Alvin Victor Sellers.

Classics of the bar, stories of the world's great jury trials and a compilation of forensic masterpieces (Volume 6) online

. (page 5 of 22)
Online LibraryAlvin Victor SellersClassics of the bar, stories of the world's great jury trials and a compilation of forensic masterpieces (Volume 6) → online text (page 5 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

more than conjecture that arsenic was the substance
purchased by the prisoner.

Can you rob the prisoner of hope, take away her
life, cut short her existence, deprive her of her pro-
bation, and send her, "unanointed and unannealed,"
into the presence of the dread Jehovah, on evidence
like this? The prepared substance laid carelessly
aside, the vessels not purified, the tests not an-
alyzed; where is the evidence by which to arrive at
a verdict of guilty?

I wish now to present to your consideration an-
other view of this case. In order to present this
view, it will be necessary for me to examine into the
poison known as antimony, out of which tartar
emetic is manufactured. This poison produces the
same symptoms as arsenic inflammation of the
stomach, purging, vomiting, and death. "The post


Classics of the Bar

mortem examination would develop the same ap-
pearances as from arsenic (U. S. Dispen., 797).
There would be the same erosions and the white
powders (Guy's Med. Jur., 640). By some tests
antimony may be made to precipitate the same
colors as arsenic. For authority on this point, see
Kane, 381, and Turner, 336. Antimony deposits the
same crust as arsenic (Turner, 357) which is de-
scribed in the U. S. Dispensatory as being of a
brilliant steel-gray color. Besides, gentlemen, anti-
monial preparations, such as tartar emetic, contain
of themselves arsenic. For authority on this point
I read from U. S. Dispensatory, and from Taylor on
Poisons. If this be so, and the supposition be that
he died from tartar emetic, all the results would be
produced from each test as were there produced.

I submit, gentlemen, that it is in evidence that
the deceased purchased tartar emetic a short time
before he died. You will remember that we asked
this question of the young Smith, the clerk in the
drug store of Mr. Hinsdale; he could not remember
the sale. We then presented an account in the hand-
writing of Mr. Hinsdale to refresh the witness's
memory. We alleged that that item of tartar emetic
was upon the account. We could not ask the witness
that question without introducing the account as
evidence and the object of the prisoner's counsel
was to avoid the introduction of evidence. But the
prosecution had it in its power, if the fact was not so,
to have produced the account; they could have ex-


The Trial of Ann K. Simpson

amined Mr. Hinsdale, and from their failure to do
so, we have a right to ask you to infer that the
deceased purchased the poison I have named a short
period before he died.

In order to the view of the question I am about
to present, it is necessary I should admit the dis-
agreement between the deceased and the prisoner.
Alexander C. Simpson became attached to and
married the prisoner at the bar. For a time they
lived together harmoniously, contentedly, happily.
But soon, some foul lago uttered suspicion of the
virtue of his wife whispered in the jealous hus-
band's ear.

He was a man of keen and quick sensibilities and
elevated pride, and the engendered suspicions
weighed heavily upon his heart and mind. Having
been cheerful, contented and happy, he became
gloomy, desponding and dispirited. From having
been kind, tender, affectionate, he became morose,
severe, quarrelsome, till he could no longer conceal
his emotions, but made an open rupture wrote to
her, upbraiding her infidelity "I once thought you
loved me, but I have reason to think that you like
another better; you can be my wife no longer"
the ebullition of a broken spirit, and a heart that
felt itself deserted and betrayed.

About this time he purchases a deadly poison
he is taken ill his wife offers to him the services
which a true and tender wife would be likely to offer,
and he rejects them and thrusts her rudely aside.


Classics of the Bar

He dies his symptoms are all of the kind and
in the degree which the poison he had purchased
would be likely to produce. After his death his
body is examined, and such appearances are dis-
covered as the poison which he purchased would be
likely to present much more so than arsenic
would, for here both lungs were affected, the "one
adherent, the other collapsed"; and antimony "prin-
cipally affects these organs." (feeck's Medical Ju-
risprudence, Page 419.)

The contents of the stomach are prepared and
subjected to tests by medical men and chemists, and
all the investigations exhibit just such results as the
poison which the deceased had purchased would be
likely to display. And after he is dead, no trace of
that poison can be found upon his premises, and no
account given of it.

