Source: Philadelphia Medical Journal
Source type: journal
Document type: editorial
Document title: “The Case of the Assassin”
Date of publication: 26 October 1901
Volume number: 8
Issue number: 17
|“The Case of the Assassin.” Philadelphia Medical Journal 26 Oct. 1901 v8n17: p. 665.|
|Leon Czolgosz (trial); Leon Czolgosz (mental health); George S. Graham.|
|Leon Czolgosz; F. X. Dercum; George S. Graham; William McKinley; Charles K. Mills; Edward C. Spitzka.|
Click here to read the 19 October 1901 letter to the editor by George S. Graham referred to below.
Click here to read the 19 October 1901 letter to the editor by F. X. Dercum referred to below.
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 to discover.
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.