The Conviction of Czolgosz
LEON CZOLGOSZ, the pale, blue-eyed youth who killed President McKinley,
probably will pass into eternal sleep in the electric chair, facing
death with that same sullen silence which, from the moment of the
tragedy in the Temple of Music, has added a depressing mystery to
the black horror of his crime.
Indicted by a grand jury, he was led
from his cell and arraigned before County Judge Edward K. Emery.
Again his lips were closed and his face expressionless. Standing
erect before the judge, with his head slightly thrown back, he gazed
out of a window, his vision roaming away over the roofs of the city
and far out upon the Canadian fields across the Niagara River, as
if some satisfying picture were before his eyes, and his ears were
deaf to the ringing thumps of the judge’s gavel and the sharp commands
of the District Attorney, as he shouted in imperative tones: “Czolgosz!
Czolgosz! do you hear me?”
The indictment, relating in detail
the steps in the tragedy, was read to him, and, while every person
in the court-room listened with statue-like silence, Czolgosz did
not appear to hear it. His face was calm and colorless, his body
motionless and his eyes were the eyes of a dreamer.
Eminent counsel were assigned to defend
him—the Hon. Loran L. Lewis and the Hon. Robert C. Titus, two former
justices of the Supreme Court—but when these men visited him in
his cell he would not talk to them, would not answer their questions.
Of all the men on earth these two were the only ones who would or
could utter a word in the effort to save his wretched life, yet
he met them with stolid contempt and silence. Sitting, partly dressed,
on the edge of his cot, he stared at them in dumb defiance, as though
spurning any formal attempt to place between him and death the protection
of law—the law he hated. So, groping in the darkness of this wretched
creature’s silence, his attorneys went into court to defend him.
There was little said by them—little
to say. No witnesses were sworn in his behalf, no effort made to
justify his deed or to find a motive for it. In addressing the jury
in Czolgosz’s behalf, his counsel, Justice Lewis, said: “We have
not been aided by the defendant in our defence. We all know every
man longs to live, and so must this one. I believe no sane man would
have done what this man has done—struck down our beloved President.”
And in that utterance was embodied the only defence made for the
The trial of Leon Czolgosz began in
the Supreme Court of Buffalo two weeks and three days after the
President was shot. On the second day the case was given to the
jury, and after being out just twenty-nine minutes they returned
with a verdict of guilty of murder in the first degree. Two days
later the prisoner received from Justice Truman C. White the sentence
of death. The conduct of the trial was swift, just, and devoid of
dramatic incident. It differed little from the ordinary trial of
a man charged with murder except for the higher tension of all connected
with it and the increased interest of the outside world. As he came
nearer to the death sentence, Czolgosz’s manner seemed little changed.
With guards on all sides, he sat, slouched down in a dejected heap,
staring with expressionless eyes, sometimes at the judge, sometimes
out through the great windows into the clouds, and again dropping
his head upon his chest, either sleeping or feigning sleep so cleverly
that his guards were obliged to poke him sharply in the side to
arouse him. Only once during the trial did he make a sound or give
outward evidence that he either realized or had the slightest interest
in the proceedings of the trial. In a guttural, indistinct voice
he uttered the one word, “Guilty.” It was at the opening of the
trial, when the charge was read by the District Attorney and the
prisoner was called upon to plead. A brief pause followed after
the District Attorney had ceased speaking, and, before the prisoner’s
counsel could enter the usual plea of “Not guilty,” Czolgosz’s lips
moved, his head was lifted slightly, and deep and muffled, as if
from some deep recess of his body, came the sound “Guilty!”
Indistinct as was the utterance, in
the silence those near him caught it, and there was the sound of
men stiffening with intense feeling, and there was the look of black
loathing and hatred in many faces. But the law could not accept
the assassin’s own confession of his guilt and the plea of “Not
guilty” was ordered entered upon the records of the trial. Then
quickly followed the story of the terrible tragedy, told by a dozen
or more eye-witnesses—the Secret Service men, the soldiers, police
and citizens who were standing near the President in the Temple
of Music when Czolgosz approached and shot him.
During all this recital the prisoner
rarely looked at the witnesses and apparently was not affected by
what he heard, except when the handkerchief in which he had carried
the pistol was displayed in evidence. Then his head dropped forward
and he placed his right hand over his eyes.
During the testimony of James L. Quackenbush,
the witness produced a piece of paper which was the only written
statement made by the assassin since his arrest. Mr. Quackenbush,
being an attorney, had accompanied the District Attorney and police
when they were questioning Czolgosz on the night after the shooting.
Representing himself to be a newspaper reporter, Mr. Quackenbush
asked Czolgosz to make a written statement to the public, and he
wrote this: “I killed President McKinley because I done my duty.
I don’t believe one man should have so much service and another
man should have none.” And with that simple, almost childish, if
not insane, thought for his justification, Leon Czolgosz will pass
out into another world probably never realizing the horror and the
grief he has caused in the world he is leaving behind.