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The Sentence of John McCaffry

 

Below will be found the sum of the evidence in this revolting case. We do not publish these details for the purpose of ministering to a morbid taste; but simply to discharge our duty as a public journalist.

 

The minutia of the evidence, and the cross-examination could make a book of 100 pages, yet the material, important and positive facts are all embraced in what follows.

 

On Friday afternoon, the prisoner was brought in to receive his sentence. The Court House was crowded to overflowing. The prisoner seemed hardened and unconcerned; but what emotions might have stirred the innermost recesses of his soul is known only to the Omniscient One. And, however great the crime he has committed, in ruthlessly murdering the wife of his bosom, whom he had sworn to cherish and protect-let us not delight our hearts with a feeling so abhorrent to Christianity, as to rejoice in the ignominy which he is called to suffer, or take delight in the thought that his punishment is severer than Cains.

 

State of Wisconsin vs. John McCaffry. Indicted for the murder of his wife, July 22, 1851.

 

The trial of this cause commenced with the commencement of the late term of our Circuit Court and consumed ten days of the session.

 

The prosecution was conducted by J. R. Sharpstein, District Attorney S. Park Coon, Atty Genl and F. S. Lovell. The defense by E. W. Evans and A. G. Chatfield. The evidence against the prisoner was of a circumstantial nature and consisted of a few facts well established and which were mainly as follows:

 

That on the 22nd of last July, near midnight some of the neighbors of the prisoner were awakened by the screams of the deceased. She was crying out "Oh John, spare me "and "Oh John, save me". These cries came from the direction of the prisoners house and were so alarming as to cause an immediate rush of the neighbors to his premises.

 

In one corner of the prisoners lot, a hogshead sunk down into the ground, which at that time contained water to the depth of eighteen inches. Those who first arrived at the prisoners house swear that they heard a splashing of the water in that hogshead and upon turning their attention to it, saw the prisoner emerging from it and moving toward the backside of his house. His clothes were wet and besmeared with mud.

 

On being asked it he had his wife in the well, he replied to one witness that there was someone in the well. He took another witness to the hogshead, and pointing down to his wife's clothes floating on the surface of the water, said, there is nothing in there but a shirt. This witness reached down into the hogshead and found by pulling on the shirt that the body of the deceased was completely pressed down under the water. On raising the body from the hogshead they found that the body was yet warm although life had become completely extinct. A Physician  was called, who, after a careful examination gave it as his opinion that the deceased came to her death by drowning.

 

The hat and one of the shoes of the prisoner were found in the hogshead. His other shoe was found between the hogshead and the house and had the appearance of being in the hogshead.

 

These facts were elicited from the examination of a very large number of witnesses who agreed in the main remarkably well. The prisoner proved by a number of witnesses his former good character, aside from this his defence was a rigid cross-examination of witnesses sworn on the part of the prosecution. The jury were out but a short time before they returned a verdict against the prisoner of guilty of murder in the first degree.

 

The Sentence of John McCaffry

(For the murder of Bridget McCaffry, his wife, by Judge Whiton)

(Reported phonographically by J. B. Jilsus for the Telegraph)

 

On the coming in of the Court on Friday afternoon, the Court inquired of the District Attorney if he had any motion to make in the case of the State vs. McCaffry. The District Attorney said that he wished the prisoner brought into the Court for the purpose of making a motion in his case. The prisoner was then brought into Court. The District Attorney then arose and said May it please your Honor, the Jury having by their verdict found John McCaffry guilty of murder in the first degree, it becomes my duty to move that he now receive from the Court the judgment and sentence of the law.

 

By the Court-Addressing himself to the Prisoner-The motion which was made in this cause for a new trial, having been considered by the Court, has been overruled; and also the subsequent motion for an arrest of judgment. No new motion having been interposed, there remains to be performed but one more duty by the Court. I ask you now, Prisoner, what have you to say why the sentence of the law should not be pronounced against you? [The Prisoner was silent] Have you anything to say why the sentence of the law should not be pronounced against you? [Prisoner-No.]

