Supreme Court Sittings.
THE WOODGATE MURDER. The following is the reinainclor of our report of the trial cf William Henry Woodgato at the Supreme Court on Tuesday last, which we were unable to publish fully m our last : — Victoria Russell deposed : I am the wife of John Russell of East Bay, Queen Charlotte Sound. I know prisoner, and also his neice Susan Wood gate. I and my husband went m a ■boat to prisoner's place m June last. I remained m the boat while my husband went up to the house. Susan Wnodgate came down and shook hands with me. I observed that her figure was very large, and judged that she would shortly give birth to a child, 1 saw Martha, the wife of James Heberley, and told her about Susan. I had not Been Susan Wood? gate for some time previously during the past fesy years. I did not apeak to her about her condition. I did not tell anybody^ibout Susau's condition ~xceot Martha Heberley. . John Wm. Russell deposed : I know prisoner and his neice Susan. went to their place m June last and saw Susan.. I thought from her appearance that she was abo'ib to become a mother very shortly. My wife thought so also and mentioned the fact to me. James Heberley deposed : I reside at Piefcon and am the grandfather of Susan) Woodgata whose father and "mother are both dead. Prisoner has been living at Resolution Bay for about 13 year*, and his brother who had married my daughter died 12 years ago. After that prisoner lived with my daughter as her husband until she died. The nearest house to prisouer's place is three miles away. Last Queen's Birthday prisoner was m Piefcon, and a few days afterwards there was a Moari wedding at Waikawa, and m consequence of what my wife told me she heard there, I and two of my sons went down to Resolution Bay. ' Prisoner came down to the lifvit and T said to him '• I suppose you kuow what I have come fo--," and he said " Ido not know ;" I said " I hear that Susan is m the family way," and he said "It's a d lie; who told you that ?" I replied " Mr? Ru3s«U told my -wife. He said that Mrs Russell had never be^n out of the boat when she was down, and therefore she could not know anything about it. ' We then went up to the house where L saw Elizabeth and some of the children. I had not seen Susau . for 6or 7 months pvevioutly. I asked Eliz-beth where Susan was, and I was told she had gone to Titirangi, about 20 miles away, to nurse a woman who had been confined. She could give me no information as to the name of the ketch Susan went away m, or who. she went away with. Prisoner was standing close by while this conversa'ion was being earned on. I first heai'd about Susan m the beginning of June and 1 went down as soon aa possible afterwards. After the regatta I had a row wi'h prisoner about some sheep. Before the present proceedings were begun I did not speak about the matter to anybody. About the 4or 5 November I heard that Susan had had the second child. I did not sea her m the street and tell her 3he had given hirth to a child. My son John told me early m November that be was going to take proceedings against prisoner. I was never a friend of the prisoner's. I had another row with him about five years ago because I took his niece Elizabeth ap to Picton with me, but that had nothing to do •vith tho present proceedings. I made application to the magistrate at Pictou to send a police>nan to prisoners's place because I was afraid that Susan had been done away with, but before my action was taken m the matter the girl oame up to Picton and stayed at Bartlett's. The row about the sheep jnst after the regatta was caused by prisoner telling a lie to the effect that a man named Love had chased my sheep off the Island « here they wero grazing.
John Heberley deposed : lam the. uncle of Susan Woodgate. I was present when she made ome statements which were written down by Mr Law. In June last I saw prisoner m Picton md said " Wood«ate, what did .you do with Susan's last child ?" He replied "you don't Itnnw what you ara talking ahout." I repeated ■ny question, and he said he did not know that !-.hey had any children." I then told him I would punish him as far as the law would allow me, and he said "I might do my d 1." I found out that Susan was m the family way m June, iust abonfc the time my father went down to Resolution Bay. In June last she was m Picton but I took no steps to make her leave prisoner's house. In fact I did not actually know she had had a child, but from, what I heard I inferred that she had. It was not a member of the family who began these proceedings, but Mr Ashworth, of Endeavour Inlet. He is prisoner's nearest neigh hor, and was anxious to ascertain what had become of the child ? When I went to Air Conolly I did so because 1 was instructed by the police to do so. This was the jnse for the prosecution. No witnesses were called f«r the defence.
