; Leon Czolgosz; Edward K. Emery [misspelled below]; Frederick Haller; Carlton E. Ladd; Loran L. Lewis [first name misspelled below; middle initial wrong once below]; William McKinley; Thomas Penney; Robert C. Titus; Henry W. Wendt; Truman C. White.
From title page: The Authentic Life of William McKinley, Our Third Martyr President: Together with a Life Sketch of Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States; Also Memorial Tributes by Statesmen, Ministers, Orators and Rulers of All Countries; Profusely Illustrated with Reproductions from Original Photographs, Original Drawings and Special Pictures of the Family by Express Permission from the Owners.

From title page: Introduction and Biography by Alexander K. McClure, Author of the “Life and Times of Abraham Lincoln.”

From title page: The Life and Public Career by Charles Morris, LL.D., Author of the “Life of Queen Victoria.”


Czolgosz Pays the Penalty

WE propose to make this chapter brief, for the trial of the assassin was brief, yet, dignified and solemn. Justice was rendered surely and swiftly. All the forms of law were complied with, as would have been done for the slayer of the humblest citizen.
     First was the indictment before the grand jury. Czolgosz was arraigned in court on September 16th, immediately following the death of his victim.
     Bereft of the power of speech, white-faced, haggard and disheveled, Leon Czolgosz stood before the officers of the law to answer for the crime which had robbed the nation of a noble and generous ruler. Standing at the bar of justice, arraigned on the charge of murder, this blue-eyed, mild-faced youth moved his lips as if to speak, but no sound issued forth. There was the shadow of hopeless despair in his eyes, and on his brow the pallor of awful terror, for what he knew he could not escape. Death must be his portion, as surely as the sea of faces that hemmed him in showed not one countenance with a sign of mercy or pity.
     When brought before Justice Edward K. Emory, in the County Court of Buffalo, Erie County, New York, the prisoner stubbornly refused to answer questions repeatedly asked of him by District Attorney Penney as to whether he had counsel or wanted counsel. The District Attorney then suggested that inasmuch as the defendant refused to answer counsel should be assigned. Judge Emory assigned Lorin N. Lewis and Robert C. Titus, former Supreme Court Justices of Buffalo, whose names had been suggested by the Erie County Bar Association. [448][449]
     Aside from the surgeons and physicians in the case, no witnesses were sworn other than those who were in the Temple of Music and witnessed the shooting.
     Late in the afternoon, just exactly ten days after the shooting, the Grand Jury voted unanimously to indict Czolgosz for murder in the first degree, and the indictment was presented to Judge Emory in the County Court.


     After indictment was reported the prisoner was driven from the penitentiary, a mile from the City Hall, to the jail across the street from the hall. Czolgosz was then taken under strong guard from the jail through the tunnel under Delaware Avenue to the basement of the City Hall and up the stairs to the court-room on the second floor.
     The prisoner was shackled to a detective and another detective held his other arm. Assistant Superintendent Cusack marched in front and a number of patrolmen behind. When the prisoner was taken before the bench the crowd in the court-room surged about him on all sides. They were compelled to resume their seats.
     Czolgosz was of medium height, of fairly good build, and had light curly hair, but a ten days’ growth of beard on his face gave him an unkempt appearance. Apparently he feigned insanity, not stupidity, and his glance roamed about, but his eyes were always downcast. Not once did he look the county prosecutor or the judge in the face.
     Judge Emory asked the prisoner if he had counsel, but there was no answer, despite the fact that the peace officers told him the judge was speaking and that he must answer. Czolgosz trembled like a leaf. His eyes dilated and his face twitched all over. Then his eyes wandered to the steel band glistening on his right wrist.
     The court then said:
     “Czolgosz, you having appeared for arraignment in the court, without counsel, the law makes it the duty of the court to assign counsel. The Bar Association of your county has considered the [449][450] matter and suggested the names of certain gentlemen of high character for such assignment. The court has seriously considered the question, and after much consideration has concluded to follow the suggestion made by the Association. The Court therefore assigns Lorin L. Lewis and Robert C. Titus as your counsel.”
     These gentlemen, both distinguished members of the bar and able lawyers, felt it their duty to accept the commands of the Court and defend the prisoner. This insured dignity and decorum for the trial.