 

By the Court-I am now about to perform by far the most painful act of my Judicial life. Before performing it, I wish to say what I have to say to you, not as a Judge, but as a friend, as a fellow traveler to the common retribution. You have been proceeded against by the Grand Jury of this County, who found a Bill of Indictment against you for willful murder. The Indictment, which they found against you, has been presented to this Court; and after the lapse of a few months, a Petit Jury has been impaneled to try you. Previous to this however, Counsel was assigned you, who have exerted themselves with great skill and credit to themselves and fidelity to you. And at the present term of the Court, the Jury have been empanelled to try you; and after a careful hearing have returned into Court a verdict of murder in the first degree against you.

 

This verdict, which has been rendered, has been to me a source of great anxiety, for the reason that a motion has been made for a new trial. I have looked at it with the most careful attention. I have looked at it with deep anxiety, and upon such examination am inclined to think that it is right. The evidence which has been introduced by the prosecution against you under the indictment was overwhelming; the conclusion to which arrived was inevitable. The evidence against you was circumstantial, mainly so at least, and that fact was dealt upon by your Counsel with great earnest; and it was also alluded to by the Court, but the circumstances were so many and so direct and convincing as to leave no doubt upon the mind of the Court of your guilt.

 

By our law, the crime with which you stand convicted, is the only one that is punishable with death. Against the murderer, the law has attached the greatest penalty known to criminal jurisprudence. The universal opinion and sanction of all ages has induced our legislature to put this law upon the statute books; and as life is the most sacred boon to man, it is only allowed to be taken for the highest offense which is considered in the power of man to inflict on his fellow man.

 

Of this offense you stand convicted. But in your case there are other circumstances which stamp it with peculiar atrocity: your victim was your wife, and a woman to whom you had promised to love and respect but according to the evidence, instead of loving and protecting her, you have imbrued your hands in her blood, and hurried her into eternity.

 

And not only that, but the circumstances under which you perpetuated the deed were such as to preclude the idea of accident or want of design. If you had committed it under other circumstances, it might have mitigated your offense; but according to the evidence the means by which you deprived her of life indicate that there must have been a conflict. It took some time, you did not cleave her down with a club, or stab her with a knife, or shoot her down with a gun upon a sudden impulse of passion; but you drowned her, and the evidence shows you did it not in an instant; that it could not have been done but by your effort, and continuous act, and with difficulty; in that period you had time to reflect; in that time you must have felt her struggles; you must have felt the throbs; you must have felt the tremor which immediately preceded dissolution.

 

These circumstances, taken altogether, furnish an instant, almost unparalleled in the history of crime, and criminal jurisprudence. What could have been the motive for this deed the evidence fails to show; so far as appears you could gain nothing by the act, this circumstance was considered a matter worthy to be submitted to the jury, no motive appeared to the jury or the Court for the commission of this deed; but although this feature of your case is left in doubt, not so the circumstances which tend to your guilt. There was no room for a shadow of a doubt or to prevent the inevitable conclusion that you was guilty.

 

I have said to you already that life was the sweetest boon that can be conferred upon man; and that murder is the only crime that is punished with death, and you readily apprehend the circumstances under which you are now placed. I feel it is my duty to announce to you that you have but a short  time to live, your days are numbered. I feel it is my duty to tell you this not as Judge, but I know tell you this as your friend, and let me entreat you to spend the remnant of your days in penitence of your sins.

 

We are told by Holy Writ that repentance is our duty; you yet have time for this. From the evidence before me it appears that you can read and write, you then have the means to improve yourself, if you have a desire to improve it. Let me entreat you that you do it, and repent of this crime and all other crimes of which you are or have been guilty.  The law gives you time to prepare for death, but it is one of the peculiar features of the murderer, that he gives his victim no time to prepare for death. I was not acquainted with your victim. I know not whether she was prepared or not. I only know that no time was given her by you.

 

Listen now to the sentence of the Court-The sentence of the Court is, that you, John McCaffry, be confined a close prisoner, in the common jail of this County until a time appointed by the Governor of this State, by his warrant, for your execution, and at that time that you be hanged by the neck until you be dead.

 

[Published: Kenosha Telegraph, Friday, May 30, 1851, Kenosha, Wisconsin]

 

Copyright 2001, Robert W Fay LLC. All rights reserved

Monday, October 01, 2001

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