The Eva Hamilton Scandal — Part Six


The New York World — Friday, 20 September 1889



Calmly She Heard Her Fate, But Wept Bitterly in Her Cell.

While Trying to Make a Statement to The World She Was Led Away by the Sheriff — The Judge Borrowed a Lesson From the Maybrick Trial and Argued as well as Charged — One of Inspector Byrnes’ Men Waited with a Warrant to Arrest the Woman, had She Been Acquitted.

[Special to The World]

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May’s Landing, N.J., Sept. 19 — “Two years in state prison at Trenton.”

Evangeline Hamilton, wife of the representative of the Murray Hill district, heard her doom pronounced this afternoon by a cold-faced Judge, without the slightest semblance of emotion. Indeed her countenance was so thoroughly impassive that the natural sneer which has always hovered about the corners of her Cupid-arched mouth was plainly perceptible. There were undried tears in her eyes, and her hands were clasped nervously over her handkerchief, as they were yesterday, while she listened to the testimony of the man who sought to shield her while he held up before the whole world the evidence of his most peculiar and unaccountable infatuation. The assumed artlessness which the defendant had shown up on the witness stand during the examination, which so prejudiced her cause, had entirely deserted her. Albeit she did not show in her outward demeanor that her spirit had been broken, nevertheless it was patent to the most ordinary observer of human nature that she had cried quits.

She was laboring under a strongly suppressed emotion when she was brought into court by the surly Sheriff of Atlanta County. It has been generally expected by the gossips and newsmongers assembled to hear the verdict that the judgment would be “Not guilty.” But it was pretty clearly foreshadowed in the World to-day, that the testimony of Mrs. Hamilton herself, its disingenuous presentation, her assumption of a modesty which her previous course of life did not bear out, her affectation of the rôle of la grande dame, would result to her disadvantage.

A temporary delay of travel on the West Jersey Railroad between Atlantic City and May’s Landing, caused by the derailment of a freight car, prevented the appearance of either Judge or jury until 11 o’clock, an hour after the time set for the winding up with the case. Like auditors in front of a slow curtain, the farmers in the whitewashed Court-House showed some signs of impatience — not by stamping of feet or clapping of hands, as the gallery gods in a Bowery theatre would give to show approbation or disapprobation, but by whisperings, nudgings and guttural sounds peculiar only to the residents of South and West Jersey. When he did arrive, following out the procedure of the preceding day, Presiding Judge Reed lost no time in getting to work and directed the Sheriff to bring in the prisoner.

Capt. Perry arose and with a bland smile said:

“The defendant says that she doesn’t want to be here.”

There was a pause of ten seconds and Judge Reed wrinkled his brow. No further order was given and Mrs. Hamilton was not brought into court. It had been arranged that counsel for the defense and legal representative of the State should each occupy thirty minutes in summing up. Judge Reed believes in expediting justice in whatever circuit he may sit. Capt. Perry, understanding this thoroughly, started immediately after the Judge had given his favorite command, “Proceed.” The attorney for the defense made a good speech. “My work,” said he, “is about done; the last of this sad occurrence is about finished. I am here for the purpose of defending Mrs. Robert Ray Hamilton against one charge alone, as specified in the bill of indictment — atrocious assault and battery. That is all. Whatever else may have come before you should not enter into your minds. You are to be the judges of the facts and the law.”

Judge Reed has been in the ante-room part of the time Attorney Perry was making his speech. He came in just as this sentence was completed, and Judge Byrnes whispered something in his ear. The brow the presiding Judge became corrugated again.

“Do I understand you to say, Mr. Perry,” said Judge Reed, “that the jury is to be the judge of the law in this case?”

Counsellor Perry slid very gracefully out of the position in which he had unwittingly placed himself and continued the argument. He reviewed the evidence exhaustively, putting special stress on the threats of Nurse Donnelly when she said, according to the testimony of Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton: “I will kill her. Let me at her. I will kill the — — .” Then, as a peroration, the counsellor quoted from the speech of Portia in “The Merchant of Venice.” “The quality of mercy is not strained,” etc.

Even those rare old bits of bric-a-brac, the tipstaves, look preturnaturally solemn as the eloquent counsellor finished his half-hour’s speech. Prosecutor Thompson’s presentation of the case for the State was not marked by any extraordinary brilliancy. He did not appear to have studied the circumstances of the assault thoroughly. At times his review of the evidence was altogether faulty, but he was helped out a good deal by the charge of Judge Reed.

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It would be fair to say that the charge of the presiding Judge, like that of Judge Stephen in the Maybrick case, partook more of the nature of an argument that it did of a simple laying down of points of law and a review of the evidence. Mrs. Hamilton looked glum enough when the jury left the box in the charge of a constable, who was sworn, according to the old English formula, to see that the twelve men should have “neither meat nor drink excepting water until they should have arrived at a conclusion concerning the guilt or innocence of the accused.” Capt. Perry had made one good point in his summing up which the prosecutor had attempted to combat, but failed, and Court stepped in and smashed it. Perry asked why the State had not called the husband of Mrs. Hamilton as a witness.

“Oh,” said the Prosecutor, “I would not put a husband up as a witness against his wife. The law does not permit it.”

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“Well,” retorted Capt. Perry, quickly, “you put him under $600 bail as a witness and then discharged him. I then subpoenaed him as a witness. Why did you hold the man by surety if you did not intend to use him for your side?”

It was here that the Court took a hand.

“I would not have permitted him to testify, anyhow,” said Judge Reed.

In his charge the Judge defined the elements of the defense of self-defense and explained the difference between the grades of atrocious assault and simple assault as defined in the statute. At 2 o’clock the jury was ready for deliberation. Counsellor Perry asked the court to instruct the jurors more fully as to the alleged threats made by Nurse Donnelly immediately preceding her third entrance into Mrs. Hamilton’s bed-chamber. Judge Reed complied with this briefly, and then, when the defendant’s attorney asked for further instructions, the Judge said:

“I’ve charged all I’m going to charge.”

Pending the return of the jury trial to test the ownership of a dog was argued, and its amusing features relieved a good deal of the monopoly of the morning’s work. The Hamilton jury had its verdict ready at 3 o’clock, while the dog case was still on. The defendant, pale, nervous and trembling, came into the court-room at 3.15 o’clock.

“Gentlemen of the jury, have you agreed upon a verdict?”

There was just as much solemnity in the clerk’s tone, and just as much of a hush in the court-room, as though the cause were a capital one and a woman were being tried for her life. The jury, too, looked solomn and two of them almost tearful. The foreman announced when questioned according to the form: “We find the defendant, Evangeline Hamilton, guilty as charged in the bill of indictment.”

Mrs. Hamilton sat perfectly still as the foreman spoke. She did not betray even by movement of a facial muscle whatever emotion she may have felt.

“In that dog case,” said Judge Reed, suddenly, “we find for the plaintiff in the sum of $25.”

It was rather a prosaic interjection and the corners of Mrs. Hamilton’s mouth twitched just perceptibly. The defendant was then directed to stand up and Judge Reed in a very few words reviewed the offense of which she had been convicted, and sentenced her.

“The judgment of this court is,” said he, “that while the penalty could have been ten years imprisonment for the crimes of which you have been found guilty, the behavior of the nurse Mary Ann Donnelly was such that it is regarded as a mitigating circumstance. The sentence of the Court is that you be imprisoned in the State prison at Trenton for the term of two years and that you will stand committed until the cost of this prosecution are paid.”

Mrs. Hamilton looked as though she were dazed. She glanced around the room and beckoned to the World correspondent and attempted to make a statement to him.

“My husband,” said she, “was too fond of Nurse Donnelly. Mrs. Swinton is not guilty of any conspiracy, as charged in the city of New York. I” —

At this moment the autocrat of Atlantic County, Sheriff Smith Johnson, came out of the ante-room in the rear of the Court-House and peremptorily ordered Deputy Sims to remove Mrs. Hamilton instantly and lock her up. She was taken out and put in the attic under the roof of the Sheriff’s dwelling. There she begged and pleaded but she might be permitted to make a statement for publication in the World, inasmuch as her husband had received extraordinary consideration in the public print. The Sheriff refused to grant the request.

Mrs. Hamilton had not been back in her upstairs prison for more than half an hour before she broke down and wept bitterly. Then her mood changed if she began upbraiding and denouncing her husband and his friends. About 5 o’clock she had calmed down considerably and was composed enough to go back to her favorite dissipation — smoking cigarettes.

Detective Sergeant McCluskey, of Inspector Byrnes’s staff, waiting with two warrants at May’s Landing until the verdict was rendered. His intention was to arrest Mrs. Hamilton, in case of aquittal, on the charge of conspiracy with Mrs. Swinton and Joshua Mann to palm off on Robert Ray Hamilton a bogus heir to his estates.

Counsellor Perry has not yet determined his future action as to his convicted client. He took no exceptions during the trial and cannot apply for a writ of error. The court adjourned to-day for the term. The only recourse of the defendant’s lawyer is to apply for a writ of certiorari in the Supreme Court. Whether he will do this or not he declines to say.

David Blixt is an author, actor, and fight director based in Chicago, where he’s allowed to co-exist with an awesome woman and a pair of really cool kids. His new book, WHAT GIRLS ARE GOOD FOR: A Novel of Nellie Bly, is available now on Amazon Kindle and print. Follow David on Twitter @David_Blixt, on Facebook here, and on his website at Sign up for David’s Mailing List here and get free books and more!

Actor. Author. Father. Husband. In reverse order. Latest novel: WHAT GIRLS ARE GOOD FOR.

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