Monday, January 25, 2016

Who Pleads for Hogue?

It is understandable that the family of a condemned murderer might wish that his life be spared. If that family had the means, it would be just as plausible that they would obtain whatever goodwill they could recruit in effecting any clemency. And that they did, from the far-removed distance of West Virginia, reaching across the international boundary to the domain of the Canadian province of Ontario, in an attempt to spare the life of John Hogue before his scheduled execution on May 10, 1917.

Not as understandable was the effort put forth by the people in the very city in which the case was tried: the city of Windsor. Yet that is apparently what happened, beginning with a petition placed in circulation in late April, 1917. Addressed to the Honorable C. J. Doherty, minister of justice, the instrument was "seeking executive clemency" in the case of John Hogue, convicted earlier in March for the murder of the Canadian deportation officer escorting him to stand trial in Michigan on charges of safe blowing.

By this time, the appellate division of the Ontario Supreme Court at Toronto had already denied the appeal made on behalf of Hogue. According to the April 27 edition of The Essex Free Press, the "efforts to save John Hogue" were then taken up when
Adjutant Squarebriggs, officer commanding the Windsor corps of the Salvation Army, placed a petition in circulation last week.

From the opposite direction, action was being taken at home as well.
William E. Chilton, member of the United States senate for West Virginia, has addressed a letter to Hon. C. J. Doherty of Ottawa, minister of justice, in which he vouches for the high citizenship of Hogue's family, and expresses his belief that John Hogue did not shoot intentionally.

Theirs were not the only pleas. According to a later edition of The Essex Free Press, "numerous petitions had been sent to Ottawa by Canadian and United States citizens." In addition,
The governor of West Virginia, where Hogue was born, and other prominent men of the Southern States also interceded at Ottawa.

Despite such widespread support for John Hogue's plea for clemency, don't let yourself be persuaded that his reprieve was merely a token bestowed upon the privileged class. During the time in which Hogue was apprehended, charged, tried and sentenced, Canada was undergoing a concurrent reformist thrust which decried capital punishment in general. Associations like National Prison Reform Association—two years after Hogue's trial to become the Canadian Prisoners' Welfare Association—boasted the effective leadership of statesmen such as Robert Bickerdike, MP, who introduced bills to replace the death penalty with a life sentence, the very proposal made in Hogue's case during that same time period.

Whether the petitions in Hogue's case carried many signatures or few, whether the political clout of the American politicians was impressive or inadequate, it is likely that the predominant voice in the struggle was actually that of the Canadian reformists calling for a sea change in their overarching administration of justice.  


  1. OK, so the issue wasn't necessarily guilt or innocence but the punishment. And here we are 100 years later still arguing the same issue.

    1. So true, Wendy! Some things never seem to change.

      On the other hand, from some of the newspaper reports, it did seem as if there were questions about both the manner in which the trial proceeded and in what exact details of the original struggle the man ended up getting shot. Some descriptions make it sound entirely accidental...although they were published in the newspapers farthest away from the scene of the crime. Go figure.

  2. Replies
    1. Yes he was...and family with connections ;)

  3. If he hadn't had connections - he would have hung. Is this "fair, impartial justice"?

    I think not.

    1. Very true, Iggy. However, it was interesting, checking resources on the Internet, to note that other such capital cases were receiving similar unusual treatment. Perhaps it was just the spirit of the times.


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