murder trial of confessed assassin Leon Czolgosz began in the Superior
Court Chamber of Buffalo City Hall on September 23, 1901, with the Honorable
Truman C. White presiding. The trial lasted two days after which the twelve
man jury found Mr. Czolgosz "guilty of murder in the first degree."
Their deliberations took slightly more than 30 minutes. On September 26,
1901 at 2:00 p.m. Judge White sentenced Leon Czolgosz to death by electric
chair at Auburn State Prison. Interestingly, despite the notoriety of
this casethe convicted assassinated the President of the United
Statesthe capital murder trial cost
the County of Erie little more than $5000.00.
Buffalo City Hall
Buffalo City Hall
(Presently the Erie County Courthouse)
Hon. Truman C. White
Honorable Truman C. White presided over the
trial of Leon Czolgosz. He was Justice of the State Supreme Court, and
one of Buffalo's leading citizens. In 1840 he was born in Perrysburg,
Cattaraugus County, N.Y. He was admitted to the Bar in 1867 and practiced
with Wadsworth, Hopkins and Simons.
Prosecuting the case was Erie
County District Attorney Thomas Penney, who
had been in contact with Leon Czolgosz since his arrest. Assisting Mr.
Penney in the prosecution was Assistant District Attorney Frederick
On the recommendation of the
Erie County Bar Association, Grand Jury Judge Edward
K. Emery assigned two respected former State Supreme Court Judges
to the task of providing counsel to assassin Leon Czolgosz. The Honorable
Loran L. Lewis was a former Justice of the
State Supreme Court in 1887. Born in Mentz, Cayuga Co., NY in 1825, he
served in the State Senate from 1870-1874. Also serving as counsel for
the defense were former State Supreme Court Justice Robert
Titus as well as Buffalo attorney Carlton
Counsel for the Defense
Carlton E. Ladd
Counsel for the Defense
Counsel for the Defense
The Prosecutor and Counsel
for the Defense spent two hours and twenty-nine minutes selecting the
jurors. Twelve men were selected from a jury pool of thirty-six. Interviews
with each of the jurors took the form of that with Juror no. 1, Frederick
V. Lauer, which appeared in the Buffalo Express,
September 24, 1901 :
examination by Mr. Penney.
Q.-Where do you live, Mr. Lauer?
A.-No. 1114 Michigan Street.
Q.-What is your business?
Q.-Were you born in this country?
A.-Born in Buffalo.
Q.-You believe in our form of government?
Q.-Do you believe in capital punishment?
Q.-Do you know any reason why you cannot
render a fair verdict on the evidence in this case?
A.-It depends a good deal on the evidence.
(Stenographer reads question.)
A.-I do not, no.
Q.-If you were convinced of the guilt of
a man, charged with murder in the first degree, if you were
a trial juror, would you vote for his conviction?
A.-If I was convinced of it?
A.-Would I vote for his conviction?
Q.-Yes, that is the question.
by Mr. Lewis:
Q.-Mr. Lauer, are you a married man?
Q.-Is your mind in such a condition, Mr.
Lauer, in your judgment, that if the facts and evidence in
this case should raise a reasonable doubt in your mind as
to the guilt of the defendant, do you think you could render
a verdict of not guilty?
A.-I could, if there was any doubt in regard
to his sanity.
Q.-You could give him then the benefit of
a reasonable doubt?
Q. -You are not acquainted with the defendant?
A.-Never saw him until today.
Q.-No prejudice against him, then?
Q.-No special prejudice against any class
in the community?
A.-Not that I know of.
Mr. Lewis-No objection.
Mr. Penney-No objection.
juror was then sworn by the clerk as follows, defendant standing:
Juror, look upon the defendant; defendant, look upon the juror.
You do, solemnly swear that you will well and truly try and
true deliverance make between the people of the State of New
York and Leon F. Czolgosz, alias Fred Nieman, defendant, whom
you shall have in charge, and a true verdict render according
to the evidence, so help you God.
Juror takes his seat as No. 1.
William Loton, R.J. Garwood, B.C. Ralph, J.S. Stygall, J.H.
Mertens, S. Carmer.
W.E. Everett, F.V. Lauer, Foreman H.W. Wendt, A.J. Smith,
Officer Brady, Officer Haskell.
FAMOUS TRIAL EVER HELD IN BUFFALO:
JURY IN THE CZOLGOSZ CASE.--Bliss, Photo.
group shows eleven of the men who decided the fate of President
McKinley's assassin. The twelfth juror, Samuel p. Waldow, a farmer
of Alden, did not join with the others in having his picture taken.
