Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Teetering on Technicalities

Remember that saying, "Have his day in court?" Perhaps no one today takes that as a serious measurement of a legal timeline. Back in March, 1917, though, the provincial courts of Ontario may have taken that concept more literally.

While the trial of the suspected murderer of Canadian immigration officer William Jackson may have seemed like an open-and-shut case, a mere one day's hearing in court may have been a bit too brief for propriety's sake.

By the time the verdict was announced—guilty—followed all on the same day by the sentencing, the various newspapers covering the process across both Canada and the United States all had their take on what was to follow next. Ontario law in 1917 provided two sentencing options in such a case: death on the gallows or life imprisonment. Ontario Supreme Court presiding justice Sutherland opted for the more swift and final penalty, and scheduled its implementation for May 17—barely two months after the case was tried in his court.

For one thing, The Wisconsin State Journal—still miffed about the robbery committed by this same man at the Orpheum in Madison the previous May—had continued to insist on identifying the murderer as James Stewart. Only with their March 8 coverage of the verdict did they finally admit that James Stewart was only an alias.

The Evening Chronicle in Marshall, Michigan—county seat and site for the court case to which "James Stewart" was being extradited for his safe-cracking crime in nearby Battle Creek—was a little faster on the uptake, publicly admitting that James Stewart was merely an alias with their coverage on February 27. They still got the real name wrong in that article, though, fingering him to be James Hogue.

The Manitoba Free Press, back in Winnipeg where this whole extradition process began that January, finally got it right when, in their March 25 report, they announced the murderer's correct name—although altering the date for his execution, moving it up to May 10.

It had been as early as March 8—barely the day after the trial—when the convicted murderer's attorney began preparations to appeal his client's case. He felt there were grounds to do so: his contention that the presiding judge had failed to properly instruct the jury "in detail" on the concept of "culpable homicide."

Perhaps he had a point. Likely inherent in the case was the suspect's contention that the gun used in committing the crime was unpredictable—a hair-trigger response when first handled, but, as was readily evident when used the second time in the face of his impending arrest, unable to be fired at all.

No matter what the grounds for that original decision to appeal the verdict, it was through what unfolded in the process to secure that retrial that confirmed the suspect's real identity. For by the end of that same month, back in his hometown of Charleston, West Virginia, the suspect's brother had begun the process to intercede on behalf of his wayward sibling. It was Andrew Hogue who, enlisting the influence of his state's chief executive, Governor John J. Cornwall, hoped to have a new trial granted for his brother—whose name was not James at all, but actually John Hogue.

As the Winnipeg newspaper explained how things really were, back home in West Virginia, "John Hogue is a member of a prominent Kanawha Valley family."

Above: "Jeune homme Ă  la fenĂȘtre" (Young Man at the Window), 1875 oil on canvas by French Impressionist, Gustave Caillebotte; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. One does have to wonder that if his very name was in doubt, there should be some doubt (reasonable or otherwise) that this is the man that committed the crime?

    1. That is a good point, Iggy—enough, at least, to have taken up time to determine just who it was they were charging. However, though I don't yet have any record of the actual court proceedings, I suspect the case (eventually, at least) centered not on who he was, but on how the temperamental weapon he was handling may have inadvertently put him in the serious position in which he found himself.

  2. Oh so maybe John Hogue-James Whoever set the precedence enabling the kid who made the news today to claim his affluent upbringing prevented him from knowing right from wrong.

    1. Now, that's a "poor little rich kid" scenario that, considering it cost the lives of four people, is hard to buy. As for our James-with-all-the-aliases John Hogue, I've yet to be able to ferret out the back story of what, exactly, possessed him to do what he did.

  3. Ah the black sheep is worth rescuing :)

    1. Who knows whether he was worth rescuing. Perhaps, instead, that gives you an idea of what a gem his brother really was.


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