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CAPITAL PUNISHMENT OF FEMALES. When the Government bill on capital punishment comes down from the Upper to the Lower House we understand that Sir. William Eivart will move the total abolition of the capital punishment of females. His motion is based upon the following reasons :— 1. The peculiarly disgusting and revolting nature of the cold-blooded strangulation of females in a Chris- tian age and country. 2. The special hindrances to the carrying out of the law (both as to verdict and execution) which have to be encountered in almost every instance where a woman is charged capitally. 3. The peculiar liability of women to influences of sudden, unexpected or previously latent, violent in- sanity arising from puerperal causes or other sexual and physiological conditions. 4. The now practically recognised precedent of the Home Oflice, th}1t no execution of a woman shall be carried into effect if, between her sentence and the time ftmed for its execution, she be found to be pregnant, as m the case of Charlotte Harris, sentenced to death at the Somerset assizes, in 1849, but subsequently found pregnant, and respited on that account. After the birth of a child there appeared some probability of her execution being carried into effect, whereupon nearly 40,000 women appealed to the Queen in a memorial for meroy. Eventually the fatal sentence was commuted, and since that period there have been other commuta- tions in similar case, But it is an anomaly in the administration of law that whilst women capitally condemned are thus com- muted if foand pregnant after sentence, yet that if found pregnant before sentence they may be detained from trial till after childbirth and then hanged. As a case in point, we may cite that of Alice Holt, who, in June, 1863, was committed for trial to Chester, for murder. Being found pregnant, her trial was post- poned till the winter assizes. In the interval she was delivered of a child. She was then tried, sentenced, and finally hanged, notwithstanding earnest local petitions to the contrary. In Mr. Dymond's" Law on its Trial," it is recorded of this execution The scene upon the scaffold was more than usually distressing. The wretched woman, weak and faint, was kept several minutes waiting for the drop to fall, owing to some difficulty with the bolt. Meantime her cries to the hangman to Make haste' excited the pity and sympathy of the crowd who had come to witness the revolting spectacle." 5. There arises from the capital punishment of females a certain degree of danger of sacrificing innocent life with the guilty, through the execu- tion of women who may be really pregnant, though declared not to be so. This horrible occurrence is not very likely to happen, but there is a reason- able possibility of it, as the following toler- ably recent instances prove: At the Norwich spring assizes, March, 1833, Mary Wright, the daughter of an insane mother, was tried for murder, and, in spite of strong evidence of her own insanity, was sentenced to death. Through the vigilanoe of Mr. Sydney Taylor, a plea of pregnancy was immedi- ately adduced, whereupon a jury of 12 matrons was empanneled who, after more than an hour's absence, returned a verdict in the usual form-that they did not find the prisoner pregnant of a quick child." At the earnest solicitation of Mr. Taylor a further ex- amination of the prisoner by three medical gentlemen took place, and, in consequence of their representa-1 tion, execution was stayed. Shortly before the next assizes Mary Wright was delivered of a daughter. Through the benevolent exertions of Mr. Joseph John Gurney and other gentlemen abundant proof of the prisoner's insanity, down to the very day of her orime, was obtained and forwarded to the Home Office, and this led to a commutation of the sentence. A more recent instance of a similar error was adduced before the late Royal Commission on Capital Punish- ment by Mr. Serjeant Parry. In 1847 Mary Ann Hunt was convicted of murder at the Central Criminal Court. Pregnancy being alleged, she was examined by a jury of matrons, who declared her not pregnant. Subsequently medical men arrived at an opposite con- clusion, which was eventually proved correct by the birth of a son. 6. The peculiar liability of females to temptation and crime through their circumstances of weak- ness and of frequently compelled submission to the violence of male ruffians. A striking in. stance is mentioned in the Judicial Statis- tics" for 1863. In that year a commutation of the capital sentence was extended to one Elizabeth Benyon, condemned to death at Liverpool. Her age was only 17. She had murdered her child of one year old by drowning it in a canal. Her own father had compelled her to horrible and unnatural immorality, and had afterwards turned her and her child into the streets. These illustrations of the peculiar and unavoidable evils connected with the capital punishment of females are in themselves sufficient to justify the prompt abolition of exhibitions eo revolting as the judicial strangulation of women.






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