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Colin of the Ninth Concession
Chapter VII - The Trial

IT would be superfluous to say that there was but one item upon the criminal docket that attracted general attention when the fall assizes opened. That item was, of course, the charge of murder preferred by the crown against Jeremiah Wasby. The settlers flocked to the county town from hamlets and farms for many miles about.

A lawyer of wide repute had been sent down from the capital of Upper Canada to act as crown prosecutor; and Wasby being unable to employ legal assistance for himself, another able lawyer was instructed by the judge to act as counsel for the prisoner. A plea of "not guilty" being entered, the trial began.

As a witness for the crown I was detained, together with Mrs. Dooley and little Colin, in a room adjoining that where the court sat. I was the first witness called, and I still remember vividly the scene that I beheld as I entered the chamber.

When I took my stand in the witness box, Wasby scowled and darted a malignant and vindictive glance at me, and then turning away his head, gazed at the judge.

As the reader is already in possession of the facts I had to relate, I need not repeat my evidence. I may mention, however, that when I spoke of the terror visible on the faces of the children when I entered the shanty that morning after hearing the squabble, and of the sharpened stakes that I had seen near the fireplace, the fear manifest on the prisoner’s face was most noticeable. I was cross-examined closely on what I had overheard as I approached Wasby’s shanty the day I visited him, and then I was allowed to sit down. Mrs. Dooley gave evidence of the marks of ill-treatment she had observed upon Colin when he was taken to her house.

The county constable next testified to his discoveries at the ill-fated shanty, and produced one of the stakes, the sharpened end of which was still covered with clotted blood and singed hair, thus telling its mute but awful story. Other evidence was brought to show that marks of violence found on the bodies had been inflicted before they were exposed to the fire.

When Colin’s name was called by the crier, a murmur ran through the courtroom, which was hushed to silence as Mrs. McNabb entered, leading the child by the hand. She placed him upon a chair, and as the child faced the great crowd of rough-looking and coarsely clad men, I feared that he would break down. But he was naturally a brave child, and I had recently observed evidences of that self-mastery which his mother had possessed.

Just as the lawyer for the crown rose to question Colin, there was a bustle in the direction of the prisoner’s dock, and the constable told the judge that the prisoner asked to be allowed to kiss the child. The instant the request was made Colin uttered a cry of dissent, but he was promptly assured by the judge, and by Mrs. McNabb as well, that he need not comply.

What prompted the prisoner to prefer such a remarkable request, no one could guess. His countenance at the time bore a sinister expression most incongruous with the wish he expressed. When the excitement occasioned by this strange incident had subsided, the examination proceeded.

In his childish voice, and with his eyes fixed upon the dock, Colin repeated the words already quoted:

"Jerry till Mammy. And Jerry till Betty. And Jerry till Johnnie." And so on, until all the names of the victims were mentioned.

"Who is Jerry?" asked the prosecuting attorney.

"Dat is him," said little Colin, pointing to the prisoner.

"Why do you call him Jerry?" again queried the lawyer.

"Mammy said he was Jerry," answered Colin.

"What did he kill Mammy and Betty and the others with?" asked the lawyer.

"He till ‘em wif de stick," answered Colin. "Can you show me the stick?" asked the lawyer. The blackened implement was lying upon the table, and pointing to it, Colin said, "Dat is it."

After little Colin had told in his simple way how the others had been killed, the lawyer handed the youthful witness over to the opposing counsel.

"And now, my child," said that gentleman, "will you tell the court why the prisoner did not kill you, and how it comes that you, and you only, are left to tell the tale?"

I could see that from the tone of the lawyer the child fancied that he had done something to offend. The judge, who was a kindly man of ripe experience, seeing the danger of a break-down on Colin’s part, intervened and said gently, "My child, tell the man how it was that you were not killed with the others."

"Jerry holded me up in his hands," said Colin, "and hurted me awful, an’ tol’ me he till me like de ozzers. I said, ‘Pease don’t till ‘ittle Tolin,’ an’ den he jist drop me to de floor and I runned away."

Cross-examination merely elicited a repetition of the same answer. The child could not be led to vary it in the slightest detail, despite the ingenuity of the lawyer.

A deep hush prevailed while the boy was on the stand, and many a scalding tear trickled down bronzed and swarthy cheeks as the child’s voice related how he had come to be saved from the fate intended for him.

This concluded the evidence of the crown, and the defence had none to offer. It was impossible, owing to Wasby’s conduct during the day of the tragedy, to attempt to prove an alibi. The counsel for the defence therefore contented himself with putting the best face he could on the prisoner’s case in his address to the jury. The counsel for the crown briefly outlined the irresistible evidence, and the judge gave an able summing up.

There was a great stir among the spectators when the jury retired. In an hour and a half the jurors filed into the courtroom, and after the roll had been called, the clerk said, "Gentlemen of the jury, have you agreed upon your verdict?" The foreman rose and announced that they had agreed.

"How say you, gentlemen, — do you find the prisoner guilty or not guilty of the crime charged?"

"We find him guilty," said the foreman. Instantly a shout of approval went up from the rough audience. The judge commanded silence and threatened to clear the room if instant obedience were not vouchsafed. His lordship then thanked the jury for their verdict, in which he said he entirely concurred, and discharged them.

"Let the prisoner stand up," said the judge, gravely. Wasby, who seemed to be in a dazed stupor from instant the terrible word "guilty" had reached his ears, was raised to his feet by the constables.

The judge proceeded solemnly: "Jeremiah Wasby, after a fair trial, in which every opportunity was afforded you of proving your innocence, twelve of your fellow-men have found you guilty of perhaps the most heartless and brutal crime that has ever been committed in this colony. The sentence of this court," continued the judge, placing the black cap upon his head, "is that you be confined in the common jail till the thirteenth day of November ensuing, and that upon that day you be taken to the place of execution in the jail-yard, and that you there be hanged by the neck until you be dead. And may God have mercy upon your soul!"

Wasby was led from the courtroom and securely lodged in the cell of the stone jail reserved for prisoners under sentence of death. The crowd then quickly dispersed.

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