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True Crime in 1831, Part 13 - The Trial Begins

Bucks County Courthouse, Doylestown, PA

On Monday, 12 December 1831, the Court of Oyer and Terminer opened in Doylestown. The Court consisted of a Supreme Court Justice and two or more judges of the Court of Common Pleas with jurisdiction to hear all felony cases including those punishable by life imprisonment or death. Judges John Fox, William Watts, and William Long would preside over the trial.

The indictment for the murder of Mr. Chapman was not sent to the Grand Jury until Wednesday morning. It was returned as "a true bill" in the course of the day, which was a written decision of a Grand Jury, signed by the Grand Jury foreperson. It indicated that they had heard sufficient evidence from the prosecution to believe that the accused probably committed a crime and should be indicted and the indictment was then sent to the court. The bill contained three charges; in the first of which, both Lino and Lucretia were charged as having committed the murder, being principals in the first degree; in the second charge of aiding and abetting, Lucretia was indicted as principal in the first degree and Lino as principal in the second degree; in the third charge, she was also charged as principal in the first degree, and Lino as an accessory before the fact, counselling and procuring her so to commit the murder.

The prosecution for the Commonwealth would be handled by Deputy Attorney General Thomas Ross and his assistant, William B. Reed. Ross had only been appointed to the position in 1829 and he had never before handled a case of this level.

At the afternoon session, the prisoners were brought up for arraignment. The room was already crowded to excess, notwithstanding its ample accommodations for spectators. The dense mass awaited the entrance of the accused with anxiety. Lino entered first, in company with Mr. Field, the Deputy Sheriff. His countenance wore a continual smile, or rather an apparent smirk; his self-possession was complete, his assurance undaunted. He was dressed in a handsome suit of black, genteelly arranged and once or twice he put his fingers through his hair, which was of a beautiful black, and disposed with some care.

Lucretia came in with Constable Blayney. Her figure and dress were strangely contrasted with those of Lino. Her person, tall and masculine, appeared to much disadvantage in a faded brown travelling dress, and a large black hood. Her countenance showed deep concern. She did not bestow one glance upon her companion in the box.

Precedent to the arraignment, Mr. Rush, on the part of Lino, rose and stated to the Court, that in consequence of the very imperfect and limited knowledge which his client had of the English language, he had been at some pains to make Lino acquainted with the tenor of the indictment about to be read. He further desired to know from their Honors, whether after his plea was entered, if Lino would be shut out from a claim, intended to be made, of his right to be tried by a jury, one half of which would be composed of foreigners (de medietate linguae).

Mr. Ross, in a very brief reply, stated that there should be no difficulty upon that point, the prosecution having determined that, although they believed no such right existed in Pennsylvania, they would nevertheless concede it to the prisoner at the bar, if he should make such claim. He then proceeded to arraign the accused persons and they both pleaded Not Guilty to the indictment. Being asked, separately, how they would be tried, they answered, "By God and my country." He asked Lino if he was ready for his trial. The reply was yes.

In reply to the same question, Mr. McCall, on Lucretia's behalf, produced an affidavit, setting forth that certain named witnesses, material to her defense, who resided at great distances were not in attendance, and could not be procured in time for the trial at that court. In consequence of which, and of the great fatigue occasioned by the journey from Erie, from which she had only arrived on Sunday preceding, she could not proceed to trial. He also mentioned the extraordinary excitement to which the case had given rise throughout the community; the eager attention of the dense crowd then present; the prejudice which was supposed to exist against his client. He asserted with great emphasis her innocence of the charge and stated her only wish was that she have an opportunity of removing the cloud of suspicions and surmises that had been raised against her.

Mr. Reed, for the Commonwealth, said the officers of the prosecution were placed, by this application, in a position of painful embarrassment. They were ready to go to trial, but had no wish to press harshly or unkindly upon the prisoners. A great number of witnesses were already in attendance on the part of the prosecution and many of whom were brought from a distance, at a great sacrifice of convenience on their part and at a considerable expense to the County. He pointed out that many of them were females, unaccustomed to travel in an inclement season, and several were professional gentlemen, whose time was valuable. Under these circumstances, with the risk of losing material witnesses, during so long an interval, the prosecution could not consent to a postponement until the next Court. They were, however, disposed to accede to any arrangement that could be made for a Special Court to be held at some early day.

