Source: Christian Advocate
Source type: newspaper
Document type: editorial
Document title: “Law Magnified and Made Honorable”
City of publication: New York, New York
Date of publication: 3 October 1901
Volume number: 76
Issue number: 40
|“Law Magnified and Made Honorable.” Christian Advocate 3 Oct. 1901 v76n40: pp. 1564-65.|
|Leon Czolgosz (trial); Leon Czolgosz (trial: personal response); Leon Czolgosz (legal defense); Leon Czolgosz (prosecution); Leon Czolgosz (sentencing).|
|Daniel; William McKinley; Robert C. Titus; Truman C. White.|
Law Magnified and Made Honorable
The trial of the assassin at Buffalo was conducted
in a manner to confer lasting honor upon the memories of the presiding judge,
of the district attorney, and of the counsel for the defendant. The assassin
pleaded guilty, but a principle of Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence is that no plea
of guilty shall be taken in any case where the punishment of the crime is death.
A man might be insane and plead guilty to the thing that he had done. He might
be totally indifferent to life, and plead guilty. He might plead guilty to save
the real criminal. Human life is a sacred thing, and should never be taken except
when there is no doubt on all or any of these points.
Three classes of persons beside the prisoner were condemned by this trial: those who affirmed that no man could commit such a crime and be sane. All the celebrated alienists that examined him declared him sane. All the people that saw him and talked with him concurred.  Hence no plea of insanity was set up. All those persons who expressed regret that the crowd did not succeed in lynching him (especially those ministers who publicly expressed their regret, in congregations, that he had not been lynched), each and every man who in a public position made that remark, gave loose rein to the beast in human nature, to the anarchistic element which is born in every man, and which religion and law are supposed to keep in check. It must be admitted that they sinned under great provocation, but the public man who uttered such sentiments stamped himself as one who could not be depended upon in a crisis and as unfit for a high responsibility. Those persons who said that when the President said, “Let no man hurt him,” he wanted him to go scot-free, as a poor wretch who did not know what he was doing, utterly misunderstood the spirit of the President’s words. Not then believing that he was fatally injured, recognizing only the attempt, having no knowledge of the man’s motives, probably fancying him to be a lunatic, his strong sense of the majesty of the law and the certainty that if he were not injured by the crowd the law would take care of the case, was all that he meant or could have meant, unless the shock had temporarily deprived him of reason.
From the time of D until now the world never saw proceedings in court any more worthy of admiration. The evidence was detailed from beginning to end. The two judges of high renown who had been appointed to look after the interests of the prisoner did all they could do. One of them delivered the plea. His first paragraph stated that the question was whether the act was that of an insane man. It also explained why this man appeared in his defense. Then he eulogized the law which required that this man should have counsel, declared that any defendant, no matter how serious a crime he has committed, is entitled to the benefit of a trial. In the case of murder he must have it. Next he set forth that there are many persons in this country who believe in lynching, and declared his conviction that while the doctrines of anarchists are dangerous, he could not believe that they created a danger to this country “equal to the belief, becoming so common, that men who are charged with crime shall not be permitted to go through the form of a trial in a court of justice, but that lynch law shall take the place of the calm and dignified administration of the law of our courts of justice.” After dwelling upon this he said, “Some weak-minded people entertain the notion that the lawyer who appears in defense of a defendant is in court to obstruct the due process of law, to balk justice, and to delay by technicalities.” He affirmed that this is not so, that his associate and himself were there for the same purpose for which the learned district attorney was there, “to see that this trial progresses in a legal, orderly and proper manner.” He then dwelt upon the trial as a great public lesson to the world. President M K death has touched every heart in this community and in the whole world, and yet “we sit here and quietly consider whether this man was responsible for the act he committed.” He communicated to the jury that the defendant would not assist him to prepare the case, and told the jury that they must decide “whether a man with a sane mind could perform such an act.” “If,” solemnly said he, “you could find that the assassin was not responsible you would aid in lifting a great cloud from the minds of the people of this country,” for “if the beloved President had met with a railroad accident and been killed, our grief could not compare with what it is now. If you find that he met his fate through the act of an insane man, it is the same as though he met it by accident.” At that point the venerable jurist was overcome by his feelings; he was barely able to stammer through this beautiful closing sentence: “I had the profoundest respect for President M K . I watched him in Congress and during his long public career, and he was one of the noblest men G ever made. His policy we care nothing about, but it always met with my profoundest respect. His death was the saddest blow to me that has occurred in many years.”
The district attorney did not speak more than fifteen minutes. The substance of his most judicious remarks was: The counsel for the defense says if the defendant was sane he was responsible, and if he was insane he must be presumed to be innocent. He tells you that is a presumption of law. It is also the presumption of law that every man is sane until proved insane. Here is a man who does not want a lawyer, who does not believe in G or in law, a man who does not believe in the marriage relation, yet our laws are such that he is defended by two of the ablest jurists in our city, as if he was the most respected defendant, and even though he comes into court and says he is guilty. Yet, gentlemen, you are required, under the constitution, to listen to the formal presentation of the evidence, notwithstanding the fact that this man says he does not want it.
The judge in his charge defined murder in the first and second degrees and manslaughter in the first and second degrees in these words: “If the defendant on Sept. 6 did wrongfully assault, shoot, or wound W M K by means alleged in the indictment, and if the act was committed with premeditated design, and if the act was the sole and approximate cause of death, and if the defendant knew he was doing wrong at the time, the defendant was guilty of murder in the first degree. If the act was not premeditated he was guilty of murder in the second degree.”
Afterward the district attorney asked the judge to charge the jury that the law presumes every individual sane unless proved otherwise, and the court said, “The law presumes the defendant in this case sane.” Then Judge T asked the court to charge that “if from the evidence it appeared to the jury that at the time of the committal of the assault the defendant was laboring under such a defect of reason as not to know the quality of the act or that it was wrong, he was not responsible, and the jury must acquit.” “I so charge,” said the judge. The jury returned in a few minutes, finding the prisoner guilty. He was then removed, and subsequently brought back to court on Thursday, at two o’clock, to receive his sentence.
At that time the usual questions were propounded to the prisoner, who answered them. The judge explained that he might claim to be insane or complain that he was not properly tried. The prisoner said he “had nothing to say about that.” Then he solemnly declared that no one knew of his intention or aided him in any way. After this he was sentenced to be executed in the week beginning Oct. 28. Justice W said:
In taking the life of our beloved President you committed a crime which shocked and outraged the moral sense of the civilized world. You have confessed your guilt, and, after learning all that at this time can be learned from the facts and circumstances of the case, twelve good jurors have pronounced you guilty of murder in the first degree.
You have said, according to the testimony of credible witnesses and yourself, that no other person aided or abetted you in the commission of this terrible act. God grant it may be so. The penalty for the crime for which you stand convicted is fixed by statute, and it now becomes my duty to pronounce judgment against you.
The sentence of the court is that, in the week beginning Oct. 28, 1901, at the place, in the manner, and by the means prescribed by law, you suffer the penalty of death. Remove the prisoner.
Subsequently he was removed to Auburn, where
he now is.
We shall postpone an analysis of this extraordinary character until he shall have met his just doom.