|Lizzie Borden trial scene, courtesy Faye Musselman|
In the days immediately following the murders of Mr. and Mrs. Borden, an inquest was held to determine whether Lizzie should undergo a full trial. In an inquest, a judge sits in but not a jury. The judge listens to witnesses' testimony and at the end makes a decision.
In August 1892, Lizzie’s inquest was held. One of the things I find most interesting is that for some reason, Bridget Sullivan’s inquest testimony has gone missing. How wonderful would it be for someone to find a copy of it in their attic or in an old box in the basement? Strange that there would be only copy, and that someone took it out of the file and never returned it.
Anyway, at the end of the inquest, the judge, who had been an old family friend of the Bordens, could not find in favor of Lizzie. He pointed out that perhaps Lizzie was getting the benefit of the doubt because she was a woman.
As Edmund Pearson quotes in his Trial of Lizzie Borden, the inquest judge said, “Suppose for a single moment a man was standing there. He was found close by that guest chamber which, to Mrs. Borden, was a chamber of death. Suppose a man had been found in the vicinity of Mr. Borden, was the first to find the body, and the only account he could give of himself was the unreasonable one that he was out in the barn looking for sinkers [for a fishing line]; then he was out in the yard; then he was out for something else; would there be any question in the minds of men what should be done with such a man?”
|The chamber of death as it appears today|
Judge Josiah Coleman Blaisdell actually teared up as he told Lizzie she was found “probably guilty” and would have to go through a trial.
Lizzie then spent roughly a year in prison awaiting that trial…at which she was acquitted, despite the numerous contradictory alibis Blaisdell mentioned.
Blaisdell also served as judge at Lizzie’s preliminary hearing, which some have found to be controversial (he had already seen her as “probably guilty,” so she perhaps deserved a fresh set of ears to listen to her).