The Czolgosz Trial: A Unique Event
The trial of Czolgosz for the murder
of President McKinley is a unique event in medico-legal history.
The student of jurisprudence as well as the average citizen finds
much to commend in the manner in which the assassin was brought
to trial, a little more than two weeks after the fatal shot was
fired. In less than two weeks after the death of the President he
was convicted and sentenced. Great harm is done by the postponement
of trials for crimes of violence, by the long drawing out of such
trials, and by delays in the execution of sentence. In this case
justice has moved with a celerity with which the most impatient
cannot find fault.
As regards the prosecution, and especially
the absence of rhetorical display and the economy of time in the
presentation of the case, nothing can be said except in praise.
The only plea that could be made was
that of insanity, and in order to meet this issue, if it should
arise, competent physicians, including several well-known alienists,
were chosen before the trial by the District Attorney and the Bar
Association of the county in which the crime was committed to examine
into the mental condition of Czolgosz. These physicians after separate
examinations unanimously reported that he was sane, and there is
no reason in anything which has appeared in connection with the
case to doubt the justice of their finding. The dearth of facts,
historical or special, regarding the mental condition of the murderer,
is a marked feature up to the present in the published annals of
the case. The crime was deliberately planned, was carried out with
determination, and was said by the murderer to have been committed
because of certain opinions which he held. Both previous to the
trial and when he was arraigned by the court he pleaded guilty and
expressed himself as prepared to receive any punishment that was
meted out to him. This is about all that is known of the man and
the deed, and in the light of this knowledge that justice was done
no right-thinking man can doubt.
A word perhaps might be said as to
the manner in which the defence of Czolgosz was conducted. This
case is one of historic interest, and hereafter will pass into the
literature of medical jurisprudence. Not improbably it will be referred
to as a precedent in future trials.
It would seem to the unprejudiced
and unimpassioned that an effort might have been made to present
to the jury some evidence regarding his mental state. Instead of
this his defense merely made a statement to the jury that the accused
had been examined by experts and pronounced sane. This is not the
usual method, and whether it is the best method will be determined
not by the fact that it has met public approval, but by the verdict
of time and of future events.
The address of the senior counsel
for Czolgosz was of unusual character. It dealt largely with a discussion
of the dignity of the law. It was in the main a defence of the defenders,
who needed no defence. Only praise is to be given to those who in
the face of probable misrepresentation or even of 
denunciation take up a line of conduct which is enjoined upon them
In the light of the facts which are
known and of the evidence presented at the trial, Czolgosz was justly
convicted, and punishment should follow speedily. Not a single bit
of evidence as to his insanity has been produced even in our prolific
public prints, but his defence should have been as thorough as it
would have been if the crime he committed had not been one which
all the world execrated.
CHAS. K. MILLS.