Thursday, 28 May 2015

Scythed to Death

A row between two gardeners over payment for beer led to one cutting the other with his scythe and being convicted of manslaughter.

On Saturday 9th September 1864 two jobbing gardeners, Felix O'Hara and Patrick Fleming, worked for the morning then went drinking in the afternoon. Things were fine until around 6pm when they played a card game in Rae's public house in Melville Place, Toxteth. When Fleming won the game a quart of ale was ordered, which he believed should be paid for by O'Hara and another man, Jimmy Vennard, who had joined them.

O'Hara threatened to poke both eyes out of Fleming's head if he didn't pay for the ale and without even giving him a chance to respond punched him in the nose, causing it to bleed. Fleming then went into the yard to clean himself up but was followed by O'Hara who picked up the scythe and threatened to cut him in two if he didn't pay. He then swung it at Fleming's led, severely wounding the thigh.

Fleming, who was 58 years old, walked to the Infirmary helped by another man who saw him struggling. By 7th October Fleming's condition had deteriorated considerably and a note was sent by Dr Nash to Superintendent Kehoe at the police. He dispatched Detective Cousens to speak with Fleming, who described what had happened, leading to O'Hara being arrested at 3am the following morning in a lodging house in Elm Grove off Paddington. The 30 year old denied what had happened, saying that Fleming fell against the scythe.

When O'Hara appeared at the police court charged with wounding with intent to kill his case was adjourned pending magistrates taking formal depositions from Fleming, who was now said to be in a very dangerous state with little hope of recovery. After describing the circumstances of the incident he told Mr Mills and Mr Stubbs that he had known O'Hara for a few years and they had never had a falling out. On the day in question, they were not drunk and knew what they were about, and the only reason O'Hara had for striking him was his refusal to pay for the ale. 

After Fleming died two days later an inquest before the Coroner Mr P. F. Curry heard that he had developed erysipelas about a week after entering hospital and that this had been as a direct result of the wound. The jury returned a verdict of wilful murder and O'Hara was committed for trial at the next Liverpool assizes.

On 16th December O'Hara appeared before Justice Mellor at St George's Hall. Other people who had been in the public house said that both men were in a state of intoxication and nobody had seen the blow get struck. A surgeon from the infirmary however said that the wound was the result of considerable force, being five inches in length and cut to the bone. The policeman who arrested O'Hara said that the first words spoken were 'is he dead'. The defence counsel said that the evidence was unreliable due to the level of drink involved and maintained that the wound could still have been caused by a fall, despite the medical evidence.

The jury deliberated for just a short time and found O'Hara guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter. Justice Mellor then told O'Hara 'Happily for you they have taken a lenient view of this case and saved you from public execution' before sentencing him to ten years penal servitude.

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