2 August 1883
James Kelly, 23, upholsterer, was placed upon trial upon an indictment charging him with the wilful murder of Sarah Ann Kelly. He pleaded "Not Guilty."
Mr. Poland and Mr. Eyre Lloyd conducted the prosecution for the Treasury; Mr. Montagu Williams and Mr. Cavendish Bentinck appeared for the defence.
The opening statement of Mr. Poland and the evidence went to show that the prisoner had been lodging for about 16 months at No 21, Cottage lane, City road. The house was occupied by a Mr. Ryder, his wife, and two daughters, one of whom, the deceased, was married to the prisoner in June last. they did not, however, live comfortably together, and on June 18 the prisoner appeared to have taken up a knife and threatened the deceased. On June 21 she returned home from her work, and went out again to meet the prisoner. A quarrel seemed to have taken place between them, and the prisoner threatened that he would "give her something" for walking in Upper street, Islington. They returned home together, and the deceased went into her bedroom and locked the door. A short time afterwards the prisoner burst the bedroom door open, and sat down beside her. An angry altercation took place between them, and the prisoner used a very offensive expression towards his wife. He afterwards appealed to her to forgive him, but she refused, telling him that she could never forgive him for the name he had called her, and saying that he must go away. He again asked her to forgive him, but she repeated her refusal. The prisoner, thereupon, drew his knife and inflicted two mortal wounds in her neck. The young woman was removed to the hospital, and the prisoner was taken into custody. The knife was subsequently found lying on the floor of the room with the blade broken. When taken into custody the accused said he did not know what he was about, and he must have been mad. So serious were the injuries inflicted upon the deceased that the police magistrate attended to take her deposition. She died on June24 from the injuries received. In due course a post mortem examination was made, and it was found that a wound had been inflicted three inches deep, the effect of which was to sever the spinal cord. When asked before the magistrate whether he had any statement to make, the prisoner said he did it in his madness. He did not know what he was doing. He was led to it by certain things said and done. He had loved his wife and loved her still. Subsequent to his arrest the prisoner wrote a letter to the deceased, which, however, never reached her, in which he gave utterance to many expressions of regard for her, asked her to write to him, and say how she was, and expressed contrition for what he had done. In a further communication addressed to the mother of the deceased, he urged that he had never intended to hurt her, and that on the day of the occurrence he had only taken the knife from his pocket for the purpose of frightening her, when something suddenly came over him which impelled him to inflict the wounds upon her.
Witnesses were called in support of the case for the prosecution, the principal one being Mrs. Sarah Ann Ryder, the mother of the deceased.
Being cross examined by Mr. Montagu Williams, for the defence, the witness said the deceased was a good, truthful and pious girl. She was very reserved, and never spoke to any one in the street. The prisoner always seemed very fond of his wife. He had complained of an access in his neck and pains in his head and since Christmas all the family had noticed that he was greatly changed.
The assistant surgeon of the House of Detention was called by the prosecution, and stated that he had had the prisoner under his observation for some time, and had conversed with him, but he could discover no signs of insanity about him.
Mr. Poland summed up the case for the prosecution, and addressed his argument with a view of controverting the theory of insanity which had been raised by the defence.
Mr. Montagu Williams, in addressing the Court for the defence, said before the prisoner could be convicted of the charge upon which he stood arraigned the Crown must establish that he had intended to kill and murder the deceased. The painful duty had been cast upon the jury of deciding whether the prisoner, who was but in the spring time of life, should be confined during Her Majesty's pleasure for the remainder of his life, or whether or not the quality of the act done was such that it was reduced to manslaughter, and they had to determine by their verdict whether the prisoner should be doomed to be a slave for the remainder of his life or whether he should expiate his crime by a felon's death on the scaffold. Referring to the circumstances of the case, counsel asked what motive could there have been on the part of the prisoner for the commission of the crime? The whole of the prisoner's acts and words, in having suspicion with reference to his wife's conduct, which were absolutely without foundation, proved conclusively that he had been labouring under a distempered imagination. The deceased's conduct was shown to have been of unexampled propriety, and with the evidence of the mother and the letters could the jury believe that the prisoner was sufficiently master of himself to be able to know the nature and quality of the act he committed? Did they believe that he had intended to take her life? Counsel commented upon the fact of the prisoner having suffered from pains in the head arising from an abcess, and urged that it was evidence that the prisoner had acted under an uncontrollable impulse arising from a temporary aberration of intellect. If the prisoner was morally irresponsible for the act he was entitled to be acquitted on the ground of insanity, the result of such a verdict being that for the remainder of his days he would be detained at the Queen's pleasure, or if it was not a malicious or unpremeditated act, but one committed in a paroxysm of passion, it was open to them to find a verdict of manslaughter.
Mr. Justice Watkin Williams summed up the case at some length, directing the jury upon the law as applicable to the case.
The jury retired to consider their verdict, and after an hour's absence returned into Court, finding the prisoner Guilty but adding a recommendation to mercy.
The prisoner being asked in the usual whether he had anything to say why sentence of death should not be passed upon him, said he should like to speak to Mrs. Ryder in the witness box.
Mr. Justice Watkin Williams said he was afraid he could not do that on the present occasion.
The prisoner then said as a matter of justice he desired to warn others against being deceived. He then made a somewhat incoherent statement with reference to his wife and other persons. When he stabbed her he was out of his mind, and he was sorry for it. He prayed God to forgive him, and felt sure that He had already forgiven him. For that reason he felt that he should like to live in order that he might serve God; but as the jury had decided that he must die he hoped the Lord would give him strength to show them that even a sinner like himself knew how to die.
Mr. Justice Watkin Williams then assumed the black cap, and proceeded to pass sentence, remarking that the jury had found the prisoner guilty of the wilful murder of his wife upon evidence which admitted of no rational doubt as to his guilt. The prisoner was urged by some feeling of jealousy or anger or by some bad feeling of self reproach on his part, and he plunged a deadly weapon with such violence into his unfortunate wife's neck as to cause her death. Nor could he see a single circumstance in the case to reduce the criminality of the act in the slightest degree from an act of wilful murder of which the prisoner had been found guilty. The jury, however, had recommended him to mercy, and he would take care that that recommendation should be forwarded to the proper quarter, but if anything would affect its being attended it would be the statements which the prisoner had just made with reference to the deceased and other persons. He would not aggravate the agony of feeling which the prisoner must be undergoing by moralizing on the crime or by preaching to him on that day, but would confine himself to passing upon him the sentence of the law. The learned Judge then formally passed sentence of death upon the prisoner, who, on being removed, said he was innocent.