Charge of the Court (Excerpt)

    Source citation
    "Charge of the Court," Carlisle (PA) American Democrat, September 16, 1847, p. 1.
    Author (from)
    Hepburn, Samuel
    Newspaper: Publication
    Carlisle (PA) American Volunteer
    Newspaper: Headline
    Charge of the Court
    Newspaper: Page(s)
    Date Certainty
    Leah Suhrstedt
    Transcription date
    The following text is presented here in complete form, as it originally appeared in print. Spelling and typographical errors have been preserved as in the original.

    Gentlemen of the Jury-- From the very extensive range the discussion of this cause has taken, it becomes important for the jury to divest their minds of every impression, save those which legitimately belong to the case you have been sworn to try. Deep as has been the feeling manifested by counsel, and intense as is the interest of the whole community around us, in reference to this trial, I confess I was not prepared to hear the request made of you--by the gentlemen who first addressed you on behalf of these black defendants--that the ordinary rules of law governing cases of riot, should be greatly modified, if not wholly subverted, and that you should mark out for yourselves a course unknown in the jurisprudence of our country, so that you might have it in your power to acquit them.
    In this trial we have no Southern feeling to appease, nor any Northern prejudice to gratify.  Nor are we called upon to "immolate a victim upon the altar of his country, for his country's good," as has been so earnestly pressed upon you.  The offence charged is one which the law defines, and for the trying of which the soundest rules are established, and agreeably to those rules it must be disposed of.  The responsibilities devolving on us, in our respective positions, are such as should make us earnestly endeavor to discharge our respective duties with fidelity, both to the Commonwealth and to the defendants.  If the peace and dignity of the one have been grossly violated, the solemn sanctions under which you are acting require that you should fearlessly say so, without regard to the wealth or poverty, to the high or low standing in society, of those whom you believe, from the testimony, to be guilty of that violation.  And if, agreeably to the known and established rules of law, the evidence will justify you in acquitting any, or all, of these defendants, then it is just as imperatively your duty to do so.
    The defendants are indicted for a riot, as set out in the bill of indictment, and for this alone they are upon their trial.
    The first count charges them with a riot, simply.
    The second count acts forth in substance that three persons held to service or labor in the State of Maryland--the property of James H. Kennedy, and Jacob Hollingsworth--had escaped into this county, been arrested by their owner and agent--were lawfully in their custody--and being thus within their control; the defendants riotously, tumultuously, and unlawfully assembled together, and rescued two of them from the custody of their owner, Mr. Kennedy, by which he lost them; and of meeting riotously and unlawfully for the additional purpose of aiding the their to escape from the agent of Mr. Hollingsworth, in whose custody he was, to the injury of those individuals, as set out in the bill which was read to you.
    The third count charges the same defendants with a riot, and assault and battery, upon James H. Kennedy, and John Black.
    To these charges, as set out in this bill, the defendants are called upon to respond.  And I will here remark, that it is incumbent on the Commonwealth to satisfy you that the defendants, or some of them, now upon their trial, have been guilty of one or more of these charges, and unless that has been done, they are entitled to your verdict of acquittal.  On the other hand, if either or all of the offences charged, have been proved, then your duty to the Commonwealth requires that you say so, and your verdict should be that of guilty against all whom you are satisfied were engaged in them.
    That a riot, most disgraceful in its character, and but too melancholy in its results, occurred in this town, upon the day named in the indictment, is a fact not controverted during the trial by any one of the counsel concerned for the defendants, and which under the evidence you have heard, cannot be questioned by any unprejudiced mind.  But, who were parties in it?  And whether the acts of the several defendants named in this bill, were of such a character, as to make each of them a participant in that unfortunate affair? are questions which you must answer under the solemn obligations assumed by you as jurors, when you promised under the sanction of your oaths, that you would well and truly try, the issue joined between the Commonwealth and the persons named in the indictment (as to whom you have been sworn,) and that you would give a true verdict according to the evidence.  On the Court devolves the duty of stating to you the principles of law by which this cause should be governed, and upon you that of applying those rules to the evidence as you have heard it. 

    A riot at common law, is where three or more persons actually do an unlawful act of violence, either with or without a common cause of quarrel; as if they beat a man, or do any other unlawful act with force and violence, or even do an unlawful act in a violent or tumultuous manner.

    Our Act of Assembly of 17-5, not only includes the actual violence or injury, but makes the bare assembling of three or more together with clubs, with the design to commit violence or injury to the person or goods of another, riot.  So that in Pennsylvania, since the passage of this law, the assembling together of three or more persons, as provided in that law, with the design to commit violence or injury upon the person or property of another, though no single act be done in pursuance of that design, is a riot.

    If a party numbering three or more combine to disturb another in the enjoyment of his lawful rights, and do so, we have seen that at common law, it constitutes a riot, and every man embraced in this combination, is guilty of all acts done in execution of, or contributing or tending to the purpose, for which it was formed.  And as said by Judge Addison in this same case from which I have quoted, collecting a party for any purpose of a violent tendency, renders the authors guilty of all consequences plainly to be foreseen, whether they be active in the execution of it or not.  A man becomes a party to a riot, either by being active in which is going on, or by countenancing it by his presence and advice, or by standing ready to support it, if necessary, in any emergency which may arise, requiring his aid.  All who have any thing to do with a riot by way of promoting it, by their presence, actions, or advice, are responsible for all consequences following their acts, and as guilty of the riot as the most active participator in it.  In this grade of crimes, the law recognizes no accessories.  All are principals who have had any thing to do with promoting it…

    …With the law in reference to what constitutes a riot, before us, and the position in which the partied alledged to have been injured by it, stood, let us recur to the evidence, and see, if any, or all of these defendants were either promoting or maintaining it.

    In reference to all of the blacks except Eli Butler, Mealy Butler, James Jones, and Susan Hunter, the evidence seems to be clear and uncontradictory, and I should suppose you will have but little difficulty in coming to a proper conclusion upon it.  In regard to these four, there is some conflict in the evidence—[Here the evidence was read relating to them.]  From this you will say whether they are guilty or not.

    In regard to Professor McClintock, you have also heard the testimony.  It has since been read to you by Mr. Watts, and I need do no more than refer you to the defendant’s witnesses who testified to his conduct on that day.  You heard from Mr. Thorn his declared intention on entering the Court Room, subsequent to his interview with Mr. Sanderson, on the street; and from Samuel Frantz, Willis Foolk, Edward Showers, Michael Holcomb, Wm. M. Pearose, John Walt, Joseph Stuart and others, what passed between him and others of those defendants in the Court Room; what occurred before the riot downstairs, and subsequent to it.  In addition I will read you the testimony of Francis Noble, who details what he saw almost in the the midst of this riot, and who alone, if believed by the jury, makes out the offence.  [Here Noble’s testimony was read.]

    We now submit this whole case, and that of each of these defendants, to you.  The responsibility of making a proper disposition of it, and of each of them rests with you, and from that responsibility we have no desire to relieve you.  Give to the whole evidence in the cause, a calm, deliberate consideration; apply it to the rules of law, as we have stated them, and find such verdict as it will warrant—leaving the consequences of such a finding where the law has placed them.

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