On the Way to the Chair
As a matter of form two eminent lawyers
made an effort to stand between Czolgosz and death. As a matter
of fact they stood aside, facilitating rather than retarding his
progress to the chair. Practically, not a word was said in behalf
of the murderer. It was a strange spectacle. A young and not ill-favored
man was on trial for his life. There was sympathy not for him, but
for the jurists associated with the defense. He could turn in no
direction and look into the eyes of a friend. So utterly detestable
has his name become that it is hazardous to breathe it anywhere
without words of condemnation. His advocates out of court take their
lives in their hands when they speak above a whisper. Even his advocates
in court became, by virtue of the horrors of the case, intrusted
to them, part of the machinery of the prosecution. They took issue
with literally nothing. They assented tacitly, if not in words,
to the digging of the grave. And yet they were assigned to espouse
the cause of one presumed to be innocent, of one entitled to all
the benefits of that presumption until guilt has been established.
It is an impoverished case that ties the hands and seals the lips.
It is an impoverished case that cannot prompt an extenuating word.
There is perhaps no parallel for what was seen in a Buffalo court
room [sic] a few days ago. It will not soon happen again that every
face will be averted where a life is at stake and where no power
on earth can save it.
The record of the Czolgosz trial includes
what purports to be a plea interposed for the defendant. It is doubtful
whether anything even remotely resembling it can be found in the
history of capital cases. It is a long apology. Not an apology for
murder or murderer, but an apology for the formality of representing
Czolgosz. Nor for this apology is apology in order. No murder was
ever committed in colder blood. Never was there a clearer case of
premeditation. There could be but one excuse for such a deed, and
this explains why alienists were sent into the murderer’s cell.
Insanity experts were not called to the witness stand, which is
perhaps to be regretted. That Czolgosz knew what he was doing goes
without saying. He furnished proof enough. He was animated by what
he has been pleased to call a sense of duty. When he proclaimed
this warrant for what he did, he made it clear that he came within
the legal definition of a sane man. But the alienists have had a
chance at him. Obviously, the results of their investigation furnished
no encouragement to his lawyers. As there is absolute sanity nowhere
it is sufficient to say, that to all legal intents and purposes
the criminal had and still has his wits about him. A loophole for
possible criticism might have been closed had this been formally
established by the evidence of experts.
It was, of course, not incumbent on
the prosecution to offer proof of sanity. It was for the defense
to claim irresponsibility and for the prosecution to meet the claim
if presented. Nothing of the kind was attempted, though the jury
was asked how could a man with a sane mind perform such an act?
The question fell from the lips of one of the murderer’s lawyers.
With it the defense of Czolgosz virtually began and ended. All
the rest was form. Fortunately, it was answered before it was asked,
answered by Czolgosz himself. It is fair to presume that he will
carry to the grave the delusion that he has been of service to the
country—delusion is deep seated when it is paid for at the price
of life itself. However, with or without errors of omission as the
case may be, the trial has gone into history. It stands to the infinite
credit of the country. A red-handed assassin, caught in the very
act of murder, has been denied none of the resources at the disposal
of the innocent. Every right to which he could lay claim has been
protected. Penniless, in his behalf the services of front rank lawyers
were reserved. The fact that he will go to the chair robs this service
of little of its luster. The miserable wretch whose life is such
a poor exchange is sent to his doom with not a sign of passion.
Cold-blooded, in cold blood he will be put to death. That his life
is to be deliberately taken is scant consolation, but that its taking
should be lawful was of paramount importance. What has been done
was well worth doing well. What remains to be done will be in keeping