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True Crime in 1831, Part 15 - Commonwealth v. Lino Esposimina

Old Doylestown Jail, BCHS Collection

With Lucretia's trial out of the way, Deputy Attorney General Thomas Ross turned his attention to the upcoming trial of Lino. It was postponed until the next Court, mainly due to a letter Lucretia had written to a friend while she was imprisoned in Erie that was published in in countless newspapers. Upon the postponement of his trial to the next term, the Court took occasion to repeat its former injunction, inhibiting the the publication of any of the evidence which had been introduced in Lucretia's trial, or any comments thereupon tending in any way to prejudice the public mind against Lino before he could be tried. The acquittal of Lucretia seemed to have left less hope for him than he had before.

As he sat in prison, awaiting his trial, he asked for pen, paper and ink and began to write, what he called, a history of his life.

At the opening of the Court on Tuesday morning, 24 April 1832, Judges Fox, Watts and Long took their seat upon the bench and, soon after, the prisoner was brought up and placed at the bar. The prosecutors were the same for the Commonwealth; Mr. Ross and his assistant, Mr. Reed. Lino's counsel was also unchanged, represented by Eleazar T. McDowell and Samuel Rush. It was announced by the counsel for the prosecution against Lino, that one or two witnesses residing in Philadelphia, who had been subpoened, and whom it intended to examine first, had not yet arrived. Mr. Field, the Deputy Sheriff, was dispatched to Philadelphia to bring these witnesses before the Court.

The Court then asked Mr. Ross whether he had any further business to occupy the Court during the time which must elapse before the witnesses arrived. The calendar of the Court contained an unusual number of indictments for heavy crimes, so Mr. Ross replied that he was ready in the case of Jeremiah Myers, who stood charged with the murder of Tunis Cole. Myers was placed at the bar. After he pleaded not guilty, it was decided that the trial should proceed on Saturday after Lino's trial had concluded (NOTE: The story of this trial will be told in a future True Crimes series). The Court then adjourned until two o'clock P.M. under the expectation that the absent witnesses might arrive before that time.

At two o'clock the Court opened again and Lino was placed at the bar. He was attired in a complete suit of black--frock coat, vest, pantaloons, and stockings. His shirt was elegantly embroidered and ornamented with gilt buttons. His jet black hair, which was arranged with much care, displayed a low but extended forehead. His eyes were sunk within their spheres, yet still possessing a fire. His lips were thin and his complexion was sallow. As soon as he was placed at the bar, he began to pick his teeth with the most decided non chalance--probably with the intention of collecting all his audacity, for he, in a short time, began to look around the crowd who filled the court house.

The clerk of the court proceeded to call over the names of the jurors. He called over 45, of whom 12 were empanelled; 19 were challenged on behalf of Lino; two, of the Society of Friends (Quakers), declared that they would not return a verdict to hang a fellow being; one was excused due to ill health; one because he served on the Grand Jury who found the bill against the prisoner.

The three counts were repeated. In the first he was charged as the principal in the first degree; in the second, he was charged as being present, aiding and abetting Lucretia in the commission of the murder; and in the third count he was charged as being an accessory before the fact.

Mr. Reed opened the case. He said he was about to lay before the Jury a bill of indictment against the prisoner, charging him with having murdered William Chapman, a man who was inoffensive towards his neighbors, and who did his duty towards all men. Of Lino, they knew nothing, except that he was a foreigner, until he presented himself at the door of Mr. Chapman, to ask for charity which was afforded him. The evidence he would rely upon was this: that the death of Mr. Chapman was caused by a most deadly poison. That the day before he was taken ill, Lino purchased in Philadelphia a portion of that same drug by which the deceased was cut off from his life. Immediately after the decease, the prisoner assumed the mastership of all the household, and within twelve days after the decease, he became the husband of that woman whom the death had left a widow. Mr. Reed recounted the events leading up to Lino's arrest in Boston. After a few more remarks, he closed and the Court adjourned for the evening.

