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The jury without retiring from their seats, returned a verdict of not guilty. The case was conducted for the government by George Blake, Esq. District Attorney; for the prisoner, by Daniel Davis and Francis Bassett, Esquires.
An account of a trial before the Supreme Court of the state of Ohio, has just come into our hands, which, though different in some of its features, bears a strong resemblance to the case of Drew. In this case the point of law did not come directly before the court for a final decision. Whether the accused was at the time he committed the homicide, capable of discriminating between right and wrong, was a question, from all the circumstances of the case to be left to the jury, and they having returned a verdict of guilty, the court upon a motion for a new trial did not think proper to interfere and disturb the verdict. The opinion of the court, however, so far as it can be gathered from incidental remarks made at the argument of counsel for a new trial, would seem to be at variance with the decision of the Circuit Court in the case of Drew. They say that they were not called upon to give an opinion, whether Mania a potu would, under any circumstances, be an excuse for the commission of a crime, but they feel no unwillingness to express their opinion, that if the insanity was the offspring of intemperance and the prisoner knew that intoxication would produce it, he could not plead it as an apology.' This intimation from the court, and the result of the trial, seem to have produced considerable excitement in that quarter of the country, and have drawn to the subject the attention of Dr. Drake, a distinguished medical professor, who, in the Western Journal of the Medical and Physical Sciences,' has stated the case and accompanied it with an elaborate discussion of the question whether Mania a potu, either temporary or protracted, be an excuse for crime.' He comes to the conclusion, the correctness of which we cannot doubt, that insanity of this kind ought in law to be an immunity from punishment. His statement of the case is as follows:
" John Birdsell, of the village of Harrison, in the western part of this county, on the 3d inst. was arraigned before the Supreme Court of Ohio, for homicide. Present on the bench, Judges Pease and Sherman. In the indictment it was laid, that the defendant, on Thursday evening, 5th of March, 1829, murdered his wife, by cutting through her neck from side to side, with a narrow axe, at a single blow, which severed the spinal column,
and caused instant death. The proof of the fact was perfect and uncontroverted. The defence set up was Mania a potu. Having recorded the principal facts, and also been furnished with the notes of the prosecutor and one of the advocates, I propose to lay before the reader such portions of them as have a relation to the subject of Medical Jurisprudence. The defendant was to appearance about fifty years of
and had been married nineteen or twenty years to a second wife, by whom he had several children, one of whom was a witness in the case. It appeared from the testimony, that for several years he had been subject to occasional fits of intoxication, which in the latter part of the time had been followed by Mania a potu, which generally lasted for several days, and went off spontaneously. In these paroxysms he had the physical and moral symptoms which usually characterize that malady. The former were, great tremors of the hands, a pale face, red eyes,
and sometimes a copious perspiration even when exposed half-naked to a cold atmosphere. The moral phenomena were, disordered perceptions of sight and hearing, so that he often insisted, that he saw himself surrounded by snakes and other reptiles, or by armed men who sought to kill him; or supposed he heard strange sounds of trumpets, or vocal music, or conversation of which he was the subject, and the object of which was mischief to himself. He was thus filled with apprehension for his safety, and sometimes ran about the village at night, as if attempting to escape from bad persons who were pursuing him. On a certain night, he made so much clamor as to excite the idea of several men engaged in a riot. At another time, in his own house, he concealed himself between the feather and the straw bed, where he was almost suffocated. On another occasion, he was found, after dark, standing in the street without shoes or hat, and had described around him a circle in the dust, and declared, that if any one entered it, that person would kill him. At other times he would peep from his window, and point his gun, as for defence, against imaginary persons, who were approaching to seize him. Again, he would fancy that two armies were engaged in battle, and that he must join one of them. In all his paroxysms he had so great a degree of watchfulness, as to sleep little or none for several nights in succession. But his prevailing maniacal conception was, that his wife was in a combination with three of his neighbors, one of whom was his son by a former wife, and that they had conspired against his life. Of these men, when they were not in his presence, he was afraid. In the paroxysms he was accustomed to charge his wife (unfoundedly in the opinion of witnesses) with a criminal intimacy with these persons. He even threatened to kill her if she did not desist, and had been heard to utter this threat, when he was thought by one of the witnesses to be rational.
On the Sunday before the murder, he drank freely, and was intoxicated, in which condition, as usual, he was quiet, dull, and disposed to lie in bed. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday presented nothing special. On Wednesday evening he complained to a neighbor of feeling unwell, and asked his son's assistance in the performance of some necessary manual labor for his family. He seemed to the witness to be rational. During the night he slept none, and complained of cramp in his stomach. The next morning his family thought him crazy, but were not alarmed, as they were accustomed to such attacks. In the course of the day, he took an axe on the shoulder, and walked rapidly to the house of a neighbor, whom he desired to go home with him, saying they wanted to kill him; and about the same time he told another of the supposed conspirators, that he had overheard his wife and him that morning whispering about taking his (the witness') life.
