Sunday, 11 October 2015

Habitually Abusive Husband Kills Wife With Poker

A man who had been convicted three times for battering his wife was convicted of manslaughter after he killed her, but was given a lenient sentence by today's standards. 

In 1903 a 52 year old labourer named William Smith lived with his wife Isabella in Peach Street, occupying the parlour and two cellars of a house. Their daughter Mary Wyness, her husband and young children lived in the other rooms. Mr and Mrs Smith both drank regularly and Mary would often hear her father beating her mother following arguments.

On the afternoon of 15th February that year the couple both got drunk but nothing seemed unusual when Mary saw her parents in the afternoon. In the evening though she heard her mother nagging her father as he had not shared any betting winnings with her, instead spending them on drinks for other people. 

Peach Street (
At 330am the following morning Mary was awoken by moans coming from the cellar and went to investigate. She found her mother lying face down, unconscious and covered in blood. She went upstairs to the parlour were her father was asleep and he helped her lift Isabella onto the sofa. Smith went out and fetched a policeman himself, bringing him back to the house and saying that his wife had fallen onto the ashpan. 

The officer was suspicious of Smith's version of events and took him into custody, lodging him at the Prescot Street Bridewell. A doctor who carried out a post mortem felt that the injuries to Isabella's chest could not have been caused by a fall and would have required 'extraordinary force.' Smith then admitted that he had struck her with a poker but not intended to cause great harm.

After an inquest returned a verdict of wilful murder, Smith was committed for trial at the assizes where he appeared before Justice Lawrence on 8th May. The jury returned a verdict of manslaughter on the grounds that Smith had been provoked by his wife's excessive drinking. A neighbour had told the court that a few days before the killing it was Mary's wedding anniversary and Isabella had drank nine pints of beer.

The judge said he agreed with the jury's verdict and even though Smith had been convicted of assault on three previous occasions for battering his wife, a sentence of just twelve years penal servitude was imposed.

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