Sunday, November 19, 2023

Sickles Trial, published April 28, 1859

 We continue our brief synopsis of the evidence in this trial.

On Wednesday, April 20th, Mr. Wooldridge was examined by the prosecution. No fact of interest was elicited.

“Albert A. Megaffey examined by Mr. Brady. I reside in the city of Washington; I knew the late Mr. Key; was acquainted with him from January or February, 1858; was tolerable intimate with him; I was a member of the club up to the time of its dissolution, and met Mr. Key there.

“Ques. Did you at any time have a conversation with Mr. Key in reference to Mrs. Sickles?”

“Witness. I did.

“Mr. Carlisle. Stop a moment.

“Mr. Brady.  We don’t ask the witness to state the conversation. When did the conversation take place?”

“Witness. In June, 1858; I had a subsequent conversation on that subject the day or two immediately preceding the Napier ball, which was on the 17th of February; recollect it from something that occurred at the ball between Mr. Key and myself; never had a regular set conversation with him about the matter but these two; but I have referred to it three or four times when I met him.

“Mr. Brady. I desire you to state this conversation.

“District Attorney. We object.

“Mr. Brady. We propose to prove by this witness:

“First. That shortly before the decease of Mr. Key, the witness had noticed certain conduct on his part towards Mrs. Sickles, which led him to suggest to Mr. Key that the latter was observed to be over-attentive to her, in answer to which Mr. Key remarked that he had a great friendship for her, that he considered her a child, and hat paternal feelings towards her, and he repelled indignantly the idea of having any but kind and fatherly feeling towards her.

“Second. That at a subsequent conversation in relation to the same subject, the witness suggested to Mr. Key that he might get into danger or difficulty about the matter; Mr. Key laid his hand on the left breast of his coat, and said, ‘I am prepared for any emergency.’

“Mr. Ould argued that evidence of these conversations was inadmissible.

“The Court did not perceive how this evidence tended to the establishment of any point involved in the controversy in this case. It seemed that some of the declarations of the deceased were made in last June, and that the last we made on the 17th of February last. How that tended to prove that the deceased was armed on the 27th of February, some ten days later, did not strike the court. Another ground on which it was not admissible was, that it was offered to excuse the conduct of the accused, on the ground that he had a right to suppose the deceased was armed. The court did not think the question of his being armed on the particular day when this witness conversed with him had anything to do with that either, as it was not proposed to show, nor was there any evidence to show that the conversation between this witness and Mr. Key had ever been communicated to Mr. Sickles by this witness or any other Party.

“The court could not look upon this evidence as admissible.

“John McDonald was called, and answered substantially as follows: I was footman for Mr. Sickles. On the Thursday preceding Mr. Key’s death, while Mrs. Sickles was driving in the carriage, we met Mr. Key at the houses of Secretary Brown and Secretary Thompson, and at the flower house on the avenue. At the latter place, Mr. Key leaned into the carriage, and, looking into Mrs. Sickles’s face, asked her if she was going to the hop at Willard’s. Mrs. Sickles said, ‘I am going if Dan will let me.” He got in, and we rode round awhile. I let Mr. Key out in Fifteenth street. I then drove Mrs. Sickles home.

“To Mr. Ould. It was on Thursday, at about four o’clock, that I let Mr. Key out at the corner of Fifteenth street.

“This closed the evidence on the part of the defence.

“Mr. Ould, the District Attorney, said, that inasmuch as the evidence of adulterous intercourse has been admitted, he was prepared to admit the truth of the confession of Mrs. Sickles, and allow it to go before the jury as evidence.

“Considerable discussion here ensued between counsel for the prosecution, disclaiming that they had anything to do with the publication of the confession, and Mr. Brady regretting that it had been published.

“Hon. George H. Pendleton, member of Congress from Ohio, was called by the prosecution in rebuttal. He testified that he, in company with Charles Jones, had visited the house in Fifteenth street after the death of Key, but he had never had any participation in the removal of the lock from the house.

“Several cards, letters, &c., were produced and identified, but at the request of the prisoner, the names of the persons on the cards were not made public.

“Before leaving the stand, Mr. Pendleton addressed the Court, and said that any statement that had been made, of his having attempted to defeat the ends of Justice in this case was infamously false.

“Charles Lee Jones, Esq., testified to accompanying Mr. Pendleton to the house, but he knew nothing at all of the lock having been taken off. The witness was cross-examined by Mr. Brady and an exciting scene ensued on his being asked if he had not been assisting the prosecution. He said Mr. Key was one of his dearest friends, and he should always revere his memory.”

