Able Charge from the Bench Yesterday Morning.

The Jury Retire and 11:15.

And at three O'clock They Return a Verdict of "Not Guilty."


Notwithstanding the extreme cold of the preceding night - the coldest of this extraordinary cold winter - the thermometer having sunk as low as 24 degrees below zero during the night - yet those interested in the trial of the Biddulph prisoner, Carroll, were astir as early as eight o'clock, and at half-past eight, with the mercury 20 degrees below zero, the living stream began to set steadily in towards the Court House, the portals of which were carefully guarded by a posse of constables. And the early birds were made aware of the fact that on no consideration would they obtain admission to the Court room till the hour for opening the Court, viz., 9.30 a.m.


Gentlemen of the Jury - After the very long and patient sitting, and the very attentive manner in which you have listened throughout to the lengthy and tedious details of this important and momentous case, it is now your duty, in conclusion, to carefully sum up that evidence, and draw your conclusions from the same. Before you arrive at any conclusion, it is well to lay before you, in as concise a manner as lays in my power, the leading events which have occurred throughout this memorable trial, and in order to do so it will be necessary to trace back to the time when the prisoner Carroll became identified with the people and scenes which have ultimately led to his being charged with the offence for which he is now a prisoner in the dock. In reviewing the evidence, if doubts arise in your minds, the law throws around the accused a shield of protection in that the prisoner is at your hands entitled to the benefit of such doubt. With this laid down for your consideration, I shall endeavor to bring before you the evidence brought by the Crown and defence. The Crown, by their witnesses, show that there was a certain organization of a society in Biddulph, known as the Vigilance Committee, and their object was to punish crime, which, although it may be argued that there was nothing illegal in such an organization, yet there appears to have existed at a certain place in the township another offshoot from it, which, I regret to say, appears to have envinced a most malevolent and vicious spirit against one family in their midst - I allude to the Donnelly family - and among the members which composed this organization the prisoner appears in connection with the same. If you are prepared to believe the mass of evidence furnished by the Crown, then it will be become apparent that this secret Committee were capable of concocting and putting in force some of the most atrocious and abominable crimes we have on record. The Crown also goes on to prove that the prisoner Carroll took a prominent and active part in that Association. That being the case, they argue, and with considerable force, that there exists a case of direct and not merely circumstantial evidence against the prisoner. Not merely that he was a member, but that he was an active participant of the same. To establish this case they call forward a boy named John O'Connor, and the evidence points to the fact that this boy was inside of the Donnelly house on the fatal morning of the 4th of Feb., 1880. This is positively asserted by the boy himself, and the witness Whalen also affirms he arrived at his house from the scene of the tragedy barefoot and partially clad. It is put in evidence that between one and two o'clock that morning the boy saw the prisoner, James Carroll, standing in the door with a lighted candle in his hand in conversation with the old man Donnelly, and that Carroll was there in the capacity of a constable; that he heard the old man ask Tom if he was hand-cuffed, and the reply, "Yes; he thinks he is smart." The charge against the prisoner is for the murder of Judith Donnelly; the boy heard the old man call for Mrs. Donnelly to get up and light the fire; he heard Tom moving backwards and forwards; he heard a body being brought in and thrown on the floor. He hears some one bring a spade and break his skull in. If you throw out the evidence of the boy O'Connor in these respects, yet it appears credible and reasonable to believe that the boy really saw and identified the prisoner Carroll as he stood in that doorway, with a light in his hand. The boy might be in that condition and state of mind as not to rely on all he said. There is an insinuation that on the part of the defence that there has existed, on the part of the Crown, an attempt to hunt up extraordinary evidence in this case. It is insinuated that John O'Connor may have been so influenced by outsiders that his testimony should not be considered reliable. His Lordship then proceeded to recount the events of the tragedy, by referring to the action of the boy getting under the bed and the application of coal oil. Also what took place at Whalen's, when the boy, upon being interrogated, speaks of one Carroll being there. He did not say which Carroll, and this dwelt upon in Whalen's evidence. One of the Whalen's says the boy recognized Carroll by his voice. Another that he knew him by his talk. The boy is next found conversing with Mr. Whalen, of Lucan, whose evidence, if you credit it, affirms that John O'Connor speaks of a number of men in women's clothes, of men with their faces blackened, and of the Donnellys rushing back to the woods. At the suggestion of Constable Hodge the boy is advised not to talk to anyone on the subject. The boy's father also takes the precaution to keep him secluded, not, however, before two persons have an opportunity of talking with the lad; I refer to Mr. Fox and Mr. Stanley, of Lucan. Now, if you can consider this class of evidence reliable is a question that rests with you. What is said outside a Court room is not evidence. What so-and-so said is by no means substantial evidence, and what John O'Connor said out of the witness-box is not evidence. And so if John O'Connor told deliberate falsehoods outside the court, and afterward came into the witness box and told a different story, it is what he says in the court you are to accept and not what he says outside. There is no doubt a person's evidence may be invalidated by previous conversation. Now, the boy did not tell these parties that he did not know these persons. He describes one person in a brown dress. He also describes two persons, John Purtell and Thomas Ryder, The question is, can you rely on what Mr. Fox said. You must remember there had at that time been a good deal of talk in the village, and all sorts of stories