CORK CITY CRIMINAL COURT, Friday, August 16.
|James Corbett and Daniel Burke were given in charge for
having, on the night of 4th of July last, feloniously attacked
William Fountain Hendle, Esq. and taken from his person a gold watch
and other property. These were two of the persons who formed a gang
that lately committed so many robberies in the neighbourhood of this
William Fountain Hendle, Esq. being sworn deposed, that having dined with Captain Stephenson on the 3d of last month, he was returning in company with a gentleman of the name of Brandon, between the hours of twelve and one o'clock of the morning if the 4th, and when they came near to the Wellington-road, they were stopped by four or five men, who came out of a door-way which led to a field. One of the men seized witness by the collar, whilst another put a pistol to his breast, at the same time telling him to give up whatever money he had, or else he would be shot ; this was said by the man who presented the pistol. Witness stretched out his arms, and said, they were welcome to take whatever money he had, for he should make no resistance. The man who presented the pistol took his watch, whilst another man put his hands in witness's pocket, and yet he did not find a sum of 54l. which witness then had about him. The other part of the gang attacked witness's companion, from whom they took two watches, and a pocket-book, and a note for 30s. Witness could not speak positively as to either of the Prisoners was of the gang. They were not disguised, but appeared to have darkened face ; the transaction occurred within half a mile of the town.
Daniel Ahern, an approver, was the next witness examined for the prosecution. He was a tall, athletic, powerful man., He said, that he remembered the beginning of last July, when then in the company with the prisoners whom he identified ; they went together up the Wellington-road ; it must have been after 10 o'clock at night whenthey went there, for, where he was then employed, he did not leave off work until that hour ; after going to the road they remained there about a couple of hours, and at first went inside a ditch ; one of the party said, that if any gentleman approached who had arms, he may shoot them whilst they would be coming out of the field. On this they came a little further down the road, and started a door which led into a field, where they remained until they saw two gentlemen come by, whom they stopped, and having presented pistols to their breasts, desired the gentlemen to deliver their money. Witness then detailed the particulars of the robbery assisted by Captain Hendle. After robbing those gentlemen , the gang went toward the New Barrack, and from thence to the Water Course. They there met or saw Mr. Lane, the peace officer, whom the others wanted to rob of his arms, knowing that he had some about him, but witness objected to their doing so, lest Mr. L. would know him. The party then went behind Lady's Well, to wait the coming up of three gentlemen, whom they had reason to suppose would pass that way. In this, however, they were disappointed, and witness went home, as the watchman had directions to call him at five o'clock in the morning. Witness got a gold watch, but did not keep it, as the spoil was not shared. He left the other watches with the Corbetts at their house. The gang consisted of the two Corbetts (brothers), Burke, and the witness.
The cross-examination of this witness by Mr. O'Connell, developed not only the character of the miscreant himself, but the numerous scenes of riot and robbery in which he had been concerned. The object of Counsel was to discredit his testimony, by showing what kind of life he had led, and in what crimes he had been implicated. In this he was quite successful ; but other corroborative evidence was adduced in the persons of Mr. Hewson, High Constable, and Mr. Lane, an active peace officer, who found at Corbett's apartments, where Burke was at the time, not only the property of the Prosecutor, and of the other Gentlemen who was with him when the robbery was committed, but the watches, chains, seals &c. which had been taken from several other persons who had been plundered by the gang.
Corbett produced Colonel Beare, and Mr. John Lee, steward of Lord Shannon, to give him a character. He had served under the former in the Cork militia, up to the time it was disembodied, and behaved very well, and was known by the latter as a very well-conducted man up to 1812, but after that time his knowledge of him ceased. Colonel Beare added, that he had often since employed him as a mason. Mr. Richard Barrett and Mr. Florence M'Carthy spoke favourably of the character of Burke for several years they had known him, and never heard any thing against him till this charge.
