The Trial of the Assassin
trial of Leon F. Czolgosz, the assassin, which began September 23,
1901, was a model of dignity, deliberation, consideration for the
criminal’s legal rights, and swift justice. It was in striking contrast
with the endless delays and tangles of technicalities which characterized
the trial of Garfield’s murderer. It was all accomplished within
two days and required exactly eight hours and twenty-six minutes.
The Guiteau trial, on the contrary, did not get under way until
after many tiresome preliminaries and then dragged along, to the
exasperation of the country, for nearly two months and a half. At
the trial of McKinley’s assassin, Judge Truman C. White, one of
the oldest and most experienced of the Supreme Court Justices, presided.
The prisoner would not employ counsel, because he did not believe
in law or government. He had for several years attended meetings
of anarchists and had studied their doctrines, becoming possessed
of the idea that every king, emperor, president, or head of government
was a tyrant and should be put out of the way. Although at first
it was generally believed that he was the chosen agent of some conspiring
group of anarchists, it was subsequently developed that he had acted
independently. Two of the most distinguished alienists of the country
examined him and agreed that he was quite sane. There could be no
defense on any other ground than that of insanity. The crime had
been witnessed by many and the prisoner admitted his guilt.
Nevertheless, two of the most distinguished
ex-Justices of the Supreme Court of the State of New 
York, Loran L. Lewis and Robert C. Titus, were selected by the Bar
Association of Erie County, and formally appointed to defend the
prisoner. It was a disagreeable task, but the two gentlemen accepted
the duty and saw that their client received all the rights to which
he was legally entitled.
After the evidence was in, the venerable
Judge Lewis, white-haired and white-bearded, rose to address the
jury. In a speech, probably the most remarkable of its kind ever
delivered in defense of a prisoner, he stated first of all that
he and his colleague, having been assigned to the case, found it
their duty to proceed, regardless of personal feeling. He explained
the law regarding insanity and then said that the prisoner was entitled
to a trial under our laws. He could not be permitted to plead guilty.
His guilt must be proved by the People beyond a reasonable doubt.
He said the doctrine of anarchy was dangerous and criminal, but
pointed out the fact that the danger was not equal to that of the
belief, now becoming so common, that men charged with crime should
not go through the form of trial, but that lynch law should take
the place of the calm and dignified administration of justice.
The aged jurist seemed to be struggling
between a conscientious determination to perform the painful duty
assigned to him, and a sense of profound grief for his client’s
fatal work. In a voice trembling with emotion, he concluded this
strange defense in these words:—
“This trial is a great object-lesson
to the world. Here is a case where a man has stricken down the beloved
President of this country, in broad daylight, in the presence of
hundreds and thousands of spectators. If there was ever a case that
would excite the anger, the wrath, of those who saw it, this was
one. Here was a man occupying an exalted position, a man of irreproachable
 character; he was a man
who had come here to assist us in promoting the prosperity of our
great exposition; and he was shot down while holding a reception.
“His death has touched every heart
in this community and in the whole world, and yet we sit here and
quietly consider whether this man was responsible for the act he
committed. That question is one for you to decide.
“The law presumes the defendant innocent
until he is proved guilty, and we start with the assumption that
the defendant was not mentally responsible for the crime he committed.
We have not been able to present any evidence on our part. The defendant
has even refused, on almost every occasion, to talk with his counsel.
He has not aided us, so we have come here unaided to consider this
important question. But I know there is in every human being a strong
desire to live. Death is a specter that we dislike to meet, and
here this defendant, without having any animosity against our President,
without any personal motive so far as we can see, committed the
act which, if he was sane, must cause his death. How can a man with
a sane mind perform such an act? The rabble in the streets will
say—No matter whether he is insane or not, he deserves to be killed.
The law, however, says that you must consider the circumstances
and see if he was in his right mind or not when he committed the
deed. If you find he was not responsible, you would aid in lifting
a great cloud from the minds of the people of this country. If the
beloved President had met with a railroad accident and been killed,
our grief could not compare with what it is now. If you find that
he met his fate through the act of an insane man, it is the same
as though he had met it by an accident.
“I had the profoundest respect for
President McKinley. I watched him in Congress and during his long
public career and he was one of the noblest men God ever made. His
policy we care nothing about, but it always met with 
my profoundest respect. His death was the saddest blow to me that
has occurred in many years.”
As the concluding sentence was uttered,
the speaker’s voice broke and tears flowed freely down his face.
Many of those in the courtroom were unable to restrain their emotion.
In less than an hour after Justice
White began his charge to the jury, the verdict of “Guilty” was
brought into court. The prisoner was executed at the Auburn State
Prison on October 29.