     On Monday, September 23d, the assassin, Leon F. Czolgosz, was placed upon trial in Buffalo charged with the murder of President William McKinley. He entered a plea of “guilty,” which was subsequently changed to “not guilty” by direction of the Court.
     The Court convened at 10 o’clock, and within two hours eight jurors had been secured. Technicalities were not raised by the examining counsel, but it was significant that every man who had said he had not formed an opinion on the case was excused by the District Attorney. Those who acknowledged they had formed an opinion, but admitted that their opinion could be changed by evidence, were accepted by each side.
     Justice Truman C. White, one of the oldest and most experienced of the Supreme Court Judges, was on the bench. Immediately after the opening of the Court, and after the prisoner had pleaded, Justice Lorin L. Lewis, senior counsel for the defendant, announced that he, with his colleagues, ex-Justice Robert C. Titus and Carlton E. Ladd, was ready to act in behalf of the prisoner.
     The work of completing the jury was then undertaken with a celerity that was amazing. Before the day was over the entire panel had been sworn, the jurors had listened to a description of the Temple of Music, where the crime occurred, had seen photographs of the interior of that structure, and had been told by three [450][451] surgeons what caused the death of the President, and the effect of the assassin’s shot upon the various organs of the body. They had also learned why the fatal bullet had not been located.
     The presentation of the Government’s case followed, shortly before three o’clock, when Assistant District Attorney Haller began, with much deliberation, to address the Court. After stating what the prosecution expected to prove, he summoned witnesses to testify to the facts in the case.
     All the testimony for the prosecution had been received soon after noon of Tuesday, the 24th. The counsel for the defence had but few questions to ask, as their client had stubbornly refused to assist them. The eminent alienists summoned by the Erie County Bar Association and by the District Attorney to examine Czolgosz and to determine his exact mental condition had declared him to be perfectly sane, and thus destroyed the only system of defence that Judges Lewis and Titus could have put together.
     Judge Lewis arose slowly, and, addressing the Court, said that the sudden close of the case against Czolgosz was a surprise to him and his colleagues. They had no witness to call for the defence. He asked the Court that he be allowed to address the jury at once. The Court consented, and the venerable jurist began an address that will long be remembered by those who heard it.


     In it he gave a clear and concise statement of the legal right to trial and defence of every person accused of crime. He also dwelt upon the importance of deciding whether the prisoner were in his right mind. When he had closed, Justice White charged the jury upon all the points of law involved, and dismissed the jurors to their room for deliberation.
     Czolgosz had been seated in his chair all the afternoon, his hands clasped on the arms of the chair, and his head bent forward and a little to the left. The room was not warm, but he frequently took his handkerchief from his pocket, and mopped the perspiration from [451][452] his forehead and cheeks. At no time during the absence of the jury did he raise his eyes or lift his head, or seem to know that he was the object of interest to several hundred men and women.
     After an absence of the jury of less than half an hour, the crier rapped for order, and the jury filed into the room. The clerk read their names, each juror responding “present” as his name was called.
     No time was wasted. The jurors did not sit down. Addressing them, Justice White said: “Gentlemen, have you agreed upon a verdict?”
     “We have,” responded foreman Wendt.
     “What is your verdict?”
     “That the defendant is guilty of murder in the first degree.”
     There was a moment of silence, and then a murmur arose from the lips of the crowd. It ended there. There were no hand clappings; no cheers. Justice White’s voice could be clearly heard in every part of the room when he thanked the jurors for their work, and allowed them to go.
     Czolgosz was immediately handcuffed to his guards, and hurried from the court room downstairs, to the basement, and through the tunnel under Delaware Avenue to the jail. He appeared to be in no way affected by the result of the trial.
     Thus had the wheels of justice moved swiftly. The trial of the assassin consumed eight hours and twenty-six minutes, and covered a period of only two days. Practically all this time was occupied by the prosecution in presenting a case so clear, so conclusive that, even had the prisoner entered the plea of insanity, it is doubtful if the jury would have returned a verdict different from the one given.


     On Thursday afternoon, September 26th, Leon F. Czolgosz received his sentence. He was duly asked if he had any legal reason why sentence should not be passed. He gave no reason, but declared in a feeble voice, through his counsel, that no one else [452][453] knew anything of the crime but himself. The Judge then uttered these solemn words, while Czolgosz stood erect, looking straight at the Judge. He did not tremble; not a muscle quivered.
     “In taking the life of our beloved President, you committed a crime which shocked and outraged the moral sense of the civilized world. You have confessed that guilt, and, after learning all that at this time can be learned from the facts and circumstances of the case, twelve good jurors have pronounced you guilty, and have found you guilty of murder in the first degree.
     “You have said, according to the testimony of creditable witnesses and yourself, that no other person aided or abetted you in the commission of this terrible act. God grant it may be so! The penalty for the crime for which you stand convicted is fixed by this statute, and it now becomes my duty to pronounce this judgment against you.
     “The sentence of the Court is that in the week, beginning October 28, 1901, at the place, in the manner and means prescribed by law, you suffer the punishment of death.
     “Remove the prisoner.”
     As soon as the death sentence was finished Czolgosz took his seat in the same indifferent manner that had characterized him throughout the trial. He was brought to his feet quickly by the officers, who shackled him and led him away to the jail to await his removal to Auburn prison, there to pay the penalty of his crime, but in no sense to lessen the sorrow and grief of the people whose chief and friend he had slain.
     We need not dwell upon the scene enacted in the death chamber, where the slayer of the good man took his seat in the death chair. Only a few witnesses—those allowed by law—were present to see the majesty of the law vindicated, and with this chapter closed the fearful tragedy which startled the world on September 6, 1901.



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