Source: Collier’s Weekly
Source type: magazine
Document type: article
Document title: “The Conviction of Czolgosz”
Date of publication: 5 October 1901
Volume number: 28
Issue number: 1
|“The Conviction of Czolgosz.” Collier’s Weekly 5 Oct. 1901 v28n1: p. 20.|
|Leon Czolgosz (arraignment); Leon Czolgosz (legal defense); Leon Czolgosz (trial).|
|Leon Czolgosz; Edward K. Emery; Loran L. Lewis; William McKinley; James L. Quackenbush; Robert C. Titus; Truman C. White.|
|The article below is accompanied on the same page by illustrations of Judge White, District Attorney Penney, and defense attorneys Titus and Lewis.|
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 assassin.
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.