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Albert Tirrell Trial: 1846

Rufus Choate Defends Tirrell, The Jury Acquits Tirrell, Suggestions For Further Reading

Defendant: Albert J. Tirrell
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyer: Rufus Choate
Chief Prosecutor: Samuel D. Parker
Judges: Dewey, Hubbard, and Wilde (No record of first names)
Place: Boston, Massachusetts
Dates of Trial: March 26-30, 1846
Verdict: Not guilty

SIGNIFICANCE: Albert Tirrell's trial was the first time in American history that sleepwalking was successfully used as a defense to a murder prosecution.

Not much is known about Albert Tirrell's life prior to his sensational murder trial. He came from a moderately prosperous family and had a wife and two children in Weymouth, Massachusetts. Tirrell had a reputation for wild and reckless behavior; he left his family in 1845 for a young prostitute named Maria Ann Bickford.

Bickford was very beautiful and lived in a Boston brothel, where she catered only to the richest customers. Tirrell had met her and fallen in love. He moved to Boston to be near her, and apparently she returned his affections but did not give up her profession. Bickford's patrons enabled her to live well; she had a maid and an expensive wardrobe.

The details are sketchy, but apparently on October 27, 1845, Tirrell came into Bickford's bedroom after she had spent an evening with a customer. Tirrell cut her throat from ear to ear with a razor and set three fires in the brothel before leaving. Brothel owner Joel Lawrence lived in the building and woke up in time to put out the fires. He discovered Bickford's body and alerted the police. Several people had seen Tirrell enter and leave the brothel, and the police began a search for him.

Tirrell fled Boston in the early hours of October 28. He took a carriage back to Weymouth, then went on to New York and finally New Orleans, Louisiana. The authorities caught up with Tirrell December 6, arrested him, and returned him to Boston for trial.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1833 to 1882