Source: Virginia Law Register
Source type: journal
Document type: editorial
Document title: none
Date of publication: October 1901
Volume number: 7
Issue number: 6
|[untitled]. Virginia Law Register Oct. 1901 v7n6: pp. 432-34.|
|Leon Czolgosz (trial: personal response); Leon Czolgosz (legal defense); Leon Czolgosz (trial: criticism).|
|Leon Czolgosz; William McKinley; Roland B. Molineux; William H. Seward; Truman C. White.|
We have learned with gratification of the conviction
of the assassin of President McKinley on the eighteenth day after the assault.
The impaneling of the jury was attended with nothing of the delay which marked
the opening of the Molineux case (tried some eighteen months ago, and at this
writing still pending in the Court of Appeals of New York), though the entire
country had of course both formed and expressed an opinion touching the guilt
of innocence of Czolgosz. Neither was there anything of the badgering of talesman
with all manner of irrelevant questions, which the press of New York, with practically
one voice, now demands shall be by statute rendered impossible in future in
the criminal practice of that State. The trial was conducted by Justice White
with dignity and dispatch, and the solemn lesson taught to all of Czolgosz’s
way of thinking that they may expect nothing more of the American people than
a short shrift and a tight rope,  or
a sufficient electric voltage, as the lex loci may provide. We rejoice
that Justice in this case has struck with an iron hand, without traveling with
its traditional leaden heel.
The arguments of counsel in the case are, however, proper subject for professional comment. That for the defense, if such it could be called, impresses us as absolutely unique. We have read it carefully, and, but for the newspaper headlines classifying it as a defense, we might easily have mistaken it—certainly five-sixths of it—for the argument for the prosecution. It has throughout a perfunctory and personally apologetic tone, as utterly foreign to the ideal defense as it was uncalled for by the facts. The world knew the circumstances of the connection of counsel with the cause, and respected the learned counsel for their recognition of their duty as sworn officers of the court. They were not upon trial, yet several paragraphs of the “plea” as published are consumed in an explanation to the jury and the country, which country they were, of why counsel for the defense were doing their duty.“Good sirs,” they seem to say, “do not include us in the verdict of guilty which you will of course render.”
A portion of the speech is devoted to a congratulation of the community and nation that the prisoner had not been promptly lynched. The speaker referred to a case of lynching in the South which he “had read of in a newspaper,” though he might have taken near-at-hand illustrations of mob violence from his sister States of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois; and if he had wished to lay especial emphasis upon his “point” he might have instanced the recent burning at the stake of a negro in the town of Leavenworth, Kansas. But of course these cases did not occur to him.
The remainder of his “argument” consisted of an anecdote of how William H. Seward once saved a negro from being lynched in the State of New York, and of a vivid statement of the enormity of his client’s crime. In the comparatively short time in which he addressed himself to anything resembling a defense of the prisoner, he took square issue with the court. He said: “We start with the assumption that the defendant was not mentally responsible for the crime which he committed,” though the court charged the jury that “the law presumes the defendant in this case sane.”
Upon the whole case, and after all proper allowances made for the difficulties of preparing a defence entirely without the aid or suggestion of the accused, we think that the attorney making the argument would have done well to follow the course of his two associates, and to  have submitted the case without argument. All must agree that his remarks benefited the prisoner in no degree whatever, while his panegyric upon “the orderly conduct of the people of the city of Buffalo,” when all men know that it was only prompt police action and the actual secretion of the prisoner which saved him from the summary vengeance of the same people, was as devoid of fact as his unkindly mention of the South—a section of the country than which none deplored more sincerely the tragedy of September sixth or gave more fitting expression to its grief—was devoid of taste. If, in the judgment of the learned counsel, the occasion was one for congratulation of any kind, it should have been in the direction of the efficiency of the police department of Buffalo.
We cannot conscientiously even pay the argument the always-doubtful compliment of calling it “a model of its kind.”