Opinions of the Outside Press on the Verdict.

From the Toronto Mail.

The acquittal of Carroll, with the virtual abandonment by the Crown of the prosecution against his fellow-prisoners, ends for the present the most famous and most brutal case in our criminal annals. That five persons should have been barbarously put to death was bad enough in all conscience; but this failure of justice is even more deplorable. It simply means that with all our boasted civilization human life is not safe, and the law may be defied with impunity in certain sections of Canada. No more humiliating confession is possible. A dispatch is another column records the execution of four half-breed outlaws in British Columbia; but their crimes are whiter by far than the tragedy enacted, within half a days journey of the capital of Ontario, by civilized men, who still go unpunished. This is not the place to try Carroll over again. He has been twice arraigned, and the Crown has exerted every effort to bring forward evidence; but he has been twice acquitted, and whatever may be the opinion as to the moral guilt, in law he is innocent; and so are they all. There is an old saying that "murder will out," and it is more than likely that the guilty ones will yet be known. Johnny O'Connor told us what he saw that night, but the jury has set aside his testimony because it was not supported by other direct or circumstantial evidence of any great value. But in cases of this kind, where the dreadful secret is shared by more than one murderer - and it is quite clear this crime was the work of an organized gang - it is sure to leak out. The oath which binds the co-partnership cannot always prevail against conscience. This, however, is a poor source of satisfaction. That a whole family may be butchered under circumstance of the greatest atrocity, and that the arm of the law cannot reach the murderers, are facts which will forever disgrace the good name of this Province.

[...] From the Globe

The acquittal of James Carroll, who has been twice tried for the murder of a member of the Donnelly family, marks the conclusion of another stage in the now celebrated Biddulph case. The other prisoners charged with participation in the same crime will probably now be released on bail, with no immediate prospect of being brought to trial. The failure of justice in this case has so far been most complete. In a thickly settled neighborhood three members of one family are cruelly murdered in cold blood and their houses is burned over their dead bodies, within a very short time afterwards, on the same night, a fourth is shot dead a few miles off, in a still more thickly settled spot; and yet it has been found impossible to bring either of these crimes home to anyone to the satisfaction of a jury. There is something terribly wrong in such a state of affairs. There can be no doubt that some members of the Donnelly family had made themselves obnoxious to their neighbors, though there is unquestionably much exaggeration in the stories told about the terrorism they inspired. But even if they had been much worse than their worst enemies picture them, that would not justify the brutal massacre of not merely the alleged offenders but persons who had not done wrong and whose only crime was being related to the principal victims. The crime committed by the men who killed the Donnellys was immeasurably greater and darker than anything ever urged against the latter, and the failure to convict any one of committing so foul a deed will remain a blot on our administration of justice.

The acquittal of Carroll by the jury will not entirely absolve him in public opinion from complicity in the crime. Stronger evidence, both direct and circumstantial, has rarely been brought against any man who in the face of it escaped the gallows. The story of the boy O'Connor, told at different trials with great circumstantiality, and left substantially unshaken by repeated and protracted cross-examinations, cannot be so easily got rid of. The discrepancies between his different statements were no greater than those developed in the evidence for the defence, while the whole tendency of the circumstantial evidence is to strengthen belief in what he says. No one has any doubt that several persons were banded together in the perpetration of the crime. It is equally certain that these persons belonged to the immediate neighborhood. The crime was beyond question a premeditated one, the result of a deliberate and probably widespread conspiracy. There was an organization in the locality of the kind commonly called "Vigilance Committee," the ostensible object of which was to suppress acts of lawlessness, such as the Donnellys were reputed to be addicted to. Some of the members of this secret society are known to have cherished the most bitter hostility towards the ill-fated family, and Carroll himself is proved to have used towards the elder Donnelly language of peculiar brutality. The fact that a constable had lent Carroll handcuffs shortly before the murder is a singular confirmation of the boy's story that Tom Donnelly was handcuffed before he was murdered. The attempt to prove an alibi was in some cases very weak, and in none was the evidence very clear or convincing. In the face of all this a verdict of acquittal means that the jury were scrupulously careful in their observance of the stereotyped direction to give the prisoner the benefit of every doubt.

Where so many people are in the secret - for it would be mere affection not to believe that the whole of the facts are known to a comparatively wide circle - it is always possible that new evidence may yet come to light. Indeed it is all but certain that there will yet be important disclosures in connection with the case, and the conclusion of the present trial leaves every one of the accused, Carroll included, liable to be tried again for one or other of the murders. It is to be hoped that justice will some time or other be done, and that of those now under a cloud be innocent their innocence will be clearly established. On the other hand, if they are guilty, it is extremely desirable that the law should be vindicated in their case. Advantage should be taken of the occurrence to bring about a better state of affairs in Biddulph. Had the local magistrates been prepared to do their duty matters would never have assumed the form of a vendetta, with respect to which it is difficult to apportion blame. No man should accept a commission as Justice of the Peace, unless he is prepared to see that the peace, as far as he can maintain it, is preserved. There is ground for national humiliation in the crime and subsequent failure of justice, but good may yet come out of even so unspeakable an evil.

[From the Hamilton Times]

How far local prejudices, of fear of future results, influenced the jury may never be ascertained. We cannot but think, after all has been said and done, that it would have been more satisfactory had the judges at first changed the venue of the trial, and thus removed jurymen from even a suspicion of being unduly influenced in any manner whatever. In view of what has transpired in Middlesex within the last twelve months, and with all due deference to their Lordships, we believe that such a course would have given the greatest satisfaction to the people at large.

Source: Unknown, "The Great Trial - Opinions of the Outside Press on the Verdict," London Advertiser, February 4, 1881.

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