Charged with Murder

"Prisoner at the bar, have you anything to say why sentence of death shall not be passed upon you?"

A solemn hush fell over the crowded court room, and every person waited in almost breathless expectation for the answer to the judge's question.

The judge waited in dignified silence.

Not a whisper was heard anywhere, and the situation had become painfully oppressive, when the prisoner was seen to move, his head was raised, his hand was clinched, and the blood rushed into his pale, careworn face. Suddenly he arose to his feet, and in a low, firm, but distinct voice, said:

"I have! Your honor, you have asked me a question, and I now ask, as the last favor on earth, that you will not interrupt my answer until I am through.

"I stand here before this bar, convicted of the wilful murder of my wife. Truthful witnesses have testified to the fact that I was a loafer, a drunkard and a wretch; that I returned from one of my prolonged debauches and fired the fatal shot that killed the wife I had sworn to love, cherish and protect. While I have no remembrance of committing the fearful deed, I have no right to complain or to condemn the verdict of the twelve good men who have acted as jury in the case, for their verdict is in accordance with the evidence.

But may it please the court, I wish to show that I AM NOT ALONE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE MURDER OF MY WIFE!"

This startling statement created a tremendous sensation. The Judge leaned over the desk, the lawyers wheeled around and faced the prisoner, the jurors looked at each other in amazement, while the spectators could hardly suppress their intense excitement. The prisoner paused a few seconds, and then continued in the same firm, distinct voice.

"I repeat, your honor, that I am not the only one guilty of the murder of my wife. 'The Judge on this bench,,the jury in the box, the lawyers within this bar, and most of the witnesses, including the pastor of the old church, are also guilty before Almighty God, and will have to stand with me before His Judgment Throne, where we shall all be righteously judged.

"If it had not been for the saloons of my town, I never would have become a drunkard: my wife would not have been murdered; I would not be here now, ready to be hurled into eternity. Had it not been for these human traps, I would have been a sober man, an industrious workman, a tender father and a loving husband. But today my home is destroyed, my wife murdered, my little children-God bless and care for them-cast out on the mercy of the world, while I am to be hung by the strong arm of the State.

"God knows, I tried to reform, but as long as the open saloon was in my pathway ,my weak, diseased will power was no match against the fearful, consuming agonizing appetite for liquor.

"For one year our town was without a saloon. For one year I was a sober man. For one year my wife and children were happy, and our little home was a paradise.

"I was one of those who signed remonstrances against re-opening the saloons in our town. One-half of this jury, the prosecuting attorney on this case, and the judge who sits on this bench, all voted for the saloon. By their votes and influence saloons were re-opened, and they have made me what I am."

The impassioned words of the prisoner fell like coals of fire upon the hearts of those present, and many of the spectators and some of the lawyers were moved to tears. The judge made a motion as if to stop further speech, when the speaker hastily said:

"No! No! your honor, do not close my lips: I am nearly through.

"I began my downward career at a saloon BAR - legalized and protected by the voters of this town. After the saloons you allowed have made me a drunkard and a murderer, I am taken before another BAR- the bar of justice, and now the Law-power will conduct me to the place of execution and hasten my soul into eternity. I shall appear before another bar-the JUDGMENT BAR OF GOD, and there you, who have legalized the traffic, will have to appear with me. Think you that the Great Judge will hold me-the poor weak, helpless victim of your traffic alone responsible for the murder of my wife? Nay, I in my drunken, frenzied, irresponsible condition have murdered ONE but you have deliberately voted for the saloons which have murdered thousands, and they are in full operation today with your consent."

All of you know in your hearts that these words of mine are not the ravings of an unsound mind, but God Almighty's truth.

"You legalized the saloons that made me a drunkard and a murderer, and you are guilty with me before God and man for the murder of my wife.

"Your honor, I am done I am now ready to receive my sentence and be led forth to the place of execution. You will close by asking the Lord to have mercy on my soul. I will close by solemnly asking God to open your blind eyes to your own individual responsibility, so that you will cease to give your support to this dreadful traffic."


The American Anti-Saloon League Press Bureau, Westerville Ohio

A hard copy of this story can be found in the Anti-Saloon League Collection at the Westerville History Museum. 

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As the site of the Anti-Saloon League’s former headquarters, the Westerville History Museum works to preserve the history of the temperance movement, the passage of the 18th Amendment, and the Prohibition era.
As the site of the Anti-Saloon League’s former headquarters, the Westerville History Museum works to preserve the history of the temperance movement, the passage of the 18th Amendment, and the Prohibition era.

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