Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

was arrested on the charge of murder. A young man had been killed during a riotous mêlée in the night-time, at a camp-meeting, and one of his associates stated that the death-wound was inflicted by young Armstrong. A preliminary examination was gone into, at which the accuser testified so positively that there seemed to be no doubt of the guilt of the prisoner, and, therefore, he was held for trial. As is too often the case, the bloody act caused an undue excitement in the public mind. Every improper incident in the life of the prisoner, each act which bore the least resemblance to rowdyism, each school-boy quarrel, was suddenly remembered and magnified, until they pictured him as a fiend of the most horrid hue. As these rumors were spread abroad they were received as gospel truth, and the most feverish desire for vengeance seized upon the infatuated populace, while only prisonbars prevented a horrible death at the hands of a mob. The events were heralded in the newspapers, painted in the highest colors, accompanied with rejoicing over the certainty of punishment being meted out to the guilty party. The prisoner, overwhelmed by the circumstances in which he found himself placed, fell into a mel

THE ARMSTRONG TRIAL.

53

ancholy condition bordering on despair; and the widowed mother, looking through her tears, saw no cause for hope from earthly aid.

“At this juncture the widow received a letter from Mr. Lincoln, volunteering his services in an effort to save the youth from the impending stroke. Gladly was his aid accepted, although it seemed impossible for even his sagacity to prevail in such a desperate case; but the heart of the attorney was in the work, and he set about it with a will that knew no such word as fail. Feeling that the poisoned condition of the public mind was such as to preclude the possibility of impaneling an impartial jury in the court having jurisdiction, he procured a change of venue and a postponement of the trial. Ho then went studiously to work unraveling the history of the case, and satisfied himself that his client was the victim of malice, and that the statements of the accuser were a tissue of falsehoods. When the trial was called, the prisoner, pale and emaciated, and with hopelessness written on every feature—accompanied by his halfhoping, half-despairing mother, whose only hope was a mother's belief in her son's innocence, in the justice of God, and in the noble counsel

who, without hope of fee or reward on earth, had undertaken the cause-took his seat in the prisoner's box, and with stony firmness listened to the reading of the indictment.

“Lincoln sat quietly by, while the large auditory looked on him as though wondering what he could say in defense of one whose guilt was deemed certain. The examination of the witnesses for the State was begun, and a wellarranged mass of evidence, circumstantial and positive, was introduced, which seemed to impale the prisoner beyond the possibility of extrication. Mr. Lincoln propounded but few questions, and those of a character which excited no uneasiness on the part of the prosecutor, merely, in most cases, requiring the main witness to be definite as to time and place. When the evidence of the prosecution was closed, Lincoln introduced a few witnesses to remove some erroneous impressions in regard to the previous character of his client, who, though somewhat rowdyish, had never been known to commit a vicious act, and to show that a greater degree of ill-feeling existed between the accuser and the accused than between the accused and the murdered man. The prosecutor felt that the

a

THE ARMSTRONG TRIAL.

55

case was a clear one, and his opening speech was brief and formal.

“Lincoln arose, while a deathly silence pervaded the vast audience, and, in a clear but moderate tone, began his argument. Slowly and carefully he reviewed the testimony, pointing out the hitherto unobserved discrepancies in the statements of the principal witness. That which appeared plain and plausible he made to appear crooked as a serpent's path. The witness had stated that the affair took place at a certain hour in the evening, and that, by the aid of the brightlyshining moon, he saw the prisoner inflict the death-blow with a sluny-shot. Mr. Lincoln showed that at the hour referred to the moon was not yet above the horizon, and, consequently, the whole tale was a fabrication. He then drew a picture of the perjurer so horrid and ghastly that the accuser could sit under it no longer, but reeled and staggered from the court-room. Then, in words of thrilling pathos, Lincoln appealed to the jurors as fathers of sons who might become fatherless, to yield to no previous impressions of ill-founded prejudice, but to do his client justice; and as he alluded to the debt of gratitude which he owed the boy's sire, tears

were

seen to fall from many eyes unused to weep. It was near night, when he concluded by saying that if justice were done, as he believed it would be, before the sun should set it would shine upon his client a free man.

Half an hour had not elapsed when a messenger announced that the jury had agreed upon their verdict. The court-room was soon filled to overflowing by citizens of the town. When the prisoner and his mother entered, silence reigned as completely as if the house were empty. The foreman of the jury, in answer to the usual inquiry from the court, in a strong, clear tone, announced the verdict, “NoT GUILTY!” The widow dropped into the arms of her son, who held her up, and told her to look on him as before, a free man and innocent. Then, with the words, “ Where is Mr. Lincoln ?” he rushed across the room and grasped the hand of his deliverer, while his heart was too full for utterance. Lincoln turned his eyes toward the west, where the sun still lingered in view, and then turning toward the youth, said, “It is not yet sundown, and you are free.”

While riding alone, at one time, to attend court in a neighboring county, an incident occurred

« ZurückWeiter »