Gentlemen, my association with the deceased has
ever been of a kind character, and I mean to deal
as tenderly with his memory as my duty will permit.
But I ask you if here is not a strong chain of cir-
cumstances (assuming the evidence to be true) going
to establish that he perished by his own act?

Gentlemen, I have endeavored to combat the ac-
cusation that the deceased died from arsenic. I have
shown such proof does not exist from the symptoms
and post mortem appearances, for these are common
to natural causes; nor yet from the chemical an-
alysis, for all the tests which were claimed to have
been tried successfully are declared by the best


The Trial of Ann K. Simpson

authorities to be uncertain and fallacious; and it is
not sound logic to derive infallibility out of a collec-
tion of fallacies, to arrive at inevitable truth from
loose and scattered uncertainties. In addition to
this it has been proved that the only experiment
which would have been conclusive was tried without

Gentlemen, I pray you, do not cut loose from
your moorings, and launch out from a safe haven
into the broad wild ocean of surmise and conjecture.
There you will have no compass to look to, and no
star to guide you over the waste of waters. Beware,
lest upon hidden shoals, or amid fatal breakers, you
destroy a life which you can never restore, and
forever shipwreck your own happiness and the peace
and quiet of your own conscience.

May it please your Honor, I have now reached
the second point in this inquiry, that is, whether if
the deceased died from arsenic it is proved to have
been administered by the hands of the prisoner.
But, Sir, I feel exhausted, and although greatly
desirous of doing so I am not able to enter upon this
investigation. I am relieved by the consciousness
that I have able and competent associates who will
pursue this inquiry, and with your Honor's per-
mission I will leave this part of the defense in their

Gentlemen, the scenes in this solemn drama are
drawing to a close, and soon the curtain will rise
upon the last act, where you will sustain the promi-


Classics of the Bar

nent characters. On the one hand is the rendition
of the awful verdict of "Guilty" and the prisoner
is remanded to her gloomy and cheerless cell, then
the pronouncement of the dread sentence of the law,
and a definite period is affixed as the limit of her
life then the terrible suspense, the sad prepara-
tion, the appointed hour, her fair neck bared and
circled by the hempen cord, her delicate frame en-
veloped in the felon's shroud, and the scene closes
upon the gallows and the grave.

On the other hand is the bare pittance of life.
You cannot give her peace. No more will the glad
sun of prosperity shine upon her way, or the sweet
flowers of pleasure spring up in her path. She
stands shivering amidst the pitiless peltings of the
storm of adversity. Her springtime and her summer
have faded out, and all around, far as her eye can
reach, is mantled with the white sheeting of mis-
fortune's wintry snow. But, gentlemen, you can
let her live. You can allow her for her allotted
time to remain where "mercy is to be sought and
pardon to be found."

The last rays of the setting sun of this fair and
lovely day, the flitting clouds and the gathering
shades of night are closely emblematic of the pris-
oner's dark and desolate condition. But these
clouds will disperse that sun will rise again to
shine upon the evil and upon the good. May his
coming rays shine upon her, a freed and liberated


The Trial of Ann K. Simpson

Gentlemen, with my associate counsel I visited
the prisoner on yesterday in the dungeon of which
she was a tenant. At the hour when we visited her,
the bells from your different churches were announc-
ing that the people, in obedience to the proclama-
tion of their chief magistrate, were assembling
around their several altars to return devout thanks-
giving to God for the favors vouchsafed them. We
had gone to inform the prisoner of the absence of
an important witness and to lay before her the pro-
priety of continuing her case. When we had finished,
with eyes streaming with tears and a face white as
yonder wall, she replied: "I know not what to do
act as you think best; but I am as much in the hands
of God to-day as I will ever be."

Gentlemen, to that country upon which she has
put herself, and into the hands of that God in whom
she professes to trust, I commit her cause.

Speech of Solicitor Ashe


THE eloquent counsel who has just addressed
you, has touchingly referred to the days of
his boyhood, and his acquaintance with the pris-
oner at the bar. I, too, gentlemen, knew the prisoner
in bygone days, and as I see her now, active memory


Classics of the Bar

calls up reminiscences of the past which painfully
impress me with the vicissitudes of human life.
When a lad at school, I was a boarder at her father's
house. The prisoner was then a mere child, fresh
from the hands of her Maker of that tender age,
when the follies and vices of the world had not as
yet marred the work of nature when cares had
no*yet begun to corrode when the countenance
still beamed with native felicity, and the heart re-
joiced in unconscious innocence.

