dimarts, 13 d’octubre de 2009

Counsel for the prisoner until his death

"In March 1846, a terrifying massacre took place in Seward's hometown. A 23 year-old black man named William Freeman, recently released from prison after serving five years for a crime it was later determined he did not commit, entered the home of John Van Nest, a wealthy farmer and friend of Seward's [William H. Seward]. Armed with two knives, he killed Van Nest, his pregnant wife, their small child, and Mrs. Van Nest's mother. When he was caught within hours, Freeman immediately confessed. He exhibited no remorse and laughed uncontrollably as he spoke. The sheriff hauled him away, barely reaching the jail ahead of an enraged mob intent upon lynching him. "I trust in the mercy of God that I shall never again be a witness to such an outburst of the spirit of vengeance as I saw while they were carrying the murdere past our door", Frances Seward told her husband in Albany at the time. Fortunately, the lab triumphed.·
Frances recognized at once an "incomprehensible" aspect to the entire affair, and she was correct. Investigation revealed a history of insanity in Freeman's family. Moreover, Freeman had suffered a series of floggings in jail that had left him deaf and deranged. When the trial opened, no lawyer was willing to take Freeman's case. The citizens of Auburn had threatened violence against any member of the bar who dared to defend the cold blooded murderer. When the courd asked, "will anyone defend this man?" a death-like stillness pervaded the crowded room," until Seward rose, his voice strong with emotion, and said, "may it please the court, I shall remain counsel for the prisoner until his death!"
[...]

Seward spent weekd investigating the case, interviewing Freeman's family, and summoning five doctors who testified to the prisoners extreme state of mental illness. In his summation, he pleaded with the jury not to be influenced by the color of the accused man's skin. "He is still your brother, and mine... Hold him then to be a man." Seward continued: "I am not the prisoner's lawyer... I am the lawyer of society, for mankind, shocked beyind the power of expression, as the scene I have witnessed here of trying a maniac as a malefactor." He argued that Freeman's conduct was "unexplainable on any principle of sanity," and begged the jury not to seek the death sentence. Commit him to an asylum for the term of his natural life, Seward urged: "there is not a white man or white woman who would not have been dismissed longe since from the perils of such a prosecution."

There was never any doubt that the local jury would return a guilty verdict. "In due time, gentlemen of the jury, Seward concluded, "when I shall have paid the debt of nature, my remains will rest here in your midst, with those of my kindred and neighbors. It is very possible they may be unhonored, neglected, spurned! But, perhaps years hence, when the passion and excitement which now agitate this community shall have passed away, some wandering stranger, some lone exile, some Indian, some negro, may erect over than a humble stone, and thereon this epitaph, 'he was Faithful!'" More than a century afterward, visitors to Seward's grave at the Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn would find those very words engraved on his tombstone."
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of rivals.

Cap comentari: