Sunday, January 16, 2011

Dr. Crippen's Corpse.

The UK abandoned capital punishment in the 1960's. You won't get hanged for murder here, instead you are likely to get a stern ticking-off and maybe a prison sentence that you'll serve about half of. Seems to me as if it's gone a bit too far the other way, but that's what we have now.

I am not a supporter of capital punishment for one reason - what if the wrong person is convicted and killed? If the wrong person is imprisoned, you can let them out and compensate them for the error. If they're dead, well, 'sorry' doesn't really help.

It has happened in the past and it seems it happened in one of the more famous murder trials of the last century. Dr. Crippen was hanged for the murder of his wife and always protested his innocence.Rather than being a famous murder case, it seems it was in fact a famous miscarriage of justice.

Some things about the case still don't quite fit. There is mention of a 'headless corpse', then a piece of flesh, shown to the court, which had a scar. This was given as evidence that the flesh came from Mrs. Crippen and on that, Dr. Crippen was convicted and hanged.

DNA testing now reveals the flesh to have been male. If it came from that headless corpse, couldn't they tell? Only the head was missing. Did Victorian morals extend to the post mortem room, with the body fully clothed throughout the investigation? Somebody must have noticed whether the corpse, head or no, was male or female.

There is also the matter of this corpse. It was found in the cellar, minus head, so someone was murdered. Nobody cuts off their own head and then hides it. It also means that someone was a murderer. It does not mean it was Dr. Crippen who did this, nor that Mrs. Crippen was the corpse. There was, however, a murder carried out by someone at the premises.

In law, that's beside the point. Dr. Crippen was convicted on the basis of false evidence. He was not accused of killing a man so the presentation of a bit of male flesh was not evidence that he killed his wife. If the cellar corpse was male, then it was evidently not his wife, yet he was convicted of killing his wife.

Whether he was responsible for the cellar corpse is neither here nor there. If it was never proved that the corpse was his wife, he should not have been convicted of her murder. As to what really happened, once he had been hanged, there was nobody who could say.

So it seems the death of Dr. Crippen was a miscarriage of justice, and one that could never be put right no matter what new evidence came to light. That gives investigators a very strong incentive to cover up any new evidence that might prove they were wrong, and that is not a good basis for a fair justice system.

There are cases where a death penalty would be appropriate, such as the Yorkshire Ripper case which concluded without a shred of doubt that Peter Sutcliffe was guilty. However, I would never support a return of the death penalty because it will be wrongly used. We already hear of cases where the wrong man was locked up, and who is then released and compensated. That can't happen if the wrong man goes to the gallows.

If one of the more famous murder convictions was based on unreliable, maybe even false evidence, then how certain can we be of the reliability of the courts? They do get things wrong sometimes and that's because they are human. It's no shame to admit to being human and making mistakes now and then.

Unless that mistake has caused someone to be executed.


Southern Writer said...

The wrong people are convicted here every day. Every once in a while DNA proves they got the wrong guy, but I disagree that letting him go and giving him a little money is compensation. They let a guy in Texas go last week after serving 30 years. That's a lifetime if you're 20 or 30 when you're convicted. Those people can never get that time back. The DNA should be tested in EVERY crime that carries a sentence.

After being a minor victim myself--it's only costing me a little money--I can tell you I have absolutely NO FAITH at all in our justice system. I don't even want to get started on that, because I still have a pretty good rant inside that should not be let loose on the genera public. $%#*@&%$#!!!!

Romulus Crowe said...

It's now possible to run DNA checks routinely and as I understand it, everyone charged with a serious crime gets DNA tested now. Thirty years ago, that option wouldn't have been available.

It's not a perfect test though and it's open to all sorts of errors. But at least it's one more method of excluding someone from suspicion.

Regina Richards said...

I agree that putting people to death is wrong. It is less expensive to put them in prison for life and allows for correction when someone has been wrongly convicted. Though as Southern Writer points out, there isn't enough money on the planet to compensate a person for 20-30 years of their life wasted.

Romulus Crowe said...

Well, that's true, the money won't mean all that much but at least they're not dead. They have something left, even if it's only a comfortable retirement.

If they've been killed, they have nothing.

tom sheepandgoats said...

I agree with Southern Writer. DNA does exonerate persons serving long sentences, more frequently than one might have expected.

Too, in the States we have some prisons run by for-profit corporations. Every so often it turns out that a judge has taken payments from one of them in return for dishing out jail-time for those who come before him. (for small-time crimes, mostly. Not murder)

People are less skilled at dispensing justice than I might have thought at one time.

Romulus Crowe said...

Tom, I think 'skilled' is not the word you were looking for there. 'Honest' might be a better fit.

The justice system is as crooked as the crooks these days.

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