Since then, eighteen years have rolled by, and I
see the prisoner at the bar for the first time again;
but, alas, how changed! The days of her innocent
childhood have fled. I see her a woman clad in
the habiliments of grief wearing the weeds of
widowhood occupying that seat in this house as-
signed to the lowest and basest felons the un-
enviable cynosure of all eyes, and charged with a
crime, no less heinous than the murder of her hus-
band by poison a crime justly considered, of all
others, the most horrid and detestable, because it is
usually committed in secret, and so insidiously, that
no forecast can prevent it, no manhood resist it.
These circumstances are well calculated to render
my situation unpleasant, but reason points out my
path, and duty bids me pursue it.

Your first inquiry is, did Alexander C. Simpson
die of arsenic? Dr. Mallett has informed you that
he saw Simpson on the morning of the day on which
he died his countenance indicating great distress


The Trial of Ann K. Simpson

complaining of an intense burning in the pit of
his stomach, accompanied by nausea, vomiting and
purging, with a weak and feeble pulse; that when
the stomach was taken out and examined, the
mucous membrane was found very much inflamed,
as also the duodenum; that there were discoverable
some two or three erosions on the inner coat of the
stomach and a number of white particles deposited
there, though not particularly on the erosions.
These, the doctor tells you, are some of the symp-
toms and marks of arsenic upon the human system,
though he candidly admits, and so does Dr. Robin-
son, who also visited the deceased in his last illness,
that these symptoms and marks of themselves, in-
dependent of the experiments afterwards made,
would not have brought their minds to the conclu-
sion that Simpson died from the effects of arsenic
taken into the stomach.

But numerous experiments were performed, a
variety of chemical tests were applied. You will
remember, the stomach was taken out the Saturday
after Simpson's death, and placed in a clean vessel,
and a part of the contents of the stomach put in an
evaporating dish, and evaporated by heat until a
residuum resembling cheese was obtained, which
was boiled in distilled water until dissolved, and this
solution was filtered through paper, for the purpose
of freeing it from any organic matter that might
have existed in the contents of the stomach. This
precaution shows the skill and care with which the


Classics of the Bar

experiments have been conducted. The fluid thus
obtained was then subjected to the following tests:

First, to what is called the liquid tests. To a
part of the suspected fluid was added ammonio ni-
trate of silver, and a rich yellow precipitate, gradu-
ally changing to a brown, was the result the
arsenite of silver, a compound of silver and arsenic.
To another portion was added the ammonio sulphate
of copper, and a rich green precipitate was formed
the arsenite of copper, a compound of arsenic and
copper. The yellow precipitate was then put in a
test tube and heated until it sublimed and settled
in a cooler part of the tube in the form of crystals.
Those crystals were then taken and boiled in dis-
tilled water until dissolved and the solution treated
with the ammonio nitrate of silver as at first, and
some yellow precipitate was obtained. A like ex-
periment was made with the green precipitate, with
a corresponding result.

Still another portion of this suspected fluid was
placed in a test tube with strips of copper which
were very soon furnished with a coating of steel
color. Correlative experiments were then resorted
to. A solution was made of what was known to be
arsenic, and that solution was then subjected to the
very same processes that I have just described, with
the very same results.

An attempt was then made to apply the dry or
reduction test, as it is called. The suspected fluid
was put in a tube with charcoal, and highly heated,


The Trial of Ann K. Simpson

when a ring of metallic appearance was formed on
the side of the tube, which resembled the ring de-
scribed in the books as a metallic ring, but the ex-
periment was at that time carried no further. There-
fore, the physicians were requested to report the
experiment during this term of court.

