The Case of the Assassin
It is probable that before this number
of the journal reaches all its readers, the assassin of President
McKinley will have paid the penalty for his foul crime. The case
of Czolgosz is of distinct historic interest, and has a medico-legal
importance perhaps greater than may at first sight appear to close
contemporary observers. As the case recedes into the past the trial
may assume unexpected proportions as a precedent in medical jurisprudence.
Whether this will be for good or for evil, remains for the future
In recognition of the unique importance
of the case we have taken pains to present, in these pages, some
of the most authoritative opinions that are to be obtained in this
country. Mr. Graham, the former District Attorney of Philadelphia,
had, while in office, an extensive experience with criminal cases
in which the defence of insanity was offered. He always conducted
such cases for the Commonwealth with an earnestness of conviction
and a force of eloquence that won the approval of the general public
and the recognition even of those whom he opposed and who opposed
him. His opinion, which we published last week, was of special interest
from the fact that it referred to the one particular point on which
there has been some tendency to criticize the conduct of the trial.
This was the omission to submit any evidence whatever as to the
prisoner’s mental state. It has seemed to some critics that the
record of the case would have been more complete, if the experts
who examined the prisoner had been put upon the stand and submitted
to cross-examination, even though their testimony had been entirely
favorable to the prisoner’s sanity. Mr. Graham shows, however, that
the law presumes the sanity, just as it presumes the innocence,
of the accused until the contrary is shown, and consequently that
the burden of proof is on the defence, in the one instance, just
as it is on the prosecution, in the other.
This is evidently one of those technical
questions on which opinion is somewhat colored by the point of view.
From the legal standpoint it is incontestable that Mr. Graham is
correct, and from this standpoint the case at present is largely
being judged. From the medical standpoint, the tendency of opinion
seems to be that an exception to this rule might have been beneficial
because of the magnitude and significance of the case. Of the prisoner’s
absolute sanity there has never been any apparent ground for doubt.
As Dr. Dercum happily expressed it, the case belongs not to the
psychiatry but to the psychology of crime. The papers which we publish
this week, by Dr. Spitzka and Dr. Mills, are largely historical
in scope and interest.