The Attempted Wife Murder at Rotherham (2)

December 1876

Sheffield Telegraph, December 16, 1876.

Attempted Wife Murder at Rotherham

James Beach, 24, labourer, was indicted for felonious shooting with a certain pistol, loaded with powder and shot, at one Mary Jane Beach, with intent to kill and murder her, at Rotherham on October 30, 1876.

Mr Harold Thomas prosecuted, and Mr Tyndall Atkinson defended.

Mary Jane Beach, who was the first witness called, said: I am the wife of the prisoner at the bar, who is a filler at the Denaby main colliery. We were married in March, and in June he went away. He was away for about three months, and I went into the service of Mr Oldfield, the Dusty Miller, Rotherham. I afterwards joined my husband again, but in October went back to the Dusty Miller. On October 30, about 9:10, my husband came into the tap room of the Dusty Miller. About nine in the evening I saw him again come in. He came into the kitchen and asked me to go out with him. I refused, and he then asked me to hand him a light. A man named Steer, who was in handed him a light.

Mr Tindal Atkinson here interposed to contend that a wife’s evidence against her husband can only be accepted when the case could not be proved in any other way. In support he cited a judgement of Mr Justice all right at York Assizes in 1797.

His Lordship said that beyond that case there was no ground for such a dictum. Suppose a wife was assaulted, should her evidence be rejected because a young child had seen the assault? It would be a most dangerous thing, and he had no direct authority binding him to reject the wife’s evidence.

Witness continuing, said: When Steer had handed him the light my husband drew a pistol from his pocket, and presenting it at my head fight. I turn my head on one side when he pointed it. The pistol did not go off; only the cap exploded. Another young man to the pistol from him, and Mr Oldfield came in at the time.

Cross-examined: I am not his first wife. He had a child by his first wife, but when he came to the Dusty Miller he did not ask me for the child.
Other witnesses were examined.

Mr Tindal Atkinson that he had not attempted to qualify the facts which have been proved. The charge was inferior only to murder in seriousness, and if the jury could see any loophole by which it might be reduced he was sure they would avail themselves of it.

Without disputing the presenting of the pistol, there was evidence showing certain circumstances in connection with. The prisoner had asked for the courses powder, which no reasonable man were employed to load a pistol with if he wanted it to go off, as the powder would not reach the nipple. The man might just as well not awarded the pistol at all as have used such a powder, and could the jury thing that a man meant to shoot his wife dead will employ a powder which anybody could have seen was totally unfitted for the pistol? There were a number of lesser counts in the indictment of which the prisoner might be found guilty without finding him guilty of intent to murder. There was also the point in favour of the prisoner that he had not used a bullet, but merely shot, which looked as if he had meant to do his wife some grievous bodily harm, but not murder her.
The jury found the prisoner guilty of attempted murder.
His Lordship, addressing the prisoner – who exclaimed with emotion, “have mercy on me, my Lord,” said that it was a merciful interposition of Providence that had prevented that pistol going off. If it had gone off, and if, as a result, or as a consequence of it, his wife had been killed, the prisoner would have been standing there to receive sentence of death, and more assuredly he would have died for the crime.

Next to murder, as the prisoner’s home counsel, had said most truly, there was no graver crime than to attempt to murder. And now that his Lordship could express his own opinion, he should say that it entirely coincided with the view taken by the jury. He had not the shadow of a doubt that the prisoner went there prepared with two pistols, in the event of one not proving effective. A crime like his must be punished with exemplary severity, and the punishment his Lordship awarded for the crime was that the prisoner should be kept in penal servitude for 20 years

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