The Court opened precisely at nine o'clock the next day. On entering the court room, Lino appeared more restless than he had the day before. His lips had assumed a more livid hue and his hair displayed less care. The counsel for the prosecution immediately commenced the examination of the witnesses. Lino's arrival at the Chapman's was recounted, followed by the intimacy that formed between Lino and Lucretia, as testified to by Mary Palethorpe, a 15 year old student at Lucretia's school and Ellen Shaw, the former housekeeper. The evidence clearly proved an adulterous intercourse between them. The jealousy of the deceased was excited a few weeks prior to his death. He threatened to take the life of Lino in case he discovered further intimacy between him and his wife, and said "he would not have his peace so disturbed, and that he wished the ship had sunk in which he had come to this country." Various letters were produced in evidence to show the feelings which existed between Lino and Lucretia. For the purpose of showing the deception, various forged documents were exhibited. His frauds and deceptions were clearly proved. So completely did he prey upon the unsuspecting family of Mr. Chapman all his absurd and ridiculous stories. It was further proved that on the 16th of June he purchased several ounces of arsenic from Mr. Durand, a highly respectable druggist. When Lucretia prepared the chicken soup for her husband and took it from the kitchen to the parlor. At the time she took the soup to the parlor, Lino was the only person in the room.

The statement Lino had made to Constable Blayney on the trip from Boston back to Philadelphia when he had confessed the fact that Lucretia had put the poison in the soup with his knowledge. Lino's counsel objected to the admission of this testimony and the Court allowed the question to rest with the jury to decide whether the confession was obtained under circumstances which ought to exclude it.

The testimony of the medical and scientific gentlemen was conclusive as to the fact of the deceased having died by poison. All testimony was closed on Thursday afternoon. Mr. Reed opened for the Commonwealth, in a very neat and impressive speech, which occupied upwards of two hours in delivery. Mr. McDowell followed on behalf of Lino and likewise spoke for two hours with his usual ability.

On Friday forenoon, Mr. Rush delivered an able speech in defense of the prisoner, which occupied the Court nearly five hours. Every argument that ingenuity and research could suggest were adduced, and a strenuous effort made to save the unhappy criminal.

Mr. Ross then summed up the case, occupying about three hours and a half in speaking. He commented on the testimony ably and elaborately, and his arguments in conclusion were highly forcible and eloquent.

During the progress of his trial Lino did not evince any feelings of remorse or regret: once only, on Thursday, after the examination of Dr. Mitchell, he wept or appeared to weep, for a few minutes. On Friday, however, he preserved the same reckless countenance which he exhibited on the first days of his trial. During his imprisonment he said frequently that he was careless as to the result, that his neck was ready for the rope.

Judge Fox charged the jury on Friday afternoon. They were placed in the custody of two constables, to be kept without food, until they were agreed upon their verdict. In somewhat less than three hours, it being then about half past nine o'clock in the evening, the jury returned to the Court.

VERDICT: Guilty of murder in the first degree, on the first and second counts of the indictment, and not guilty on the third count.

The Court directed the sheriff to take Lino back for the night.

On Saturday morning, the Court having directed that he be brought up to receive sentence, Mr. McDowell requested that the Court allow the counsel time to file reasons to arrest the judgement, if they should find it advisable to do so. The Court acceded and gave them the customary four days to do so.

On Tuesday morning, 1 May, Mr. Rush filed four reasons for a new trial which the court directed to be immediately discussed. These reasons embraced various objections to the evidence of Constable Blayney. After he had finished his argument, the Court declined to hear Mr. Ross, but proceeded immediately to deliver their opinion, overruling the reasons and refusing a new trial. Mr. Ross then moved that the court proceed to pronounce the sentence of the law upon the prisoner, for the offense of which he had been found guilty. Around noon Lino was brought up in custody of the Sheriff and his Deputy. When he first entered the courtroom, he behaved with a good deal of firmness, if not of indifference.

When first placed in the dock, he conversed very earnestly with his counsel, and when asked if he had anything to say why the judgment of the law should not be pronounced, he handed a paper to Mr. McDowell, which was then read aloud.

The paper stated that he was born at Trinidad, on the island of Cuba in October 1809; that he was baptized in the Catholic religion. He further stated that he had a daughter of four years of age, and that he wished time granted him before his execution, in order that he might make such arrangements as might secure to his daughter that portion of his father's property which he would have inherited. He desired that a priest might be sent to him, to prepare him for his death, from whom he might receive absolution for his sins and take the holy sacrament. Lino also stated that he had written to his father and brother, both of whom he expected would be in the country before his execution, if it were delayed three months, and that he was exceedingly anxious to see them and obtain reconciliation for his misdeeds.

Judge Fox then proceeded to pass the sentence of the law, which required that he should be hung by the neck until he was dead, adding the hope of God's mercy for him. During the reading of the paper and the sentence, Lino sank upon his seat and wept bitterly. The miserable man appeared to suffer terribly at the close of this scene.


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