Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

some philosophers has been considered according to the mathematical principles of the doctrine of

chances

i On saisit le garçon de boutique ; il se trouve que le couteau lui appartient. La cravate que tenoit la marchande étoit à lui. On compare ses cheveux avec ceux qui étoient dans l'autre main; ils se trouvent les mêmes. Enfin la clef de la boutique étoit dans sa chambre ; lui seul avoit pu, moyennant cette clef, entrer chez la marchande, sans fracture. D'après des indices ainsi cumulés, et si concluants, on lui fait subir la question ; il avoue, il est rompu.

Peu de tems après, on arrête un garçon marchand de vin, pour je ne sçais quel autre délit. Il déclare, par son testament de mort, que lui seul est coupable de l'assassinat commis à la Place Saint Michel. Le cabaret où il servoit étoit attenant à la demeure de la marchande égorgée. Il étoit familiérement lié avec le garçon de boutique de cette marchande ; c'étoit lui qui mettoit ordinairement ses cheveux en queue ; quand il peignoit, il avoit soin de ramasser ceux que le peigne détachoit, et dont il avoit peu-à- peu formé la poignée qui s'étoit trouvée dans les mains du cadavre. Il ne lui avoit pas été difficile de se procurer une des cravates et le couteau de son camarade, et de prendre, avec de la cire, l'empreinte de la clef de la boutique, pour en fabriquer une fausse.

To this note in the first edition, I now think it proper to make the following addition :

In the Morning Herald of the 27th of September 1820, the following case is stated as having occurred in Ireland. A servant of a bleacher had stolen property from a bleaching-ground, to a great extent. The master offered one hundred pounds reward to any one who could discover the thief. The servant, to obtain the hundred pounds reward, and to remove all suspicion from himself, borrowed a penknife from a young man in the

F 2

neighbourhood;

chances and combinations. In the second volume of the Miscellanea Curiosa, the first Paper (said to

be

neighbourhood; then invited him to come to see him in the night, and persuaded him to bring his father's lantern, to light him home. The poor young man so came; and after supping with him, the designing villain told him that he had left accidentally his penknife in the bleaching-ground, and explained to him exactly where he might find it, on his return home. · The unsuspecting young man went as he was directed; but the servant immediately informed his master that some one was going with a light to the bleaching-ground. They followed with guns, and as the young man was stooping for the knife, he was shot dead. A web of cloth þeing half cut through with the young man's own knife, which was known in the neighbourhood to be his ; his father's lantern also being known; and cloth and yarn being placed in heaps, ready to be carried away : constituted such a concurrence of circumstances, that no one doubted but this innocent young man had been deservedly shot.-It was not stated how the real truth was discovered.

Such diabolical machinations no administration of justice can ever entirely extirpate. But to the honour of English Judges and Juries, I have never heard of the execution of any man found guilty upon circumstantial evidence, where it could be proved afterwards that he was innocent. If it did sometimes so happen, it would do no discredit to our laws and Government. I have been sorry to see lately, that those who wish to degrade every part of the Law of England, insinuate or assert that it is unjust and cruel to condemn men to punishment upon circumstantial evidence. All human testimony, positive or circumstantial, never can amount to absolute certainty, but only to that degree of probability which is called moral probability. I presume it is so called, because wise and

good

be written by Dr. Halley) is entitled, A Calculation of the Credibility of Human Testimony ; in which

' that

good men think it morally right to act upon it. Infinite mischief and ruin would result, if we turned loose again upon society all murderers and malefactors, who could only be brought to punishment by circumstantial evidence. We must all act to the best of our knowledge and judgment for the protection of others and ourselves : we must not sit still, as Dr. Johnson is said to have done, in a state of lowness of spirits, declaring that he would not walk across the room for fear, he should kill a fly.

What I have said respecting the execution of an innocent man, must be confined to modern times; for Lord Chief Justice Hale has related some such cases which had existed in his time: and he observes upon them, “ I would never convict any person of murder or manslaughter, unless the fact were proved to be done, or at least the body found dead, for the sake of two cases" which he relates, where the prisoner in each was found guilty and executed, and the person charged to be murdered afterwards appeared and gave an account of his absence. 2 Hale P. C. 290.

I cannot conclude this note without animadverting upon the highly reprehensible manner in which several Clergymen conduct themselves, in pressing, almost torturing, prisoners, before execution, to confess their crimes. I should advise them to confine their pious exhortations and influence to prepare the convicts for the government of another world; but not to injure greatly the government in this, by inducing the unthinking multitude to believe that he must have suffered wrongfully, who at the last moment persisted in declaring his innocence, after so many urgent importunities to lead him to confess his

guilt.

Another

that learned philosopher shews, that if we could determine the probability of the credit of each

witness,

Another interesting case of that kind I have read, though I am unable to inform the reader where it is to be found. But the circumstances stated were these. A gentleman, who lived near Epping Forest, was guardian to his niece, a young lady of great fortune ; to which, upon her death, he was entitled to, as her heir or next of kin. . They were seen walking together into a very lonely part of the forest : he was seen there dragging her upon the ground; and she was heard, in a beseeching voice, to say, “ My dear uncle, do not kill me! do not kill me!" The report of a gun was soon afterwards heard near the place. The uncle returned home without his niece, giving no satisfactory account of her disappearance. He was tried for the murder of her, found guilty, and executed.

The niece sometime afterwards returned, and gave this true account of the whole transaction. i

She was in love with a young man, whom her uncle would not give his consent that she should marry : she walked into the forest with him, went down upon her knees to supplicate his consent: she used the words proved, she held fast his hands, and he, to disengage himself, dragged her upon the ground: when they were separated, he returned hastily to his house : she saw a gamekeeper immediately afterwards kill a woodcock; and she ran down a path to a place where her lover, by agreement, was waiting with horses; which conveyed them to an English port, where they embarked for Holland, and had no opportunity of hearing of the uncle's trial before their return to England.

This case probably existed before Lord Hale's Pleas of the Crown were published, recommending no conviction before the body of the deceased was found.

If

witness, the sum or product of the whole testimony of witnesses, or the probability of the guilt or innocence of a prisoner, would be a strict and mathematical calculation. One proposition clearly demonstrated by those principles, is, that the weight or probability of human testimony, given any degree of credibility to the witnesses, rises in a much higher ratio or proportion than the number of the witnesses : so that where the probability of the truth of each witness is to the probability of his falsehood, from error or corruption, as 9 to 1; if there are two, of that degree of credit, it is 99

to

If the body of the deceased had been found, and she had been shot by some other man after her uncle had left her, he could have had little chance of an acquittal, even from the most cautious and discreet Judge and jury of the present times.

The best apparent evidence may be delusive and fallacious : a theft can seldom be proved by an eye-witness; and a very great proportion of depredations would be committed with impunity, if the parties charged were not convicted upon circumstantial evidence. The strongest and most usual presumption is the recent possession of the stolen property, not answered by proof that the party became possessed of it honestly.

But there is a memorable case in Holy Writ, where this presumption failed; viz. the discovery of Joseph's cup in Benjamin's sack : but the authority of the case also proves that wise and good men at that time acted upon such a violent presumption of criminality.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »