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Forty-four Years in Penal Servitude for Murder—yet Innocent.

After 44 years <>f wrongful suffering, a claim for the restitution of a name and character mistakenly stained with the imputation of the worst of crimes becomes almost too powerful to he resisted ; but after 44 years, memory becomes dim and uncertain, and evidence hard to he tested and untrustworthy. Sr John Eardley Wilmot recently brought before the House of Commons the case of Edmund Galley, sentenced long ago for a murder committed as far hack as 1835. It was asserted by the honorable baronet that there was not only no adequate proof, that Galley had committed the murder for which ho was condemned, but that there was ample evidence of his innocence of this crime. Sir Eardley Wilmot is a lawyer, and has been a Judge of County Courts, but he has been associated with the movement for the abolition of capital punishment, and he may he suspected of an undue leaning to the side of clemency. His motion was, however, seconded by Mr Bulwcr, a lawyer of a dillbrent typo, who avowed, in the most unqualified manner, his belief in Galley’s innocence. Nor does the case stop here, Sir Eardley Wilmot and Mr Bulwer speak of what they have been told and what they have heard, but no less a person than the Lord Chief Justice of England was vouched by them, and Sir Alexander Oockburn, from what he saw and knew at the time, hears testimony to a belief that Galley was wrongfully convicted more than forty years since. Ho was a y'o nig barrister, just beginning practice on the Western Circuit when Galley was tried, and ho was then persuaded that the evidence against him did not justify his conviction. Knowledge acquhed immediately after the trial persuaded him that Galley was innocent, and when he learnt quit j recently that Galley was still alive, and spending the last years of a prolonged existence as an exiled convict at the Antipodes, lie wrote a powerful letter to the Home Office, urging that the prerogative of the Crown should be exercised to restore Galley, as far as he can be restored, to the position from which he was degraded. Mr Cross resisted the appeal, but, as it seemed, move from a feeling that he must respect the decisions of his predecessors than from any conviction of Galley’s guilt. His hesitation was respectable, but it could scarcely be maintained in the face of such a concurrence of opinion as was produced in the House of Commons, backed up by the manifest feeling of the members present. The Home Secretary, indeed, insisted that the House ought not to make any formal declaration of Galley’s innocence, and, as it was felt that this was outside the proper action of Parliament, the declaration was withdrawn, hut a unanimous resolution was passed in favor of giving him a free pardon. It is no doubt a difficult thing to re-open a trial of more than forty years since ; and the intervention of a popular Assembly like the House of Commons in the administration of justice must always be deprecated ; hut we cannot refuse to admit the truth merely because it happens to be insisted upon in the course of a Parliamentary debate. It would be idle pedantry to adhere to a wrong conclusion simply because it was impeached in the House of Commons, especially when there is no tribunal of an exclusively judicial character before which such a case as that of Galley can be argued. Galley was tried and convicted at Exeter along with another man, Oliver, as the perpetrators of a murder near Moreton-Hampstead. The chief witness against him was a woman then lying in gaol, who procured her release as a consequence of the evidence she gave. Galleyhad no counsel, but ho did not cease to protest his innocence ; and after the conviction of the pair Oliver acknowledged his own guilt, but declared the other to be innocent. Mr (now Sir) Montague Smith, who was counsel for Oliver, is a witness to his own be iof in Galley’s innocence. But the matter does not rest there. As soon as the trial terminated at Exeter some of the younger members of the bar who were interested in it came forward to help a Mr Cherer, a short-hand writer who attended the Court, to examine into the case further ; and after a conference with the prisoner it was thought an alibi could be proved. Mr Cherer’s investigations .led him to lay before the Home Office evidence that Galley was at Hartford, in Kent, on the day of the murder, and Sir Frederick Roe, then Chief Magistrate was sent down, Mr Montague Smith companying him, to examine the evidence. Sir Montague Smith says the alibi was established to his satisfaction and to the satisfaction of Sir Frederick Roe, hut it is fair to add that no statement to this effect on the part of Sir Frederick Roe is on record in the Home Office. The papers there go to show that the gentleman expressed no opinion when making his report. The report itself was laid before Lord Denman, and that Lord Chief Justice was not convinced. It is from his decision that an appeal was practically made to the House, and as the House had tlie same materials of evidence before it as he had, the appeal was not at once to be scouted. When everything had been said, the result was that many, probably' most, members were convinced of Galley’s innocence, and many were left in doubt, but probably no one was convinced of his guilt. The scruples of the Home Secretary and the self-respect of Parliament led to any formal expression of Galley’s innocence being laid aside, but all concurred in his full restitution, through the prerogative of pardon, to the rights of innocence.

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Bibliographic details

Ashburton Guardian, Ashburton Guardian, Volume I, Issue 10, 18 October 1879

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Forty-four Years in Penal Servitude for Murder—yet Innocent. Ashburton Guardian, Volume I, Issue 10, 18 October 1879