and rumors were afloat. The boy's evidence seems reasonable, and he has given his sworn evidence here in Court. Now, it is not in the evidence that the prisoner Carroll struck a blow, but still it is held in the eye of the law that all present that night were equally guilty as if they had struck the fatal blow. They are alike guilty of the crime of murder and arson. The Crown argues, and with a good deal of force, too, that if the boy went in for wholesale perjury, he would not only have identified Carroll but he would have said Carroll struck a blow or blows. Why should the boy invent the story of the handcuffs? Why should the boy say he saw the girl run across the kitchen and rush up stairs, that the men went up stairs, an that he did not see the girl return? Those people came down, but did not bring the girl with them. These are all arguments adduced for your consideration. The prisoner's counsel says there must be a falsification, because the place where the dead body of the girl was found was remote from where she was upstairs. That argument has apparently a good deal of force in it, but does not establish it as a certainty. The men might have brought the girl down and the boy not have seen them. His Lordship went into the different details of the evidence relative to what occurred after the tragedy, and said to the jury, You are altogether the judges of the credit or discredit of any witness placed in that witness-box. The Crown urges on your consideration that the boy was urged by Constable Hodge not to give information. That may be the reason that either he said nothing about it, or else he gave part of what he had seen. In referring to the animus and feeling evinced by the prisoner against the Donnellys, the Judge referred to the action of Carroll at the Ryan trial at Lucan; the thrashing at Ryan's; the stealing of Thompson's cow; the gathering of twenty to fifty men to search for the cow; how Carroll was foremost in all the movements. How that whilst searching at the homestead, Carroll said to old man Donnelly, "How would you like, old man, to be kicked in the ribs." Then His Lordship took up the Vigilance Committee at some length. In referring to it, he said, we find they had no organization, no chairman, no secretary - all that could be elicted from the host of witnesses, with probably one exception, was that they were to "search out wrong and put down badness." They had, apparently, no real object, and yet they had a fearful significance. The Crown was bound to have then in the box, and you see the class of evidence which is the result; and though you may suspect that they have not given you anything like the truth, yet you are obliged to take their testimony, such as it is, and you are not in a position to assume that they have not given a correct or truthful evidence. In which case this prisoner cannot be held to the crime, simply because he was a member of this Committee. You can, in fact, only convict him on the boy O'Connor's evidence. His Lordship again reviewed the ill-feeling and animus evinced by Carroll against the Donnellys. That Carroll knowing the want of evidence started to St. Thomas to arrest Mrs. Donnelly, and brought her to London and Lucan. Finding no evidence against them, they were released. On the Ryder barn burning accusation there were four or five adjournments, and all the time, as it has been clearly shown, the prisoner who was acting as constable knew there was not sufficient evidence to convict these people. Carroll wrote to Fewings, at St. Thomas, and by the terms of that letter, a charge was to be worked up by him, of arson, against Robert Donnelly, but the Ryder barn burning was to be dropped. It is in evidence before you that the Donnellys announced that they would take proceedings for malicious prosecution. Another circumstance, that Carroll got a warrant for Donnelly in the charge of robbing Ed. Ryan. Here we find that one day, shortly before the murder, Carroll has a warrant for Feehely, but he didn't arrest Feehely, but tells Feehely to shun Donnellys and join the Association; Feehely wouldn't say there was a bargain between him and Carroll to let him off. His Lordship then went into the question of the handcuffs, and the action of the two Hodgins, the constables, in which it appeared quite plain that the evidence went to show that Carroll was provided with handcuffs. In speaking of the action of the Crown Attorney and other officials, His Lordship said: It was their duty to ferret out to the best of their ability this most atrocious and abominable crime, and if I may be permitted to say from the character the officers of the Crown here it would be impossible for them to act in any other way but a straightforward and honorable manner. The Judge then reviewed the evidence adduced in reference to Carroll's stay at Thompson's house the night of the murder. We know that not only men get out of houses without making a noise, but likewise they get into houses without any perceptible noise, else we would not hear of so many burglaries in the country. Further, the Chief of Police, Mr. Paine and others testify altogether different to what Mr. and Mrs. Thompson and Carroll swore to. William Carroll who said he awoke at one o'clock and his brother was in bed with him, is a member of this Vigilance Committee. Wm. Thompson is another member. Both these men were at enmity with the Donnellys. The Ryder alibi was also reviewed in a very able manner by His Lordship, who plainly showed to the jury that the Ryder story and the evidence tendered by the constables was altogether at variance, and it was for them (the jury) to judge between the evidence of four men, who were all active members of the Committee, and the sworn evidence of the Crown. I have, I think, produced for your consideration all the leading facts and points in this case that have presented themselves to my mind. Perhaps there are circumstances and details which may have escaped me, but may occur to you in your deliberations. If, by the evidence of John O'Connor, you are convinced that the prisoner, James Carroll, is guilty, then it is your duty to record a verdict in accordance with those facts. If, on the other hand, after all you have heard, and as reasonable men and true you think that there would not be sufficient evidence to warrant the conviction of the prisoner, then you will record a verdict in accordance with such a view of the case. You will now retire and deliberate on you verdict, and when you have arrived at the same, you will return to the Court again. The jury then retired at eleven o'clock.

