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True Crime in 1831, Part 12 - Lawyering Up


David Paul Brown (1795-1872)

About the time Lucretia was arrested, David Paul Brown, one of the most fully employed and successful of the many eminent "criminal lawyers the Philadelphia bar produced, learned through the newspapers that her defense was somehow confided to him. He, like everyone else in Pennsylvania and beyond, were aware of the alleged murder of William Chapman. Brown did not bestow any more attention on that report than it deserved, awaiting the period, if it should ever arrive, of a more legitimate application for his services.


On 10 December 1831, a lady and a male attendant were ushered into his office, to whom, after the usual salutations, he asked, "What service can I render you, madam?" At this moment his eye, for the first time, rested upon the form and features of the visitor. He found something striking in both; her figure was above the usual height, slender and well-proportioned, and her face, though not handsome, bore evident indications of considerable intelligence and refinement. She sat like a statue, and nothing but the restlessness and glare of her eye denoted any animation. Without turning to him or changing her position, she uttered a groan, and exclaimed, " Mrs. Chapman!" as though the association of that name, with the notoriety of the charges, would be sufficient to apprize him of her lamentable story. It was so and he proceeded at once, as delicately as possible, to ascertain the purpose of her call, the precise nature of the accusation and her means of defense.


In that, after many sad interruptions, he at length succeeded. Although at the expense of great personal and professional inconvenience, he engaged to afford her his aid for her rapidly approaching trial. Brown found the conversation long and interesting, though, at the same time, painful. Upon its termination, he took leave of her, with the promise to give his attendance at the court in Bucks County, on the ensuing Monday. Her attendant removed her forthwith and, since the offense was not a bailable one, she was, of course, conveyed at once to the gloomy cell of a common jail.


He rarely remembered a more disagreeable sensation than that which he experienced on assuming the responsibility of this cause, on the issue of which depended not only the life of an individual, but the hopes and happiness of all who belonged to her. With no knowledge of the case but that which had been hastily collected. With the certainty that the prejudices of the community set strongly against the defendant, he was alive to no small degree of irritation towards the person to whom Lucretia had earlier written, requesting that competent counsel might be employed, and proper measures adopted to afford her an opportunity of a fair and impartial trial.


Brown knew that complaints or repinings, however, never remedy evils and he, therefore, anxiously embraced the limited time allowed to prepare himself, as fully as possible, for the investigation of this important, complicated and mysterious transaction. He set about finding someone to help lighten or share his labor. He succeeded in hiring Peter McCall, who, although young in the profession, had given sufficient conviction of his fidelity, industry and talents. Brown believed that the celebrity of the cause was such as to afford the best of opportunities for a young man to distinguish himself. McCall promptly accepted Brown's proposal to join the the defense and the day after, they arrived at the scene of the action.

Eleazar T. McDowell, c. 1840

Meanwhile, Lino did not have the luxury of selecting his counsel. He was, however, lucky enough to be assigned Eleazar T. McDowell, a brilliant Doylestown lawyer who, as an advocate, had no equal. He had the gift of eloquence in a remarkable degree and his fine social qualities increased his popularity. McDowell was also a contemporary of fellow attorney Charles E. DuBois, whose younger brother William would eventually publish the transcript of the upcoming trial. To assist him with the case, McDowell enlisted his apprentice, Samuel Rush.


Thus, both Lucretia and Lino had prominent and able counsel in their corner. They would both need it, based upon the charges and the public opinion that had formed after numerous newspapers articles that circulated throughout the state and even the country. The interest in the case was something that had not been anticipated, but David Paul Brown and Peter McCall found out the extent once they reached Doylestown.


Brown and McCall found it literally overflowing with witnesses for the prosecution and visitors drawn there by the extraordinary features of the case. For a time, it remained uncertain whether the two of them should not be in the condition of Noah's dove; with no resting place for their feet. At length, however, late at night, they succeeded in obtaining lodgings, comparatively comfortable, and they at once entered upon the business of preparation.


Without witnesses, without process to procure their attendance, and without an individual to serve the process if they had possessed it, they were in a strange place and surrounded by none by strangers. It is hardly to be wondered at that their hearts almost sank within them at the idea of the fearful odds which they inevitably seemed doomed to encounter.


In this condition, with as cheerful an air as they could assume, Brown and McCall waited upon their client at her melancholy abode. If fate had so decreed, that the heavy grated door, which groaned on its hinges to receive them, should have closed forever upon him, Brown felt that his emotions could not have been more poignant upon entrance than they were at that moment. Habitually inured as he was to scenes of horror, and ready to do all in his power for the accused, he was conscious, from circumstances over which they had no control, that all would avail but little against prejudice and proof, both of which were arrayed on behalf of the prosecution. He contemplated the prisoner as a victim, about to undergo the ceremony of a trial, entirely at the mercy of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and almost without a single helping hand in her extremest need.


Some of Lucretia's witnesses were forty, and some four hundred miles off; not one was present. In all human probability she was liable to be called upon in an hour to answer the charge. They conferred with her as fully as the state of her mind and theirs would allow. They hoped that the requests for witnesses would enable them to protract the investigation until those more remote might be brought to their aid. It was considered a forlorn hope, but it was almost all that was left.


The trial was about to begin.

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