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Lizzie Borden Trial: 1893

Attorneys Wrap Up

Robinson made the closing argument for the defense. Of course, he could not dispute that a particularly heinous crime had occurred:

One of the most dastardly and diabolical of crimes that was ever committed in Massachusetts was perpetrated in August, 1892, in the city of Fall River, … the terror of those scenes no language can portray.

Robinson went on, however, to stress how close Lizzie and Andrew Borden had been. Many years ago, Lizzie gave her father a ring to symbolize her love for and fidelity to him. Robinson used this fact to emphasize how unlikely it would be that Lizzie would murder her father:

Here was a man that wore nothing in the way of ornament, of jewelry but one ring, and that ring was Lizzie's. It had been put on many years ago when Lizzie was a little girl and the old man wore it and it lies buried with him in the cemetery. He liked Lizzie, did he not? He loved her as a child: and the ring that stands as the pledge of plighted faith and love, that typifies and symbolizes the dearest relation that is ever created in life, that ring was the bond of union between the father and the daughter.

When the prosecutors' turn came to make their closing argument, Knowlton and Moody knew that their principal weakness was their heavy reliance on circumstantial evidence. They deliberately appealed to the all-male jury to decide the case on the basis of prevailing attitudes toward women:

If they lack in strength and coarseness and vigor, they make up for it in cunning, in dispatch, in celerity, in ferocity. If their loves are stronger and more enduring than those of men, on the other hand, their hates are more undying, more unyielding, more persistent.

In the hope that the jurors would accept at face value this assessment of the female psyche, prosecutor Knowlton went on to dismiss the prosecutors' failure to find any bloodstained clothing belonging to Lizzie:

How could she have avoided the spattering of her dress with blood if she was the author of these crimes?… I cannot answer it. You cannot answer it. You are neither murderers nor women. You have neither the craft of the assassin nor the cunning and deftness of the sex.…You are merciful men. The wells of mercy, I hope, are not dried up in any of us. But this is not the time nor the place for the exercise of it!

The end of the prosecutors' closing argument marked the end of the trial. All that remained were the judges' final instructions to the jury. Before the judges adjourned the court, however, they gave Lizzie the opportunity to make a statement to the jury. Under Massachusetts law, she had not been required to testify at the trial. Thus, the following words were the first that the jury had heard from Lizzie: "I am innocent. I leave it to my counsel to speak for me."

If she were convicted, the state of Massachusetts would execute her in a newly invented machine, popularly known as the electric chair.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1883 to 1917Lizzie Borden Trial: 1893 - Lizzie Charged With Murder, Attorneys Wrap Up, Judges' Instructions Favor Lizzie, Suggestions For Further Reading