[...] The jury came in at eight minutes past three o'clock, and after taking their seats, were asked by Colonel McBeth, amid the most breathless silence: "Gentlemen of the jury, have you agreed on your verdict?"

The foreman answered,

"We have.";

How do you find the prisoner, guilty or not guilty?


The announcement was received by a tremendous burst of applause, which was kept up for some time, notwithstanding the the thundering voice of the High Constable roaring "Silence!"

Judge Cameron said that if the constables could point out anyone who applauded he would commit him, and this had the effect of somewhat restoring order.

When Carroll came in he was as white as a sheet. It was almost a concluded fact by many in the court that an unfavorable verdict would be returned, and the prisoner doubtless felt the emergency.

The jury empanneled to the Ryder and Purtell indictment were discharged. His Lordship announcing that as one juror had not been sworn in the jury could be discharged without rendering any verdict.

[...] So as soon as the prisoners Carroll, Ryder and Purtell were taken from the dock to enter into their recognizances another burst of applause was started, but was speedily checked by High Constable Groves.

James Carroll was now placed in the dock once more, in order to receive the parting admonition from their Lordships. Justice Cameron, in his closing remarks said: James Carroll, I am now in position to inform you that after a lengthy and prolonged trial, that a jury of your own countrymen have concluded to return a verdict of "Not guilty" in your favor, and you are now acquitted from the charge of the murder of Judith Donnelly, but not from the charge for which you may placed on trial for the murder of Jas. Donnelly, Thos. Donnelly and Bridget Donnelly. The jury in your case have taken a most favorable view, and I hope a correct view has been taken by them, and I sincerely hope you have not been guilty of the atrocious crime laid to your charge. There is one point, however, I must dwell on. You James Carroll, are a number of the constabulary of your county, and you have in the discharge of your duties as constable exhibited the utmost asperity. In an especial manner it has been plainly shown that you are particularly anxious to prosecute the Donnellys, and if you have suffered a year's imprisonment you have yourself to blame for it. This together with the continual dread and uncertainty hanging over you, for you have had what may be looked upon as a narrow escape for you life, may be regarded by you in some measure as a punishment for your dereliction of duty in the discharge of your duties as a constable. I trust you will leave the dock a better and wiser man.

Source: Unknown, "The Biddulph Tragedy," London Advertiser, February 3, 1881.

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