The Jury of Matrons.
A curious incident occurred at the Criminal Court of the Old Bailey, London, after the woman named Webster had been tried and convicted of murdering her mistress at Richmond under circumstances of great brutality. After sentence bad been passed upon her she pleaded, as a stay of execution, that she was soon to become a mother. Upon this plea the judge dismissed the jury by whom a verdict of guilty had been found, and within ten minutes thereafter a jury of matrons, selected from the crowd of females in the gallery, was impanelled and sworn to give a true verdict on the issue. The matron of the prison was first called. She testified that the prisoner had been under her charge since the 24th May, that she had made such exanination in her case four days before as was customary whore women were charged with murder, and did not think the statement correct. The judge, not satisfied with the testimony of one person on the subject, directed that the prisoner he taken from the bar to a side room, and that there, in the presence of the jury of matrons, further inquiry lie made with the aid of a skilful physician. The report of the latter was adverse to the prisoner’s statement. Judge Denman then seemed at a loss what to do. Ho remarked that “ after thirty-two years in the profession he had never been at an inquiry of the sort.” Mr Avery, who conducted the prosecution, and whom the judge called “ one of the most experienced criminal lawyers in England,” said the same thing, and Mr Sleigh, an old practitioner, who defended the prisoner, said : “ f also, rny lord, have never had such experience.” The judge in summing up, said : “This is a very unusual enquiry, ladies of the jury, and it has never happened to me before. The law is, if it ho established to the satisfaction of a juiy, that prisoner is as she claims to be, then the execution must he respited.” The jury women, after two or three minutes deliberation, stated that they had agreed upon their verdict, and rendered it to the effect that the woman was not in the condition she represented. So the sentence stood without stay. Rare as such an incident is, the right of summoning a jury of matrons in certain cases is a part of the common law of England, and hence, though fallen into disuse, may be a part of the law in this country.
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Ashburton Guardian, Ashburton Guardian, Volume I, Issue 10, 18 October 1879
The Jury of Matrons. Ashburton Guardian, Volume I, Issue 10, 18 October 1879
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