Of the above, Garwood (builder), Ralph (bank cashier), Stygall
(plumber), Mertens (boots and shoes), Everett (blacksmith), Lauer
(plumber), Wendt (manufacturer), Smith (provision dealer), and
Adams (contractor), live in Buffalo. Loton of Eden and Carmer
of Clarence are farmers.
[Image and text from the Buffalo Express
- October 13, 1901.]
covered the jury selection in detail. These are a few of the articles
that appeared during the trial.
Testimony of the Witnesses
the more prominent of the witnesses called by the People were the surgeons
and doctors who cared for President McKinley before and after his death.
Mynter and Matthew Mann testified as to the operation and medical treatment
of the President.
Dr. Harvey Gaylord described the autopsy that he and his associate Dr.
Herman G. Matzinger performed. As expected, Dr. Gaylord declared that
the President succumbed to "a necrosis of the tissues" (gangrene)
resulting from his injury or, as recorded in the transcript of the trial,
he stated that "[t]he cause of death was a gunshot wound leading
to changes in the important viscera."1
to the transcript
and the cross-examination of Dr. Gaylord to see an interesting discussion
on infection and the use of antiseptics in medical practice of the
the testimony of the medical experts comprised the bulk of the trial,
some interesting eyewitness accounts came from men like Exposition Engineer
Samuel Fields, who was immediately called to the scene of the shooting
to measure and mark the site.
Samuel J. Fields, Formerly City
Engineer, Was the First to Testify.
Fields," said Mr. Penney, and the first witness was called
to the stand He was Samuel J. Fields, formerly city engineer.
District Attorney Penney began the examination
of the witness. He testified that he was summoned to the Temple
of Music between 5 and 6 o'clock on the afternoon of the shooting,
Friday, Sept 6th.
A large map of the ground-floor plan of
the historic building where the tragedy occurred had been brought
in and placed on the stand next to the witness-stand,
Pointing to the map, Mr. Penney had Engineer
Fields point out the various pieces of furniture, drapery, flags,
etc., in the building and also to give the distances.
Mr. Penney turned the witness over to the defense
and Judge Titus began his cross-examination of the first witness
at 3 o'clock.
"Did you mark that Spot?" asked
"There was a spot of blood on the
the Buffalo Commercial,
September 23, 1901.]
Also called before the jury was photographer Harry A. Bliss, "a
pleasant, smooth-shaven, dark-haired young man ... [who] identified
five big photographs of the interior of the temple of music as made
by him the morning after the shooting. He told where the camera was
placed for each picture. The views show the aisles, the angle and the
flags and palms and all the details of the scene of the murder. Mr.
Penny passed them to Judge Titus and then, after offering them in evidence,
handed them to the jury as exhibits A, B, C, D and E. Mr. Bliss stepped
down at 3.07 o'clock. The evidence showed clearly the scene of the shooting."3
the rendering by T. Dart Walker that appeared on the cover of the
September 21, 1901 issue of Leslie's
direct examination by Mr. Penney, Secret Service Detective Albert L.
Gallaher described the shooting and the means by which he acquired the
handkerchief that Czolgosz had used to conceal the gun he carried in
his right hand. In the trial transcript, Gallaher described being burned
by the handkerchief, which was on fire when he grabbed it. While the
did not mention this, Gallaher's producing the handkerchief in
court was described by the paper with a bit more drama than appeared
in the transcipt of the trial:
Penney] "Did you get the handkerchief?"
[Mr. Gallaher] "I did."
"Have you that handkerchief now ?"
Then came one of those intense moments when
the nerve of every soul in the court-room was strained.
Mr. Gallaher reached in his coat pocket
and withdrew the handkerchief which was over the revolver which
was used on the President. It was passed to the attorneys for the
defense, who in handing it from one to another, passed it before
the face of Czolgosz. The latter bent his head.4
As for Czolgosz's gun,
Private Francis P. O'Brien of the 73rd United States Army seacoast artillery
testified that he grabbed the revolver in the chaos immediately following
the shooting. After engraving his initials on it, O'Brien gave it to
the Corporal of his detail, Louis Bertschey. Bertschey also engraved
his initials into the gun before turning it over to his commanding officer,
Captain Wisser, who took the revolver to the Buffalo Chief of Police's
office the following morning.
Supt. Henshaw's Story.
P. Henshaw, superintendent of the Temple of Music, was the next
witness. He said when the shooting occurred he was just to the
right of the President. Mr. Penney questioned him.