Accordingly, during this week, Dr. Robinson in-
forms you he has applied the reduction test to the
white particles obtained from the inner coat of the
stomach of the deceased. These white particles
were placed by him with a flux in a glass tube, and
heated until it was sublimed into a cooler part of
the tube, where it was condensed and formed a
ring of a steel-gray color, and a few crystals. On
examining this ring with a microscope it was found
to possess that metallic lustre, peculiar to the metal
of arsenic. That part of the tube containing this
ring with the crystals was filed off and placed in a
larger tube, and by application of heat other crystals
were obtained. These crystals, you will remember,
were dissolved in distilled water, and the solution
subjected to the liquid tests, with the most satisfac-
tory results. Drs. Robinson and Mallett give it as
their decided opinion, from the symptoms exhibited
by the deceased, from the marks of inflammation
disclosed in the stomach and duodenum, and from
the experiments made by them and by Dr. Colton,
that there was arsenic in the stomach of Alexander
C. Simpson when he died.

That these two gentlemen are men of high char-


Classics of the Bar

acter and competent to give reliable opinions can-
not be disputed. Their testimony then must be
relied on. The law declares it justice demands
it humanity requires it the well-being of so-
ciety enjoins it. Reject it! let it be understood that
such testimony is not to be relied upon to warrant
a conviction of the crime of murder, and you impair
the securities of human life you strengthen the
arm of the wicked, and give encouragement to many
a dark scheme of human villainy, now held in check
by the fear of the hangman's whip.

In opposition to this testimony, you have heard
from the able gentleman who has just addressed
you, an earnest and ingenious argument affecting to
prove that Simpson did not die of arsenic. You are
asked, was it strange that a man of feeble health
should sicken and die? Not at all. But it would
be strange, that where a man, in either feeble or
robust health, sickens and dies, and a quantity of
arsenic is found in his stomach, you should under-
take to say that he did not die of arsenic, when no
other rational account of his mortal infirmity can
be given.

But the defendant's counsel says that the ex-
periments were inconclusive, that the physicians
were not experts, and that Mr. Colton's testimony
is so contradictory in itself, and so variant, in the
point of smell, from the most eminent writers on
the subject of chemistry, and his nose so dilapidated,
that no reliance can be placed on his testimony. I


The Trial of Ann K. Simpson

do not consider that there is any irreconcilable dis-
crepancy in Dr. Colton's testimony. It is true, he
says, the only ground of absolute certainty is the
reduction of the arsenic to the metallic state, and
that all the other tests amount to a probability,
more or less strong, as the tests are more or less
distinct, and as correlative tests coincide with each

The reduction test was not applied by him which
he admits would have rendered the evidence
stronger, but the evidence derived from the experi-
ments which he had made was conclusive meaning
that the tests were so distinct and the correlative
tests so coincided with each other as to satisfy his
mind of the presence of arsenic. And that the doctor
should think the garlic odor was a very good test of
the presence of arsenic is not so extravagant a posi-
tion as to set aside his testimony. Many chemical
writers speak of this peculiar odor as indicative of
the presence of arsenic.

Dr. Christison is quoted to show that the white
powder found in the stomach might have been ani-
mal matter, which sometimes resembles arsenic. The
reply to this is, that there is no animal matter which,
when subjected to the tests employed in the analysis
of the white substance taken from the stomach of
the deceased, would afford similar results.

It is urged, that the liquid tests cannot be relied
on that that of the ammonio nitrate of silver is
fallacious, for that when mixed with phosphoric


Classics of the Bar

acid, a yellow precipitate is obtained, exactly re-
sembling that obtained by mixing it with a solution
of arsenious acid. That is true; but when the so-
lution of phosphoric acid is treated with the other
liquid test, the ammonio sulphate of copper, the
precipitate is altogether different from that which
is thrown by applying the same test to a solution of

Dr. Griffith, in one of his valuable notes to Tay-
lor's Medical Jurisprudence, says: "Medical jurists
appear to have overlooked the fact, that a solution
of phosphoric acid is precipitated by this test (am-
monio nitrate of silver) exactly like a solution of
arsenic; but the answer to any objection on this
ground is, that phosphoric acid either gives no
precipitate, or one of a pale blue color, with the
ammonio sulphate of copper," not of a green color,
such as is obtained from the solution of arsenic.

It is further insisted that antimony, when sub-
jected to heat in a tube, will produce a dark shining
crust, very similar to that deposited by the arsenious
acid; but they do not show, and I insist cannot show,
any authority to the effect that antimony in solution,
when treated with either the ammonio nitrate of
silver or the ammonio sulphate of copper, will throw
down the same precipitate which a solution of ar-
senic does; and the very same may be said of tartar
emetic, which is a compound of antimony.

