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Hans Schmidt Trials: 1913 & 1914

Deadlocked

After 34 hours of often acrimonious deliberation the jury came back on December 30, and announced themselves hopelessly deadlocked at 10-2 for conviction. Jury foreman William Ottinger, visibly exhausted, told Judge Foster, "Your Honor, we have voted many times, and we stood the same on the first ballot as the last," leaving the judge no option but to declare a mistrial.

One of the holdout jurors, William McAuliffe, afterwards claimed, "The other ten were willing to acquit the defendant on the grounds of insanity, except that they were afraid that he would go to Matteawan and get out like Thaw. So they thought the only thing to do was send him to the electric chair."

When defense lawyer Alphonse Koelble suggested that the jury be allowed to bring in a verdict of guilty to second-degree murder, Delehanty bitterly rejected the idea and declared that the state would try Schmidt again.

This trial began on January 19, 1914, and was essentially a carbon copy of the first, except that in his charge to the jury Justice Davis made a plea for some cold, hard logic:

If you are satisfied that the defendant purchased the knife and saw with which he cut up the body, thinking of using them as he did, and if you are satisfied that in the middle of the night he went to the flat, took off his coat and cut her throat, and then cut up her body, what conclusion do you come to? Use your common sense … your experience with men. Bear in mind, it isn't every form of mental unsoundness that excuses a crime. [See Harry Thaw Trials]

The jury took this admonition to heart and, on February 5, 1914, after just two hours' deliberation, they convicted Schmidt of first-degree murder.

One week later the disgraced priest was sentenced to death, and after a lengthy appeal process he was executed on February 18, 1916.

The issues of mental competence raised in these trials resonate to the present day, as juries continue to wrestle with the conundrum of deciding whether someone is mad or bad.

Colin Evans

Suggestions for Further Reading

Lunde, Donald T. Murder and Madness. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1976.

New York Times. See Aumuller, Anna, in the Nesw York Times Index, September 15, 1913-February 13, 1914.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1883 to 1917Hans Schmidt Trials: 1913 1914 - Insanity Plea, Deadlocked