The proposition was accepted by the counsel for the defendants and the Court named the 9th or 30th of January, either of which might be agreed upon by the parties. After much consultation and interchange of views, it was finally determined to continue the case to the February sessions, commencing on the 13th of that month. This was a major win for Lucretia's defense team. They would now have ample time to interview witnesses, review the evidence, and prepare a strong defense for their client.

The multitude then, with one accord, rushed through the doors into the open air, to have a parting glimpse of the prisoners upon their return to jail. The same apparent unconcern marked Lino's course to the last moment of his public exposure; Lucretia's face was much concealed beneath her hood. It was said that on leaving the prison, prior to their entry into Court, Lino endeavored to catch her eye, but she took no notice of him.

Subsequently, upon discharging the Grand Jury the next day, Judge Fox admonished them that they were forever bound by their oaths, not to reveal what had passed before them as Grand Jurors. They were to avoid conversing upon the subject, and expressing any opinion upon it, leaving the public to judge solely from their public act of returning the indictment as a true bill. Any other course, he stated, could not fail to prejudice the public mind, while the accused were yet untried.

Now, nearly two months would elapse before the accused could be brought to trial. Lucretia's counsel had loudly proclaimed in open Court that she "expects a triumphant acquittal," while at the same time, the prosecution firmly replied that they were "fully prepared to make out the facts alleged."

On Monday, 13 February 1832, the Sessions commenced; all the Judges were present. However, none of the counsel appeared in the Court, except for Mr. Ross, for the Commonwealth, and Mr. McDowell, for Lino. Around five o'clock in the afternoon, Mr. McDowell rose and stated to the Court that he had seen Mr. Brown, who, with the other gentlemen, had just arrived. Mr. Brown had requested him to say to the Court, that they had been delayed by the breaking down of their carriage, on the road to Doylestown, and had been obliged to come a part of the way on foot. As soon as it was practicable for them to appear in court, they would do so. He suggested his earnest desire that the case might not be taken up until the next morning. Mr. Ross offered no objection and the Court was adjourned until nine o'clock.

The next day the Court convened pursuant to adjournment and, at half past nine o'clock, the prisoners were placed at the bar. Mr. McDowell immediately addressed the Court, on behalf of Lino. He requested that the prisoners be tried separately, believing on the part of both defendants, that they could not with safety or justice be tried together. It would be necessary, in their defense, for them to attack each other; and the evidence would, to a certain extent be separate. The application for separate trials was a matter for the discretion of the Court; but the challenges were a matter of right. A juror, who would be acceptable to one defendant, might be challenged by the other; and in this way, injustice would be done, if both were to be tried together. He stated they were aware of the inconvenience that it would give the Court. Judge Fox replied that they would not take the convenience of the Court into consideration.

Mr. Ross acknowledged that the individuals who represented the Commonwealth in the case now before the Court, were willing to extend to the prisoners every benefit to which they are properly entitled, but they were compelled to deny and resist the application. Whatever the law may be in England on this subject, he contended that no such right had been recognized by the courts in this country.

After he had finished, Mr. Rush rose to counter and press the issue. Since the Court had intimated that their convenience or inconvenience is not to be regarded in the case now before them, then neither should that of the counsel be taken into account. It was alleged that the defendants would conflict in their defense. It would be that one should accuse the other; that the other should turn around upon the accuser and, thus, in effect, each defendant should be twice prosecuted!

At a few minutes before noon, the Court intimated a desire to have a conference prior to deciding the matter, and adjourned until two o'clock P.M.

When the court reconvened, the court room was so completely blocked up by the dense mass of spectators, as to preclude any idea of proceeding the case until some measures could be effected to abate the crowd and restore order. More than half an hour was consumed, with continued directions from the judges, and the most active exertions of the sheriffs and constables, before the Court was enabled to proceed with the trial.

Judge Fox then delivered his decision. Called hastily to decide the question, and considering the vast importance to the public interest, that, if conviction should take place, all should be satisfied that the prisoners had a full, fair and impartial trial. He directed that they be allowed to have separate trials. The counsel for the Commonwealth said they would take up the case of Lucretia first. The clerk proceeded to call the jurors to the box and then called out:

"Lucretia Chapman, alias Lucretia Esposimina, stand up."

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