Mr Rogers, m addressing the Jury for the defence, submitted that there waa no evidence of murder havine heen committed. At present the case rested on the bare confession of the prisoner to Susan Woodgate that he had smothered the ■ihild. Assuming that that confession had been made there was no evidence apart from it that a person had been murdered, and he contended that without some corrobora .ive evidence as to the murder having taken ]>1 cc the Jury should not find the prisoner guilty. In support of this contention, he relied upon a footnote m Wheeling's Case (Russell on Crimea and Misdemeanors. Page 366, Edition of 1865.) It was there laid down that " 'a prisoner mny b» convicted on his own confession, when proved by legal testimony, although it is totally uncorroborated by auy other evidence.' This statement may mean that where the commission of a felony is proved by independent evidence, prisoner may be convicted on hia confession, though there bo nothing to corroborate that confession as to his being the party who committed such felony ; and the manner m which Wheelinu's case is introduced, plainly shows that that is the moaning • of the statpment." There were other cases to the same effect cited m the footnote referr-d to, which wound up with tho case Rpx v. Edgar, Moumouth Spr. Ass. 1831, MSS. C. S. G. "In this case the prisoner was indicted fur obtaining money of a Friendly Society by false pretenoes;
the rules of the Society had not been enrolled, but tho prisoner, who was a member of the Society, had acted under them, and it was contended that he had thereby admitted their validity, and the position m the text was cited as a stronger decision ; on which Patterson, J., said, " Cwld a man be convicted of murder on his confession alone, without any proof of the person being killed ? I doubt whether he could.' " He repeated that m this case, taking no notice of the prisoners confession, there was no evidence that a person had been killed.
His Honor said he would take a note of the point raised by Mr Rogers. Mr Roger 3 aaid lie wou.d be glad if His Honor would do so. The proof of the murder rested entirely on the prisoner's threats aud confessions. He pointed out that m her depositions m the Police Oourb Susan Woodgate did noc say that the prisoner told her he had actually smothered the cliild, bufc now she did make that important statement. Assuming that the prisoner told th^ girl that he had smothered the child, would the jury believe that an illiterate girl like her could toll, six months afcer the occurrence, the exact words that prisoner made use of ? He thought the jury should require that the girl's testimony on this point should be corroborated. ' What evidence was there that the child had actually beea smothered ? Susan Woodgate had sworn that she had never seen the child and, therefore, it was impossible for her to say whether it was dead or alive when it was taken out of the room. In fact, she was entirely dependent on what the prisoner had told her about the child. Mr Roger* proceeded to show that the girl Susan had varied very much m her evidence and pointed out several discrepancies between her testimony and that of her sister Elizabeth, and asked the jury to consider* whether the statements of the latter were worthy of credence when she admitted that she had told a deliberate falsehood to her grandfather respecting Susan's whereabouts. The chief point which he would submit to the jury for their consideration was thus : Supposing that prisoner smothered it, was this newly born child such a person as to be capable of being murdered ? J t was not capable of being murdered if it had not a separafe existence from its mother. If is was killed before it was actually separated from its mother the person killing it was not guilty of murder. The only evidence bearing on the question whether the child had a separate existence from its. mother or not was that of Susan Woodgate, who stated that she could not tell whether ihe child waß completely born or not when it cried. There was no proof that the violence, was done to the child, if there was any violence, while it was actually living. Mr Rogers quoted from Taylor's medical Jurisprudence to show that a child might cry before it was completely born. It was for the prosecution to prove that .the child was wholly born, and this had not been proved. There wai no evidence to show whether the child was dead or alive when it was taken out of the room. He reminded the jury that therehad been causes m which persons had confessed to murder which they bad never committed, and for all they knew perhaps the identical child which the prisoner was charged with having murdered was living at the present moment. His learned friend might probably rely ou getting the prisoner couviJted of having concealed the hirth of the child, but before the jury found him guilty of that offence they would have to be satisfied m theirown minds that the child was dead, as it was no offence to conceal the birth of a living person. They must not look at the case from a moral point of view, although the casn was undoubtedly one of shocking depravity. They were there to try the prisoner for murder, not for immorality. He concluded by saying that he left his case entirely m the hands of the jury, and expressed his convic-' tinu that if he had omitted to urge iinything m favor of the prisoner the learned judge would mention it. ,
