JOHN LECK.
9th July 1800
Reference Numbert18000709-21
VerdictGuilty
SentenceImprisonment > house of correction; Miscellaneous > fine

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497. JOHN LECK was indicted for feloniously stealing, on the 15th of July , a copper, value 218. and one brass cock, value 4d. the property of Edward Magrath .

The prisoner being extremely deaf, and not pleading to his indictment, a fury were sworn to try whether he was of sound mind and understanding or not.

EDWARD MAGRATH sworn. - I never saw the prisoner before last Saturday; he came and asked me for a job, and I told him I could not, another time I would give him a job.

Q. How did he behave when you took him? - A. He said his accomplice took the copper, and sold the copper; I have heard since, that they call him foolish Johnny, and that he has committed a great many robberies in the neighbourhood.

Q. How old is he? - A. I should suppose about twenty.

Q. From his conduct, did you collect whether has was foolish or not? - A. He is certainly none of the wisest; when we were going back from fetching the copper, he said he was dry, and we asked him if he would have a pint of beer; he said, yes; when we came out of the house, he said, I have saved my neck this time; I should suppose he meant by impeaching his-accomplice; after I had detected him, I enquired into his character; I learned that he was a notorious thief; he is generally considered as half foolish.

Q.When you charged him with taking the copper, did he appear to be a man capable of knowing right from wrong? - A. Yes; he told me it was not him that broke open the door, it was Goodyer that broke it open, and sold the copper; I caught him in the yard upon my premises; Goodyer was taken up, and brought before the Magistrate, and there the woman swore it was him that sold the copper himself: and upon that, Goodyer was discharged.

Q.It was after he had been before the Justice that he said I have saved my neck? - A. Yes

Mr. JOHN KIRBY sworn - Q. You are keeper of the prison? - A. I am.

What have you observed of the prisoner's conduct since you have had him in custody? - A. I

asked him where his father was; and he said, he was gone a mowing.

Q. From your own observation, what is your opinion of him? - A. He does not give a proper answer to any thing; I think he is an ideot; he only came in on Monday.

Magrath. His father has absconded last spring, for thieving.

THOMAS SIMPSON sworn. - I am servant to Mr. Kirby: I was in the lodge when Holebrook, the officer, brought the prisoner in; when he came in, I put an iron on him, and he acted very strangely indeed, I thought he would have broke his leg, he knocked it about so; he only understands from the motion of the mouth, he sometimes gives a contrary answer to what you ask, and sometimes a direct answer; we could not get any thing out of him this morning.

Prisoner. I will never do so any more; I should not have done it now, but another boy did it first.

EDWARD ROGERS sworn. - Magrath brought the prisoner to me at Shadwell: I asked him if he did this himself; he said, no, he held the door while another man took it out; he was with me a long time before I could get that out of him; he said, the other man put it in a bag, took it along Poplar-fields, and cut it in three pieces; if I speak loud, and call to him, he understands every word; he said the other man took it to Mr. Talbot's, a coppersmith, in Back-lane, and sold it, on a Sunday morning; I then took him before the Magistrate, and what he told me he repeated to the Magistrate; the copper was cut in three pieces, exactly as he described it; I went to Talbot's and found the copper, with the two cocks, and the bag that it was in; Mrs. Talbot told me she was a relation of his, but she would tell the truth, he was the man that sold the copper himself, and nobody with him; the other man proved an alibi before the Magistrate, and he was discharged; after we had found the copper, we gave him the bag to carry to the office; he said, on the way, I have saved my neck this time, but he did not mention for what.

Court. Gentlemen of the Jury, you are here sworn. on the part of the Crown, to inquire whether the prisoner at the bar is of sound mind or not; by which oath, I understand, that you are to pronounce whether you think the prisoner knows right from wrong; the rule laid down in our law books is this, that if a person has the same sort of understanding that a child of fourteen years of age has, he is then answerable to the laws of his country; now, by that rule, I understand, if he is a person that knows right from wrong as well as an ordinary child of fourteen years of age does. This is not a question of sanity or insanity, whether this man is afflicted with a temporary visitation from Providence at times to have his understanding, and at other times not to have it, but simply whether this man, by his natural endowments, has that kind of understanding, as to know when he is doing wrong; if he has that kind of understanding, then he ought to be made answerable for this act; for nothing can be more mischievous than that sort of character which one of the witness represents this half-witted man, going by the name of foolish Johnny, should be suffered to go about, and committing depredations of this sort; and, therefore, however the neighbourhood may be inclined to indulge him, or soften his actions, by calling him foolish Johnny, if he is of that kind of understanding as to know when he is doing wrong, he ought to be amenable to the law; it will be for the Court, if he should be found guilty by-and-by, to say what punishment shall be inflicted upon such a half-witted man; but it is for you to say, whether he has that understanding which enables you to say he knew whether he was doing right or wrong when he committed these depredations upon the property of others; it may be, that a man may be very frantic when they were putting an iron on him; and yet, it does not follow that this lad, when he was going about committing depredations through the village, did not know what he was doing; now, under all the circumstances this case, it will be for you to say, whether you think the man, at the time he is charged to have committed this act, knew that he was doing wrong or not; now, here is a concealment, you see he denies having done it; at first, he lays the charge upon another man, uses a degree of cunning, so as to shew that he knew he had done a wrong thing; he describes all that had been done with the copper, and they find it to answer; and as to the other man that he charged, it appeared that he was innocent, so satisfactorily, that the Justice discharged him; and you hear from Rogers, that if you speak slowly, and loud, he can understand you: Mr. Kirby himself, and these people not knowing how to manage this man, may account for the incoherency of his answers; it is the duty of the parish, where they have idiots, to lock them up; but the Jury and Court have a duty to discharge, without partiality on one side or the other; and the simple question you have to decide is, whether he knew the difference of right and wrong as an ordinary child of fourteen years of age does; if you think he did, you will find that he is of sound memory and understanding; if on the other hand you think he does not know right from wrong, you will find that he is not of sound memory and understanding. In a case of this sort, there cannot be any leaning one way or the other; for the public have a right to be protected from such depredations, as much as an idiot has who is not responsible to the law for his acts; and, therefore, there must be no

