1 minute read

Charity Lamb Trial: 1854

Settlers Shocked By Murder, Defendant's Children Testify, The Defense: Insanity, The Verdict

Defendant: Charity Lamb
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyers: James K. Kelly, Milton Elliot
Chief Prosecutor: Noah Huber
Judge: Cyrus Olney
Place: Oregon City, Oregon Territory
Date of Trial: September 11-16, 1854
Verdict: Guiltyof second-degree murder
Sentence: Life imprisonment

SIGNIFICANCE: Charity Lamb was the Pacific Northwest's first convicted murderess. Her case represents one of the earliest known self-defense arguments predicated on what today would be called the spousal abuse syndrome. Then, as now, that defense ran against the traditional notion that in order for self-defense to be justified, the threat defended against had to be imminent and not merely inevitable.

On a Saturday evening, May 13, 1854, in a lonely pioneer cabin deep in the woods and hills of the Oregon frontier, a settler family was seated around the supper table. Four young sons and a teenage daughter, Mary Ann, were listening to their father, Nathaniel's, yarn about the bear he had shot at that day's hunt. A baby was cradled nearby. The woman of the house left the table, went to a woodpile, got an axe, came behind her husband's chair and drove the axe blade into the back of his head two times. Her name was Charity Lamb. Her actions betrayed that name, for in that moment she was neither charitable nor a lamb.

Additional topics

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