The physicians tell you, and the books bear them
out, that there may be found substances which, when


The Trial of Ann K. Simpson

subjected to the various chemical tests employed for
the detection of arsenic, will now and then give a
result similar to that which arsenic will give, treated
with the same test; as, for instance, onions, anti-
mony, tartar emetic, cadmium, etc., but that there
is no other one substance in the whole range of
materia medica which, when subjected to all the
chemical tests, will be attended with the same re-
sults as arsenic in every experiment. Hence, the
importance of trying a variety of experiments with
the suspected fluid, as was done in this instance; for
when they succeed, as was the case here, in giving
results precisely the same with what is known to be
arsenic in each and every correlative experiment,
they are not only strongly corroborative of each
other, but cannot fail to satisfy every mind of the
conclusive character of the proof.

Mr. McRae argues that the experiments with the
liquid tests are not to be relied on, and that the only
test which can give anything like certainty is the
reduction test, which he alleges was not satisfactorily
applied by Dr. Robinson, because the doctor cannot
tell you that the crystals obtained by the sublimation
and condensation of what he supposed was the me-
tallic ring, were of an octahedral form. The doctor
admits that he could not ascertain the form of these
crystals with the microscope, but that the crystals
when dissolved and subjected to the liquid tests were
precipitated exactly as a solution of arsenic would
have been. For Mr. McRae's position that no test

Classics of the Bar

is to be trusted but that of reduction, Turner and
Chris tison are cited; but to show you that such a
position is not tenable, I beg leave to read a short
passage from Taylor's Medical Jurisprudence:

"An important medico-legal question has arisen in re-
lation to the tests for arsenic, namely, whether we can
rely upon any tests for this poison independently of its
reduction to the metallic state. Is it absolutely necessary,
chemically speaking, to obtain the metal in order to
say that arsenic is present in an unknown case? There
is a popular prejudice in favor of this metallic reduction;
and courts of law, as well as the public, are disposed to
regard the obtaining the metal as the only conclusive
proof of the presence of this poison. This, being purely
a chemical question, must, of course, be answered on
chemical principles, for it is chemical certainty that the
law requires. If a white powder were presented for
analysis, and it was found to possess distinctly the three
first characters pointed out (p. 126) could any chemist
entertain a reasonable doubt that the powder was white
arsenic? I think not. The reductive process might
corroborate, but I do not see how it could add greater
certainty to the results thereby obtained; and in heating
such a powder with flux the chemist knows that a metallic
sublimate must of necessity be formed, for there is no
white solid in the whole range of substance known to
chemistry, if we except arsenious acid, which possesses
the three characters mentioned. If we are so situated
that we are obliged to rely upon one test only, then the
process by reduction should be preferred; but even here
so many mistakes have been made relative to the sup-
posed metallic crust obtained from an unknown solid,
that Dr. Turner and others say, that it should always be
reconverted to arsenious acid, in oxidating it by heat,


The Trial of Ann K. Simpson

and that the white solid thus produced should be tested
by liquid reagents."

This last experiment was made by Dr. Robinson,
as I have before described to you, and Dr. Turner
thinks it the most satisfactory; and you will notice
that neither Taylor nor Turner, in the passage I
have read, says anything of the form of the crystals.

Mr. McRae, in further support of this favorite
position, informs you that he is supported by the
opinion of Dr. Christison, one of the most prominent
writers of toxicology. But listen to what Taylor
says, who recites from the works of the distinguished
doctor: "Dr. Christison justly considers that the
reductive process is not more conclusive in the
opinion of a chemist than the method by fluid tests;
but he regards the former to be necessary rather as
a concession to the unscientific minds of a criminal
court and jury." (P. 247.)

So, I have now shown you, upon the authority of
this gentleman's own witnesses, the learned and dis-
tinguished physicians, chemists and toxicologists,
Christison and Turner, that the reduction test is not
more conclusive than the liquid test; and if it is

1 2 3 5 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryAlvin Victor SellersClassics of the bar, stories of the world's great jury trials and a compilation of forensic masterpieces (Volume 6) → online text (page 5 of 22)