leaning one way or the other, it will be for you to say whether you think he is in a fit state to proceed to trial; it is not so much the question how he was at the time he committed the fact as how he is now; and you will now say what you think of him at this moment, whether he ought to be put upon his trial; if you think he ought, you will say he is of sound mind and understanding; and if you think he ought not, you will say he is not of sound mind and understanding.

Foreman of the Jury. We think he is, of sound mind, and ought to be put upon his trial.

Mr. Shelton, after having again read the indictment to the prisoner, put the question - "Are you guilty, or not guilty?" - After some hesitation, and being instructed by Mr. Kirby, he said - "not guilty;" - upon being asked - "How will you be tried?" - with the same hesitation, and instruction from Mr. Kirby, he said, - "by God and my country."

The Jury were then sworn, to try the question of-"Guilty, or Not Guilty."

EDWARD MAGRATH sworn. - Last Sunday morning I went to my premises, about five or six minutes after five, and found the door of the outhouse broke open; I observed a chalk-chopper lying by the door; I thought it had been some of the chalk people; I had not been there five minutes when I saw the prisoner come into the yard; I then hid myself a little while, but not seeing him go, I came out, and asked him what he was doing upon my premises; he said he was doing nothing there, he only went ot buy a pennyworth of milk; there is a piece of ground belonging to the premises let out to a cow-man; I told him I suspected he had broke open that place; I told him to get from the place immediately; he told me it was not him that broke the place open, he told me it was Goodyer; then the officer came up, and we went in search of Goodyer; and found him at home; he is a lad about eighteen or nineteen years of age; we took him, and on Monday morning they were both taken before the Magistrate.

Q.Was what the prisoner said taken down in writing? - A. Yes.

The Court asked if the examinations were returned, Mr. Sherton said they were not; when the Court expressed in very strong terms, their disapprobation of the conduct of Magistrates, in not returning the examinations.

HANNAH TALBOT sworn. - I live in Cable-Street, Whitechapel: On Sunday morning, between eight and nine o'clock, the prisoner came to my house; I was called up; when I came down, the prisoner was there with a bag, and I asked him what he had got there, he said a little copper that his father had sent him, and would be obliged to me to let him have some money upon it; I let him have sixteen shillings; I did not buy it.

Q. What is his father? - A. He works in a rope-ground; I have known his father many years; he is related to me.

Q. Did any body come with him? - A. No.(The copper produced.)

Q. How came you to let this boy have sixteen shillings upon the copper; he did not deal in copper? - A. No; but I desired him to send his father to me in the morning, and then I should have examined him about it.

EDWARD ROGERS sworn. - I took charge of the prisoner from Mr. Magrath; I asked him to tell me truly who was with him when he took the copper; I did not make him any promise, or use any threat; I asked him repeatedly, and at length he said it was another lad of the name of Goodyer that broke the house; that he flood by while he was breaking it with a chalk-chopper; he said Goodyer brought the copper into Poplar-fields, and there cut it into three pieces; he said he was following him and saw him do it; I then asked him where did they go then; he said they went up by the Cape to Good Hope, and across the fields to Mr. Talbot's, copper-smith, in Back-lane; he said the other went in and fold the copper; that he staid at the door till the other came out, and then went to a public-house with the money; I went to Talbot's with Mr. Magrath, and found this copper lying in the shop, it was not concealed at all; Mrs. Talbot immediately acknowledged she had bought it of the prisoner; I asked her if there was any other boy, and she said, no; that though he was a relation she would tell the truth; there was nobody but him.

Magrath. This is my copper; it was whole when I lost it, full of brass-cocks and plates, as much as two men could lift into a cart; they were all gone.

Prisoner's defence. I did not do it; another boy began at first, and then he ran away; I will never touch any thing again.

Mr. Kirby. Here are two people from Limehouse that were not here when the other witness were examined.

WILLIAM AVERY sworn. - I have known the prisoner about two years; I lived five or six months in the same house.

Q. Have you often conversed with him? - A. No, he never would converse with any body; if he observed the motion of the month he would answer sometimes, and sometimes, he would not; at the times I lived with him I really thought he could not hear any thing.

Q. Have you any reason to know that he knows right from wrong? - A. I cannot say that.

ANN EDNEY sworn. - I live in the same house with the prisoner; he was always foolish.

Q. Do you think he knows right from wrong? - A. That I cannot answer for.

GUILTY (Aged 16.)

Confined six months in the House of Correction , and fined 1s.

Tried by the first Middlesex Jury, before Mr. Justice ROOKE.


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