Thursday, Mr. Doyle, and other witnesses testified as to the disposition of the papers found on the person of Mr. Key at the time of his death, and particularly as to a letter written in cipher. The evidence seemed not to be very material, and we shall therefore pass it over.

The defence complained that these papers had been in possession of Mr. Carlisle, who assisted the prosecution, when they should have been furnished the prisoner’s counsel.

Several witnesses testified as to the condition of Mr. Sickles at the time of and immediately subsequent to the homicide. They differed among themselves; but, for the most part, their evidence tended to show that Mr. S. was perfectly cool and self-possessed. This account differed entirely from that of Governor Walker, Bridget Duffy, Wooldridge, and others, called by the defence.

Mayor Berret was at Sickles’s immediately after the homicide. He testifies that “Sickles and Walker went into the parlor, and witness followed, thinking it proper to be present. They remained there some five or ten minutes, and then returned to the library, and, after some conversation, left for the jail. While in the parlor, Sickles discovered Walker, and said, “A thousand thanks to you, my friend, for calling,” and spoke of his child and his house being dishonored. He then sat on the sofa, and wept heartily; witness recommended to him to compose himself, and he did so, and we soon after left. This burst of grief lasted four or five minutes—perhaps more. He made a noise indicative of deep grief; can best describe it as a hearty cry, accompanied by sobbing, which could have been heard all over this room. There were no other indications than those that ordinarily accompany a hearty burst of grief. Witness left with them for the jail. No such manifestations were made on the way to jail. He seemed to be restive and excited on account of the crowd, and witness remarked to him that he had better not observe the crowd. He once or twice passed salutations with persons on the street by the usual gesture. Don’t know to whom these salutations were particularly addressed. Left shortly after the examination at the jail, which was brief. During this examination, Sickles was composed; witness did not see any exhibition of grief at the jail such as he has described.

“To Mr. Brady. He certainly made a strong effort to become tranquil when witness suggested the importance of it, in view of the crowd through which he had to pass.”

In the morning of this day, Judge Crawford stated that he had received a letter direct to Mr. Wilson, one of the jurors, and that, if there was no objection, he would hand it to him. This was assented to on both sides, and the juror was permitted to open and read it. The juror immediately returned the letter to the court, remarking that he had no knowledge of the author, and that it was not proper for him to receive it. The judge then read the letter, and found that it related to the trial going on before the court. He thought that the author should be detected and punished, and proposed to place the letter in the hands of the District Attorney, which was agreed to.

The reporters for the Associated Press say of the letter in cipher, that it has been translated by Mr. Charles Howard, of Baltimore, a brother-in-law of Mr. Key, and that it purports to be a love letter from Mrs. Sickles to Mr. Key. This, however, is a surmise.

Friday, Messrs. John L. Dubrow and Edward Delafield testified that they saw Sickles about the time of the homicide, and thought him rather cool than otherwise, under the circumstances.

“Charles F. Lewis testified: is connected with the office of the Congressional Globe: has with him the manuscript of the speeches made in the House of Representatives on Friday and Saturday previous to the killing of Key; the reporters were Messrs. Hays, Hinks, now in court, and Messrs. Andrews, and McElhone, who are not here. [Mr. Smith, one of the reporters, was here requested to examine the bundles of copy, and select that of the speeches made by Mr. Sickles on the days named.] Mr. Brady remarked that the defence were here perfectly willing to admit that Mr. S. did make five-minutes speeches on the days named, but at the time these speeches were made he was under the impression that the charges against his wife were untrue.”

Mr. Carlisle for the prosecution stated that the evidence on that side was now closed, except two witnesses, who had been called to testify on the point of insanity.

“Judge Crawford decided to wait till to-morrow morning for the missing witnesses, and informed the District Attorney that the Court could not possibly wait longer for them.” Mr. Brady stated that the counsel on both sides had agreed to furnish each other with their instructions this afternoon. They could thus be examined at leisure, and both parties come into court to-morrow, fully prepared to make very brief arguments. By this mode time would be gained instead of being lost, and the trial brought to a close much sooner than otherwise.”

The following are the instructions to the jury prepared by the prosecution:

“If the jury believe, from the whole evidence in this cause, that the prisoner, on the day named in the indictment, and in the County of Washington aforesaid, killed the said Philip Barton Key, by discharging at, against and into the body of him, the said Philip Barton Key, a pistol or pistols loaded with gunpowder and ball, thereby giving him a mortal wound or wounds, and that such killing was the wilful [sic]and intentional act of the prisoner; and that said act was induced by the belief that the said deceased had seduced his, the prisoner’s wife, and on some day or days, or for any period, definite or indefinite, prior to the day of such killing, had adulterous intercourse with the said wife; and that the prisoner was not provoked to such killing by any assault or offer of violence, then and there made by the deceased upon or against him, then such wilful and intentional killing, if found by the jury upon all the facts and circumstances given in evidence, is murder. But such killing cannot be found to have been wilful and intentional, in the sense of this instruction, if it shall have been proven to the satisfaction of the jury, upon the whole evidence aforesaid, that the prisoner was in fact insane at the time of such killing.”

