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Albert Tirrell Trial: 1846

The Jury Acquits Tirrell

On March 30, 1846, the jury announced its verdict after less than two hours of deliberation. The jurors pronounced Albert Tirrell innocent. Despite the questions about his conduct and the evidence against his client, Rufus Choate had successfully defended Tirrell on the grounds that Tirrell could have killed Bickford while sleepwalking and was thus not responsible for his behavior. Tirrell left the courtroom a free man, but it was not long before he was in trouble again.

In January 1847, the prosecution initiated new charges against Tirrell, this time charging him with arson relating to the fires he set in Bickford's brothel on the night of her murder. Choate represented Tirrell again. This time, the trial was presided over by Massachusetts Chief Justice and distinguished jurist Lemuel Shaw. The prosecution presented essentially the same witnesses as in the first trial concerning Tirrell's presence in the brothel on the night the fires were set. Once again, Choate was able to attack the prosecution's case for its reliance on solely circumstantial evidence.

The jury found Tirrell not guilty, and for the second and final time, he left the courtroom a free man. In addition to Choate's expertise, Tirrell was assisted by Judge Shaw's instructions to the jury. Shaw's instructions criticized the prosecution's witnesses, saying that they were of "disreputable character" and pointing out discrepancies in their testimony.

Tirrell had little gratitude for Choate's extraordinary accomplishments. In fact, Tirrell even demanded that Choate refund half his legal fees since Tirrell's innocence had been so "obvious" in two trials. Of course, Choate refused. Tirrell spent the rest of his life in obscurity, but his trials became famous for Choate's successful use of a sleepwalking defense to charges of murder and arson.

Stephen G. Christianson

Suggestions for Further Reading

Bickford, James. The Authentic Life of Mrs. Mary Ann Bickford. Boston: The Compiler, 1846.

Brown, Samuel Gilman. The Life of Rufus Choate. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1898.

Fuess, Claude Moore. Rufus Choate, the Wizard of the Law. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1970.

"A Lady of Weymouth." Eccentricities & Anecdotes of Albert John Tirrell. Boston: Unknown publisher, 1846.

Matthews, Jean V. Rufus Choate, the Law and Civic Virtue. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1980.

Neilson, Joseph. Memories of Rufus Choate. Littleton, Colo.: F.B. Rothman, 1985.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1833 to 1882Albert Tirrell Trial: 1846 - Rufus Choate Defends Tirrell, The Jury Acquits Tirrell, Suggestions For Further Reading