Mr Conolly ; said he had a few remarks to make m regard to the points which his learned friend had dwelt upon sn briefly and ye*" so ably. He could nob agree with all the argumeuts of his learned frend, but with one of his statements he entirely concurred, namely, that the Jury must not allow the immoral character of the prisoner to inflertce them m giving their verdict. There might be many men as morally bad as the prisoner, who would yet shrink from doing anything which would bring them within the range of the criminal law. His learnod friend had made a point of the fact that it was not until Susan Woodgate was examined m the Supreme Court that she had stated that prisoner told her he " had smotherad the child ;" but he thought they would Hud that she said what amounted to the same thing, when she said m the Police Court that "prisoner threatened to shoot me if I told that he had smothered the child." Mr Rogers had pointed out that Susan Woodgate was an illiterate person brought up m the wilds, and it was quite possible that prior to the preseut case she was never examined m a Court of Justice, or even inside one. Therefore it was not surprising that she should contradict herself occasionally. He was only astonished that she had not broken down even more than she had done. It was for the jury to consider whether the girl Susan was manufacturing this story, and making these serious accusations against a man to whom she did not appear to entertain auy feeling of malice. His friend bad cros»-exatnined the girl with the view of showing that she had been carefully tutored so that she might give her evidence m the way she did, but she distinctly denied that anything of the sort had taken placn. The evidence of Elizabeth Woodgate was only valuable, as his 'friend had said, on one material point, namely, as to having heard the child cry, which goos to show that it was apparently born alive. She was quite cer.ain that it was the cry of an infant, and that was a cry which nobody could mistake. If the two girls had concocted the Btory there nrould' have been important discrepancies between their statements, but that was not the case. The evidence of the other witnesses went to show that there was an evident intention to conceal the pregnancy of the gtrl^ and the birth of the child. Th» main questions were, was there evidence of the death of the child, and proof that it had a separate existence from its mo'her. His friend had stated that there was no evidence of the death' of the child if they set aside the statement of the prisoner
o Susan Woodgate. That might be so, but at the same time there was evidence that a child was born, and that child could not have removed itself. Supposing that the child was alive when taken out of the house where could ifc be transported to ? He contended that there was evidence to show that the child was dead before it left the room. If it had been aliva it would have cried more than once during the hal f -hour it remained m the room wbero it was born._ Then assuming that the child was dead when it was taken out of the room, tha question for the jury to consider was whether it died by tho hand of the prisoner. If Susan's statement that he told her at Pictou that he would," shoot her if she told he had smothered the child " were true there was Btrong evidence that he had murdered it.
, His Honor then proceeded to sum up. He said the jury must not treat the killing of a newly born infant more lightly than they would the murder of a full-grown person. The prosecution, he observed, had been conducted m the most able and proper manner by Mr Conolly, and Mr Rogers m defence of the prisoner had used his utmost endeavors to elicit the true acts from the wituesses and place his case plainly before the Court. He did not think that a single point had been lost either on, one side or the other, but yet it was his duty m a case of this importance to go carefully over the whole facts and to explain the law on the various points to the jury. He would say first that if they had any doubt whatever on any of the points they must give the prisoner the benefit of it. Reference had. been made to the absence of the child. If the child had been shown to be alive when ib was taken out of , the room he would probably have told them that it was not a case for their consideration, and as it was, if they had any doubt as to whether the child was dead or alive when it was taken away they would have to acquit the prisoner. It had been Leld by eminent judges that it would be very unsafe for jurymen to convict a person' charged with murder because bhe person supposed to be murdered had disappeared, though there might be stroug grounds for believing that his disappearance had been caused by the person charged with the murder. Therefore if the Jury did not fiud that this child was dead when it left the room then, however, improbable it- might appear that it was aliva hecauso it had not been heard of sicce, he would advise them nob to convict the prisoner of the charge of murder. There was a material difference between a case of this kind and a case m which a person was proved to have been dead before its disappearance. The fact of the body not being forthcoming cast ft graver duty upon the Jury, because if the body were found dead it would he strong corroboration of the evidence they had heard. It had been truly said by the learned counsel for the