Saturday, August 13, 2016

Contentious attorneys in Lizzie Borden case

Reading through trial transcripts in the Lizzie Borden case (1892) can be mildly entertaining in terms of the touchy interactions between defense and prosecution attorneys. They were trying to get to the bottom of a horrible and upsetting crime, yes--the murder of an older man and his wife--but that didn't stop them from getting frustrated with each other.

Not only that, their formal language was sometimes so obfuscated that witnesses pled confusion. Here's an interaction I was re-reading yesterday that made me laugh out loud. This follows a long and complex description of the individual hatchet wounds: where they were placed by the assailant on the victims' heads, and their measurements:

I laughed at Mr. Knowlton's spunky, "I submit whether the questioner himself understands the question." Hosea Knowlton was attorney for the prosecution, trying to get the jury to find Lizzie guilty (they didn't).

Adams rather defensively replies, "I do. I understood one of yours a little while ago, that you had trouble about understanding yourself." Adams then returns to the witness, asking, "Well, do you understand the question now?" although no explanation had been offered, and the witness meekly asked, "If I may be permitted to state what I think the question is?"

It's Laurel and Hardy, practically. Who's on first? What's the question?

A few lines later, Adams inadvertently insults the witness, Dr. Dolan, by referring to his "attempt at an autopsy," which phrasing Dolan calls attention to.

At any rate, a bit about the book. It's a lovely bound version of Edmund Pearson's Trial of Lizzie Borden, with incredible paisley end papers, gilt page edges, and that wonderful red ribbon you see above (blocking the rest of the testimony) which provides a built-in bookmark. It's a treasure of a book and there's a bit of a story behind it that I'll blog about later.

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