"As you stood there, were you
looking toward the people who approached the President?"
"I was, very carefully."
"I noticed this defendant in
the line approaching the President, with his hand pressed against
his abdomen and encased in something white. Then I noticed as
he drew near the President he extended his left hand. The President
put forward his right hand. Like a flash the assassin pushed the
President's right hand out of the way. Then I heard two shots
and saw the handkerchief smoking.
"The crowd gathered around
the defendant so quickly that he was lost to my view in an instant.
I was by the President's side when the President was taken away
in the ambulance."
Just before Judge Lewis started his cross-examination he turned
about to speak to the prisoner, but Czolgosz would pay no attention
Only a few questions were asked
by Judge Lewis, and then Mr. Henshaw was excused.
Branch, a colored porter in the Temple of Music, was called to
the stand by Mr. Penney at five minutes to 12 o'clock. He testified
"I saw this man here, this
defendant, with his right hand over his abdomen. He went to shake
hands with the President. Then, how he did it, I don't know, but
I saw the report and the fire. Then I saw the second report and
fire and saw the handkerchief about the man's hand afire.
"I saw the artillerymen around
the man and bear him down to the floor.
"That's all I saw of the shooting."
Judge Titus cross-examined the witness,
and Branch swore that he heard some one say"The President's
shot," "The President's shot."
"Did you hear the President
say anything?" asked Judge Titus.
"'Be easy with him, boys,'
was all I heard him say."
"Did you hear him say that?"
"Yes; he put his hand to his
abdomen and said that'Be easy with him, boys.'"
The Buffalo Commercial,
September 24, 1901.]
Attorney Penney closed the prosecution's case at 2:44 p.m., September
24, 1901. Judge Loran Lewis of the defense addressed the court:5
your Honor please, the defendant has no witnesses that he
will call, so that the testimony is closed at the close of
the testimony of the People.We are somewhat embarrassed, disappointed,
in the People's testimony closing at this point. My associate
and myself have not had very much consultation as to the course
to be pursued, but from the slight conversation that we have
had we are inclined to ask your Honor to permit each of us,
both of us, to make some remarks to the jury in summing up
this case. They will be on my part very brief, and I presume
so on the part of my associate."
then addressed the jury:
great calamity has befallen our nation. The President of
the country has been stricken down and dies in our city.
It is shown beyond any peradventure of doubt that it was
at the defendant's hand that he was stricken down, and the
only question that can be discussed or considered in this
case is the question whether that act was that of a sane
person. If it was, then the defendant is guilty of the murder
and must suffer the penalty. If it was the act of an insane
man, then he is not guilty of murder but should be acquitted
of that charge and would then be confined in a lunatic asylum.
gentlemen, we have not been able to present any evidence
upon our part. The defendant has even refused on almost
every occasion to even talk with his counsel; he has not
aided us; so that we have come here under, as I said to
you, the designation of the court, to do what we can to
determine this important question which is to be submitted
All that I can say, to aid you, is that every human being
--- yes, nearly, certainly, every human being --has a strong
desire to live. Death is a spectre that we all dislike to
meet, and here this defendant, without having any animosity
against our President, without any motive, so far as we
can see, personal motive, we find him going into this building,
in the presence of these hundreds of people, and committing
an act which, if he was sane, must cause his death.
How, could a man, with some mind, perform such an act? Of
course, the rabble in the street would say, No matter
whether he is insane or sane, he deserves to be killed at
once;" but the law says, no; the law says, consider
all the circumstances and see whether the man was in his
right mind or not. But one may say, "Why, it is better
that he should be convicted, as a terror to others."
That may be so in some regard, but, gentlemen of the jury,
if it could be; if it can be that you find that this defendant
was not responsible for the crime, for this act, you would
aid in uplifting a great cloud off from the hearts and minds
of the people of this country and of the world.
the question of Czolgosz's insanity was raised, the defense offered
no evidence to support or refute the question. Lewis instead spoke
of his and Judge Titus's professional duty to uphold the laws
of American jurisprudence and defend the assassin, however "distasteful"
such a task may have been. Titus and Lewis were reluctant to defend
Czolgosz and it was the coaxing of the more prominent members
of the Bar that convinced them to do so. This reluctance on the
part of the defense and the fact that there was little time between
arraignment and trial to investigate or secure possible witnesses
suggests that the protection of Czolgosz's rights was not a priority.
