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The Whitman Massacre Trial: 1850

Passionate Closing Arguments

The closing arguments to the jury took over three hours. The defense counsel used the greatest amount of time. Indeed, one of the army officers took up half the time and broke two water tumblers in the process. In an era of fiery oratory, so-called "summations" typically took longer than the testimony.

On Friday morning, Judge Pratt took 70 minutes to instruct the jurymen as to the law. He told them that is was proper to infer guilt of each defendant from the fact that it was the tribe who had surrendered them to be tried—the tribe "knowing best who the murderers were." It was an immensely devastating and blatantly illicit bit of hearsay about a fact never proven at trial. The tribe had made the surrender in order to call off the pursuit of the troopers, who had hounded them for the last two years. Chief Telokite had told his captors, "Your Christ died to save his people? So die we to save our people."

During the jury deliberations, one of the jurymen, Jacob Hunsaker, felt that defendant Kiamasumkin was innocent because no witness had ever testified to seeing him do harm. So, the jury returned into court with their problem. Thereupon, Judge Pratt told them that there was evidence that all of the defendants were seen "armed" at the mission that day and that fact alone would be enough to satisfy a finding of Kiamasumkin's guilt.

The jury deliberated for 75 minutes and finally reached a verdict of guilty as to each defendant. Defense counsel moved for "an arrest of judgment," then for a new trial, and then for an appeal to the territorial supreme court. Judge Pratt denied all three motions.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1833 to 1882The Whitman Massacre Trial: 1850 - Five Cayuse Braves Arrested, The Trial Begins, Passionate Closing Arguments, The Sentence Is Death