Friday, January 22, 2016

Bolstering a Brother's Poor Alibi

Brothers have been known to be the best of friends—and sometimes the worst of enemies. The bond of brotherhood may run the gamut of human emotions, but no matter where it falls on the scale, it comes with the mark of a singular relationship.

Before the start of 1917, there were no clues to indicate the strength of the familial relationship between John Syme Hogue and his younger brother, Andrew. With John born in 1885 and his brother following almost exactly two years later in 1887, they were close enough in age to have shared many of the same experiences in their growing-up years. Whether those experiences brought the proverbial closeness of brotherhood, or the bitternesses of animosity or jealousy, it is hard to tell.

By the time John turned thirty two, however, his life choices presented an opportunity for his brother to demonstrate what might generally be called brotherly love. Having been arrested on charges of murder, John Hogue stood trial near the scene of the alleged crime in Essex County, Ontario. The verdict of that March 7, 1917, jury trial demanded that he be sentenced to die on the gallows.

The trial process seemed to have its problems from the start, based on the various reports provided in newspapers throughout Michigan—keenly vested in the outcome for the suspect who was on his way to be returned stateside to stand trial there for other charges—and also in the province of Manitoba, starting point for Hogue's doomed extradition. In today's world of instantaneous news and in his home country, Hogue's trial likely would have seen a change of venue, due to the uproar caused by the search for the fugitive, but not so in 1917 at the scene of his crime near Windsor in Essex County, Ontario.

Even before the actual start of the trial, a Michigan paper, The Muskegon Chronicle, pointed out one clue for the faltering court case in its March 6 edition. Apparently, "Detroit friends of Hogue" had retained a Windsor barrister to represent John, who subsequently had entered a "plea that he had not been able to acquaint himself with the details at the preliminary hearing." Upon this request, the judge had allowed him just one additional day for his preparations.

Once at trial, the case took only one day to be heard. Small details gathered from different newspaper accounts give a glimpse at the case being stitched together by the rushed barrister. Hogue, himself, had insisted that the gun used had been unexpectedly hair trigger—a detail considered a "poor alibi" early on by the Jackson Citizen Patriot, also reporting from Michigan—and that, in his anxiety to escape, he had touched the trigger harder than he had meant.

Other details seeped out in reports. The Bay City Times mentioned an exchange with a witness to the murder, who during the trial insisted that "the prisoner was deliberate in his movements" when he killed the immigration officer escorting him back to Michigan. During cross examination, the witness was asked whether he thought "a lurch of the train caused Hogue to pull the trigger," and whether, at the scene of the crime, he had heard Hogue say, "I'm sorry, I didn't intend to do that." As incredibly Victorian as that latter question may have painted the suspect, both questions do introduce doubt as to what, exactly, happened during that precise moment in which Hogue initiated his getaway.

If the suspect had been tried back in his own country, the usual procedure employed might be to instruct the jury in the concept "beyond a reasonable doubt." Indeed, the very reason the barrister appealed the verdict immediately after the trial was for a similar statement: that the presiding justice "erred in failing to instruct the jury in detail on the meaning of the term, 'culpable homicide.'"

Now, I'm no attorney—nor do I play one on TV—but once I ran across that term, I had to look up its definition. A quick sketch can be gleaned from Wikipedia entries, which explain that, in Canada, the term is used to define criminal intent of a killing, and the jury must be satisfied the accused was a substantial cause of the victim's death.

While it may have been "Detroit friends of Hogue" who had initiated the move to obtain suitable legal defense for John Hogue, perhaps this is where the saga of brothers comes to center stage to pick up the tale. A March 25 report was circulating that, rather than request a retrial, Andrew Hogue, John's brother, was seeking to have "a new trial granted." For this, he had enlisted the support of his home state's newly-elected governor, Democrat John J. Cornwell, in the same month in which he took office for his one term. Why Andrew had chosen this approach—or how he had obtained such connections as to personally obtain the assistance of the chief executive of his state's government—I have yet to uncover. But by the end of March, John's brother was seeking a way to redirect the inevitable.

Regardless of whatever alternate scenario the barrister had been attempting to paint for his audience that March day in court and through his subsequent appeal to Toronto, it did not effectively sway them. The bad news soon returned. Various newspapers in Michigan in April reported that the appellate court of Toronto refused the appeal. The sentence was to be carried out on May 10.



  1. Well, there is no question that he shot and killed the guy. The only question is one of intent and degree.

    1. I would love to read a transcript of the court proceedings to see how the attorney put together his case. He certainly did introduce an element of doubt.

  2. I wonder if high-profile trials were used/abused for political advantage in those days too.

    1. If nothing else--at least here and now--after such a community-wide furor over the escapee, this case would have been ripe for a change of venue.


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