The case having closed on both sides, and the Learned Judge having charged the Jury at great length, they retired for two hours, at the end of which they returned a verdict of Guilty against both the Prisoners, accompanied with a recommendation of mercy. After a short pause, Serjeant Torrens asked them what was the ground of their recommendation ? The Jury replied, the Prisoners' previous good character. The Serjeant inquired whether they had any doubt of the guilt of the Prisoners ? for if they had entertained any such doubt, they ought to have given them the benefit of it in considering their verdict. The Jury said they had no doubt of the Prisoners' guilt, but took the liberty of recommending them to mercy, on the score of their previous good character, and of the desperate character of Ahern, the chief prosecutor. Serjeant Torrens wished distinctly to understand what the period was to which they meant to apply the question of good character, and whether their recommendation extended to both the Prisoners ? The Jury replied, that it did apply to both, but they were silent as to the first part of the inquiry.
The Prisoners were then brought up for judgment, and upon being arraigned, Burke wept and sobbed for some time, but Corbett stood at the bar unmoved. The Learned Judge then proceeded in the most awful and affecting manner to pass sentence on these unhappy men. Addressing them by their names, his Lordship said, they had been tried by a Jury of their country, who after a patient and laborious investigation of their case, returned a verdict of guilty on the evidence that appeared before them. The Prisoners had been found guilty of a crime to which the wisdom of our laws annexed, and wisely annexed, the penalty of death ; and it was his Lordship's duty, as the organ of the law, to pronounce upon them that sentence which the law affixed to their crime. Of their guilt, he did not apprehend that a single person who had heard the trial, and weighed the evidence, could feel the slightest doubt. They had been convicted for having, with certain of their associates, assembled on the King's highway, and committed a highway robbery. And he mentioned the circumstance of their having associates in crime the more particularly that they, and all others who joined in such associations, should know, that the connexion of the guilty with each other would be ever found to be short and uncertain. Their trial afforded another instance, among the many that had already appeared during this Assizes, that crime would be brought home to those who formed illegal associations, and their guilt punished, by means of the testimony of those who were at one period some or other of their own accomplices. He would, therefore, wish to impress on those who were connected with such associations, that they would one day be betrayed by members of their own gangs ; that there was between them but one common communion of guilt and treachery ; and that consequently they owed it to themselves and to their families, if not to the laws, to quit all such illegal associations. The evidence of the approver was confirmed, his Lordship observed, by the Prisoners' own acts, and by their being possessed of the property which had been stolen. That property which they had wrested from peaceful and inoffensive subjects was found in the Prisoner Corbett's house, at the time when Burke was there, a circumstance which clearly proved they were accomplices in the plunder. Further, it appeared from the testimony of one of the witnesses for the defence, whom he was justified in saying the Jury had disbelieved, that the secreting of the property in question was attempted to be put upon another person ; thus adding to the crime of despoiling another of his property, with arms in their hands, the disgraceful crime of perjury. If the Jury had doubts respecting the Prisoners' guilt, his Lordship had told them to give the Prisoners the benefit of that doubt, if it were real and conscientious ; and if they did, on their oaths, conceive any such doubt, had they a right to call on others to flinch from the discharge of their duty, upon grounds which they themselves could not act upon ? Under all the circumstances, though he should certainly transmit the recommendation of the Jury, his Lordship most seriously and solemnly besought the Prisoners, in the name of Almighty God, to reflect on their awful situation, and seek for forgiveness for the offence of which they had been found guilty, and of those which they had been charged with the commission of. They were on the brink of eternity, and would soon be called into another world, to answer for their crimes against their fellow man. It was, his Lordship said, his duty to tell them they had very little hopes of mercy in this world, but he trusted they would yet seek to obtain mercy from the throne of all mercy and goodness. They should call to their aid the Ministers of religion, and from whose hands, and mouths, and learning, they would find a solace, and receive a preparation that would enable them to meet their approaching fate. He implored them to ask forgiveness and pardon, in the sincerity of their hearts, from the Almighty God, for their transgressions in this world ; and as it was his duty again to tell them not to look at what had occurred, as affording the slightest hope for their obtaining pardon or mercy here, they should not mispend the short time they had left to live, but endeavour to make their peace with an offended God, so that they may not be hurried into eternity unprepared to meet the awful presence before which they must shortly appear. His Lordship concluded a most solemn and impressive address, which made a due and lasting impression on the auditors, and of which the foregoing is but a mere outline, by passing the sentence of the law, and ordered the unhappy men for execution on the 21st day of September next.
The Prisoners retired from the bar without saying a single word.
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