At any rate, Judge Lewis's statement to the court was briefapproximately
20 minutes longafter which Judge Titus concurred and the
a summation by District Attorney Penney, the jury was charged
with deliberating the guilt or innocence of Leon Czolgosz. Justice
White briefly reviewed the case and read the indictment, explaining
the jurors' responsibilities and stating that "there will
be from now on no demonstration, but that there will be reverence
for the dignity and majesty of the law."6
Verdict: Guilty !
jury deliberated for little more than thirty minutes and, to the surprise
of few, returned to find Leon Czolgosz guilty of murder in the first
degree. The sentencing occurred on September 26, 1901.
in the September 27, 1901 Buffalo
Express described the courtroom as "crowded to capacity"
on the day of sentencing. "It is no exaggeration to say that if
Czolgosz were to have been sentenced in the Stadium the Pan-American
Exposition grounds would have been taxed to their capacity." The
jury box was filled with well-known lawyers and among those who packed
the courtroom were Hon. Wilson S. Bissell, William H. Love, Col. Ransdell,
sergeant-at-arms of the United States Senate, Senor Don Edelberto Farres,
President of the Cuban commission to the Exposition, Senator George
A. Davis, Sheriff Samuel Caldwell, Drs. Matthew D. Mann and Herman Mynter
as well as the members of the jury. As
reported in the trial
transcript, September 26, 1901, Justice Truman C. White addressed
Leon F. Czolgosz:
in taking the life of our beloved President you committed a crime
which shocked and outraged the moral sense of the civilized world.
You have confessed your guilt, and, after learning all that can
at this time be learned of the facts and circumstances of the
case, twelve good men have pronounced your confession true and
have found you guilty of murder in the first degree. You declare,
according to the testimony of credible witnesses that no other
person aided or abetted you in the commission of this terrible
act. God grant it may be so. The penalty for the crime of which
you stand convicted is fixed by statute, and it now becomes my
duty to pronounce its judgment against you. The sentence of the
court is that in the week beginning October 28, 1901, at the place,
in the manner and by the means prescribed by law, you suffer the
punishment of death."
the Buffalo Commercial
and the Buffalo Courier
all printed extensive stories on the sentencing of
on to "The
of Leon Czolgosz"
and "Was Czolgosz Insane?"
Frank T. Housh,
Acts: Capital Trials a Century Apart" reposted from the Bulletin
of the Erie County Bar Association, July/Aug. 2001. Housh
compares the trial of Czolgosz to that of Timothy McVeigh to illustrate
the 20th Century evolution of "protection of the rights of the
Bar Association. McKinley
Assassin Trial Re-Creation : The Trial of Leon Czolgosz, Assassin of
President McKinley, on September 22, 2001. This site describes the
recreation of the Czolgosz trial held in Buffalo as part of the Pan-American
Exposition's Centenial Celebration. Included is background information
on the assassination of President McKinley and the original trial of
The People of the State
of New York, -- against -- Leon F. Czolgosz.
Transcipt of the trial "[t]ried before Hon. Truman C. White, and
a Jury, in Part III of the Supreme Court, in the City and County Hall,
in the City of Buffalo, New York, commencing on the twenty-third day
of September, 1901, at ten A.M." Online. Available via the web
site of the Bar Association of Erie County. URL:
http://www.eriebar.org/documents/czoltran.pdf . Accessed 30 May
2. While Mr. Field stated that he placed marks on
the floor to indicate blood spots and the placement of people, chairs,
etc., it is unclear who was responsible for placing the "X"
depicting where the president stood when shot. Leary and Sholes state
that it was James L. Quackenbush, a member of the Pan-American Exposition
Committee on Ceremonies, who was a witness to the shooting and was responsible
for calling Fields to the scene. There is no mention of this in the
testimony of either men, however.
3. Buffalo Express,
September 24, 1901.
4. Buffalo Commercial,
September 24, 1901. Note: it is apparant that when reporting the trial,
newspapers took great liberty in their interpretation of the "accuaracy
of the details." Certainly sensationalism was the rule of the day
and one must consider that events were edited for readability. No doubt,
testimony purported to be direct quotation was often paraphrased instead.
While referring to newspaper accounts reveals what the 1901 public learned
of the trial, a more accurate account of statements made by witnesses
and the court can be found in the
transcript of the trial.
People of the State of New York, -- against -- Leon F. Czolgosz.
the trial. Accessed 30 May 2003.
6. "Defense Rests." Buffalo
Commerical, September 24, 1901.
Return to "Leon Czolgosz and the Trial"