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Albert Patrick Trial: 1902

Patrick Tried And Convicted

Albert Patrick's trial began on January 22, 1902. Patrick defended himself. The prosecutor was District Attorney William Travers Jerome and the judge was John William Goff. The central issue of the trial was proving the corpus delicti, namely that a murder had occurred. Although the doctors who had performed the autopsy generally agreed that Rice had been killed by chloroform poisoning, there was enough scientific uncertainty, given Rice's advanced age, that Patrick was able to keep the trial stalled for over two months. For example, take Patrick's questioning of Dr. Edward W. Lee:

Patrick: Doctor, assuming that a patient is eighty-four years of age, that prior to death he had dropsy of the lower limbs for several months from the knees down, and that the post-mortem findings revealed … the lungs congested slightly … the kidneys firm [with] a number of small cysts, and that on the day preceding his death the patient was troubled with his urine, and had to urinate frequently, … what would you say would be the cause of death?

Lee: Congestion of the lungs and diseased kidneys [which could be caused by chloroform or by tuberculosis, pneumonia or kidney disease]

On March 26, 1902, the jury returned a guilty verdict against Patrick. Goff sentenced Patrick to death by electrocution. Luckily for Patrick, however, one of his sisters had married a wealthy man, John T. Milliken, who was convinced of Patrick's innocence. Milliken financed a team of lawyers to handle Patrick's appeals, which tied up the courts for years. In 1906, Governor Frank Higgins commuted Patrick's sentence to life imprisonment. Patrick continued to fight for total freedom, however. For the next six years, Patrick and the Millikenfinanced team of lawyers pursued every avenue of appeal, including, according to accounts in the press, under-the-table payments to state legislators and officials.

On November 28, 1912, Governor John A. Dix pardoned Patrick. Dix claimed that "there has always been an air of mystery about the case." Dix's pardon was widely criticized, but there was nothing that could be done about it, especially as Dix was about to leave office anyway. Patrick left New York, never to return, and died in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1940. Although the Patrick case amply illustrated the fact that medical evidence is often inconclusive in proving a murder, it also demonstrated that money makes a difference in the American system of justice.

Stephen G. Christianson

Suggestions for Further Reading

Medico-Legal Society. Medico-Legal Questions Arising in the Case of People v. Patrick. New York: Unknown Publisher, 1905.

Nash, Jay Robert. Murder, America: Homicide in the United States from the Revolution to the Present. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1980.

Pearson, Edmund Lester. Five Murders. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1928.

Symons, Julian. A Pictorial History of Crime. New York: Crown Publishers, 1966.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1883 to 1917Albert Patrick Trial: 1902 - William Marsh Rice Murdered, Patrick Tried And Convicted, Suggestions For Further Reading