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Lizzie Borden Trial: 1893

Lizzie Charged With Murder, Attorneys Wrap Up, Judges' Instructions Favor Lizzie, Suggestions For Further Reading

Defendant Lizzie Borden
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyers: Andrew Jennings and George D. Robinson
Chief Prosecutors: Hosea Knowlton and William H. Moody
Judges: Caleb Blodget, Justin Dewey, and Albert Mason
Place: Fall River, Massachusetts
Dates of Trial: June 5-20, 1893
Verdict: Not guilty

SIGNIFICANCE: On the basis of circumstantial evidence, prosecutors accused Lizzie Borden of murdering her father and stepmother. In an attempt to circumvent its lack of direct evidence, the prosecution appealed to popular stereotypes about the slyness and cleverness of women. Lizzie nonetheless was acquitted. The acquittal was significant in that it represented the triumph of the rule of law over common prejudice.

Born in 1860 and never married, Lizzie Borden lived in quiet obscurity in the small town of Fall River, Massachusetts, until August 4, 1892. On that day an ax-murderer killed her father, Andrew J. Borden, and her stepmother, Abby Durfee Gray Borden. The police arrested Lizzie for the crime, and her trial made her a figure of national notoriety.

Lizzie's birth mother, Sarah M. Borden, died when Lizzie was a small child. Lizzie lived in her parents' house together with the family maid, her uncle, and her older sister, Emma Borden, who was, like Lizzie, a spinster. The Bordens' family life was quite ordinary and unremarkable until the morning of August 4, 1892, when a neighbor looked out of her window and noticed Lizzie, visibly upset, clinging to the screen door that opened onto the Bordens' yard. When the neighbor, Adelaide Churchill, asked Lizzie what the problem was, she replied, "Oh, Mrs. Churchill, do come over. Someone has killed father."

Churchill immediately notified the police. When a policeman, followed by a doctor, arrived at the Borden house, they found Andrew Borden's body in the family living room. Someone had come upon him, apparently while he was napping, and brutally and repeatedly attacked him with an ax. Although blood splattered the furniture, there were no signs that he had fought with an intruder. Churchill and another neighbor, Alice Russell, had accompanied the policeman and doctor into the Borden house. Churchill went upstairs with the maid to look for Abby Borden. They found her in a guest room, murdered in the same terrible fashion. Like Andrew, Abby's morning routine had been unremarkable and there was no sign of resistance to an intruder. Apparently Abby had been making the bed at the time of her murder.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1883 to 1917