Saturday, Ex-Senator Brodhead, of Pennsylvania, was called as a witness by the prosecution. He testified that he was at Judge Black’s when Mr. Sickles arrived there, immediately after killing Key. Sickles was introduced to Mr. Haldeman, who entered into a conversation with him upon Pennsylvania and New York politics. Nothing was said by Sickles in reference to the shooting affair at the time, until the police arrived, when he inquired if the case were bailable; and said that, if the facts were known, “God knows I would be justified,” or “I could not help it.”

This closed the evidence on the part of the prosecution.

The Following are the instructions to the jury prepared by the prisoner’s counsel:

“First. There is no presumption of malice in this case, if any proof of “alleviation, excuse, or justification, arise out of the evidence for the prosecution. [State vs. Johnson, vol. 3, Jones, page 266; McDaniel vs. State, vol. 8, Smead’s and Marshall’s page 401; Day’s Case 17 of pamphlet.]

“Second. The existence of malice is not presumable in this case, if, on any rational theory consistent with all the evidence the homicide was either justifiable, excusable, or an act of manslaughter. [Same cases as above cited; United States vs. Mingo, Vol. 2, Curtis C. C. R. I., Commonwealth vs. New York; Vol. 2, Bennett and Heard, Leading Criminal Cases, page 505.]

“Third. If, on the whole evidence presented by the prosecution, there is any rational hypothesis consistent with the conclusion that the homicide was justifiable or excusable, the defendant cannot be convicted.

“Fourth. If the jury believe that Mr. Sickles, when the homicide occurred, intended to kill Mr. Key, he cannot be convicted of manslaughter.

“Fifth. It is for the jury to determine, under all circumstances of the case, whether the act charged upon Mr. Sickles is murder of justifiable homicide. [Ryan’s Case, 2; Wheeler’s Criminal Cases, 54.]

“Fifth. It is for the jury to determine, under all the circumstances of the case, whether the act charged upon Mr. Sickles is murder or justifiable homicide. [Ryan’s Case, 2; Wheeler’s Criminal Cases, 54.]

“Sixth. If the jury find that Mr. Sickles killed Mr. Key while the latter was in criminal intercourse with the wife of the former, Mr. Sickles cannot be convicted of either murder or manslaughter.

“Seventh. If, from the whole evidence, the jury believe that Mr. Sickles committed the act, but, at the time of doing so, was under the influence of a diseased mind, and was really unconscious that he was committing a crime, he is not in law guilty of murder. [Day’s Case, pamphlet, page 9.]

“Eighth. If the jury believe that, from any predisposing cause, the prisoner’s mind was impaired, and at the time of killing Mr. Key he became or was mentally incapable of governing himself in reference to Mr. Key, as the debauchee of his wife, and at the time of his committing said act was, by reason of such cause, unconscious that he was committing a crime as to said Mr. Key, he is not guilty of any offence whatever. [Day’s Case, pamphlet, page 17.]

“Ninth. It is for the jury to say what the state of the prisoner’s mind as to the capacity to decide upon the criminality of the particular act in question—the homicide—at the moment it occurred, and what was the condition of the parties, respectively, as to being armed or not, at the same moment.

“These are open questions for the jury, as are any other questions that may arise upon the consideration of the evidence, the whole of which is to be taken in view by the jury. [Jarboe’s Case, pamphlet, page 20.]

“Tenth. The law does not require that the insanity which absolves from crime should exist for any definite period, but only that it exist at the moment when the act occurred with which the accused stands charged.

“Eleventh. If the jury have any doubt as to the case, either in reference to the homicide or the question of sanity, Mr. Sickles should be acquitted.”

Mondy—occupied in argument by counsel.


Mr. Sickles Acquitted.—We are gratified to announce that Mr. Sickles has been acquitted. The jury remained out but half an hour, and when the verdict was announced, the sympathies of the large audience burst forth in shouts of applause. Mr. Sickles came out accompanied by his friends, and was received but the dense throng with renewed applause. He immediately got into his carriage and drove to his house, followed by the excited crowd.

SOURCE: The National Era, Washington, D. C., Thursday, April 28, 1859, p. 2

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