defence that thecase main* ly dppended upon the testimony of Susan Woedgate asto whether the death of the child was caused by the prisoner, and whether it was killed while ithad a separate existence from its mother, and her ■tatunent depended almost entirely on admissions made to her by the prisoner. The Jury would have to remember that the accuracy of these admissions depended entirely on tha girl's memory, and they would also have to bear m mind that she heard the admissions at a time when her senses may not have been altogether clear.. One word left out or altered by the girl m the phrase actually used by prisoner tnight make a very great difference. Considerin r the relationship that existed between prisoner and Susan Woodgate, there would be the strongest reason for supposing that he would be desirous of suppressing the birth of the child, on account of the disgrace which would result if the fact that his niece had had a child by him became known. The fact that he threatened to shoot the girls if they said anything about tha child wns not an admission- that he had made away with the chilrl. The threats might have been made with the view of making the girls keep silent on the, subject for fear cf the disgrace. With reference to the difference between^the depositions taken* at the Police Court and "her evirltncem the Supreme Court, his Honor aaid that such a difference might exist m consequence of the evidence not having been taken m full when the case was being heard by the magistrate; and moreover the examination m the Police Court might not have been bo minuto as m the higher Court. At the same time, if there was a material difference ima witness 1 evidence it reflected discserlitably on the witness. Before convicting the prisoner, the jury must be satisfied that there was a human being, to murder. . If he killed the child before ib was completely born and had a separate existence, he wns not guilty of niurder, btcause it was not a human being when it lost its life. If on the other hand it had a separate existence and he killed it he was guilty of the capital offence. If a man or woman ware charged with the murder, of a child, and if the jury were satisfied that that person had by secretly disposing of the body, endeavored to conceal the birth of the child, he or she might be convicted of that offence, although it was not charged m the indictment; The jury would, however, have t© acquit the prisoner on the charge of murder before they could find him guilty of concealment of birth, and before they could do that they would have to satisfy themselves that the child was really dead, and that the prisoner had an intention of concealing its birth. If they found that the prisoner liad by Rome secret disposition of the body of the child sought to conceal its birth from all the world they might convict him. They, would .have to consider whether the chance of avoiding exposure and disgrace by taking the life of the child would not be an inducement to the prisoner to kill it. His Honor then went minutely through the evidence of the various witnesses, -after which he pointed out to the jury that they would have So consider : Whether about the time referred to Susan Woodgate gave birth to a child ; whether that child was fully born ; and did fhe'prisoner wilfully take its life ? Casting aside whatever suspicions they might entertain, whatever sentiments they might have as to the immorality of the prisoner, however much they might think him a person to be excluded from all decent society, if at the same time they had the slightest doubt as to whether or not he committed the crime of murder they should acquit him of the charge. If on the other hand they entertained no doubts that the child was fully born and that
the prisioner wilfully took its life, they were bound to rind him guilty. His Honor having spoken for an hour and three quarter requested the jury to withdraw,, and consider their verdict. After being absent for fifty-five minutes they returned into Court with a verdict of Guilty of Wilful Murder.
The Registras : Prisoner at the bar, "have you anything to urge why the sentence of death should not be passed upon you ?
Prisoner : I should like to speak to my solicitor.
The prisoner having spoken to Mr Rogers, His Honor put on the black cap and said : Prisoner at the bar, — 1 think it unnecessary to make any observations as to the offence of ■which the jury have convicted you. Ifc-remains onlyjfor me to pass the sentence imposed by law for your crime. The sentence of the Court is that you be taken from here to the place from wbeuce you came, and from there to a place of execution, and be there hanged by the 1 neck until you are dead : and may the Almighty C4od have mercy on your soul. Certain points have been raised by the learned counsel for the defence which I have reserved, and they, shall be considered by th* Court of Appeal. ' Until those points are decided I shall arrest the execution of judgment under thie conviction. You are committed to the public prison at Picton m the meantime. Prisoner did not evince any emoticn, and after being handcuffed, was removed to the lock-up.
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Supreme Court Sittings., Marlborough Express, Volume XI, Issue 874, 9 December 1876
Supreme Court Sittings. Marlborough Express, Volume XI, Issue 874, 9 December 1876
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