“He spent the day at home in the midst of his family, apparently in agitation and terror, but said he would not hurt any one, and did not wish to be hurt. In addition to the axe, which he placed under the bed, where it was often kept, he provided a scythe, which he brought into the house. He manifested jealousy of his wife, and told her to act better, for she had already caused the death of thirty thousand men. He fancied that the persons of whom he was jealous, were in the loft manufacturing ropes to hang him, and going up, returned and said he had cut the ropes to pieces, and brought down the fragments with bim, though he had nothing in his hands. In the course of the afternoon, he fastened both the doors of his house. At the usual time his wife went out to milk, and he barred the door after her. On her return he fastened it again. She was seated near the fire, and he was walking the room. At length he took the axe from under the bed, and suddenly gave the fatal blow, following it up with two others on the face. His oldest daughter caught the instrument, which he yielded up, and then seized the scythe, with which he attempted to strike her. She defended herself with a chair, till the smaller children having opened the door, she made
He took his youngest child in his arms, and sat down by the window. The child exclaimed, mamma bleeds!' which he said made him feel bad. When his neighbors arrived immediately afterwards, he gave himself up, acknowledged what he had done, said he knew he would be hung for it, but that he ought to have done it nine months sooner; and that if he had it to do again, he would strike two blows where he only struck one. Talked so rationally, that many of the witnesses could not believe him deranged. Evinced no dread of punishment for his crime, but was still in great apprehension from the persons who, he had believed, intended to kill him. Was glad that he had defeated their calculations. On his way to the city to be committed to
jail, talked rationally and composedly about his affairs, and on various subjects; but frequently asked the guard if they did not hear sweet sounds of different kinds, and on being answered in the negative, insisted that he could not be mistaken. After being committed he became regular, [rational ?] and expressed his regret at what he had done." Western Journal, pp. 44–47.
After some remarks upon the nature of delirium tremens and insanity, Dr. Drake says,
'It must be shown, either that the culprit is insane on all subjects, to such a degree as to pervert his affections and destroy his estimate of right and wrong; or that his crime had some natural connexion with the subject of his hallucination. Submitting to these requirements, the subjects of Mania a potu seem fairly entitled to plead their alienation, when arraigned for crimes. As I have already said, they have disordered conceptions, of intense and bewildering vividness, which, it is true, they sometimes regard as delusions, but oftener mistake for realities, and act accordingly. Their passions, particularly those of fear, jealousy, and anger have an uncontrollable mobility; their desires and aversions are equally morbid, and their will displays a wild and sleepless energy of action. In this condition, they may still distinguish between right and wrong, on many subjects, provided their attention can be fixed, and the subjects have no connexion with the trains of thought with which they are incessantly occupied; but in reference to these, they judge and act on the conviction of their reality; that is, with a firm belief, and should not, therefore, be held accountable.” Western Journal, p. 53.
Again he says,
'I appeal to the enlightened members of the profession every where, whether here are not all requisites of a case of monomania :- Assumed and unreal premises,-deductions true to the principles of logic, but false in point of fact,-lastly, acts consistent with his conclusions. On other subjects he might have been regular enough, but on this he had gone astray; on others, he could judge between right and wrong; on this, his estimate of right and wrong took its character from his delusion. Had he killed, in a real dispute, some other person, not of the conspiracy, the act would have been foreign from his hallucination, and should not have been excused; but when he murdered one of the conspirators, he kept himself within the pale of that hallucination, and acted in accordance with his erroneous conceptions. Both the court and prosecutor admitted, that he labored under derangement; but because he manifested a perception of right and wrong on certain subjects, seemed disposed to argue, that he must have had a perception of right and wrong in reference to the subject VOL. III.NO, V.
of his insanity! I would ask, whether if he had been equally insane on all other topics, they would have looked for manifestations of a correct estimate of right and wrong? I think they would not, and still, to be consistent, they should.
“It must not be forgotten, that it was admitted by all, that he was deranged. The difference of opinion related to its degree; the prosecutor and others, regarding it as insufficient to justify him, others as sufficient. But he did an act, felonious in its bature, directly connected with his erroneous opinions; and I would put to them the question, whether, if he performed a sane action, and for such only could he be held accountable, it would be one connected with his insanity? I think not. [The] non compos cannot be of sound mind on the subject of his derangement, though he may be on every other.
"I will here take occasion to say, that of the various forms of mental alienation, monomania, or partial insanity,* is not only the most dangerous to the peace of society, but by far most difficult to establish to the satisfaction of an ordinary jury. The broad and hideous features of general madness, or mania proper, cannot be mistaken by the most ignorant; but such madmen are generally harmless. They may give an unlucky blow, but they have no design, no plan, no perseverance, no concealment. Not so with the monomaniac. On some subject, or group of subjects, his conceptions are wrong, and his assumptions false. The error lies in his premises, more than his conclusions; you may reason him into a modification of the latter, by correcting his logic; but no argument, persuasion, or authority, can drive him from the former. The spirit of his delusion cannot be exorcised. It governs him with despotic power, but its jurisdiction is limited. He has, as it were, two cotemporary states of intellectual being, with alternate manifestations; one in common with those around him; the other peculiar to himself. In the former, he feels, and thinks, and acts, in consonance and sympathy with his race; in the latter, he contemplates nothing but the objects embraced in his delusion; and regardless of consequences, looks only to their accomplishment. In this morbid state, we may often see much of his original character. If mild, timid, and benevolent, his insanity is less to be dreaded—if suspicious, he becomes jealous—if proud, haughty and impetuous—if ill-natured, ferocious and revengeful. Hence, men of bad passions are most likely, when insanc, to commit outrages, and are least likely to receive the commiseration of society, or the courts of justice, which seems to have been
•* It may not be amiss for us to recollect, that a partial insanity is not an alienation slight in degree, but limited in the extent of its objects. Under this view a derangement may be on a single point only, and still have a character of most terrific energy.'