28 September 2014

Circuit court: cases of William Law, George & John Downie and Joseph MacHardy

On Monday last, the Circuit Court of Justiciary was opened here by the Right Honourable Lord PITMILLY.

There were only two cases before his Lordship.  The first of which was that of William Law.  The libel against him was of a very formidable nature - not less than two separate charges of housebreaking and theft, aggravated by prison breaking.  The pannel pleaded guilty of the crime of prison breaking, but denied the rest of the libel.  Owing to the panel having acknowledged his guilt of one of the charges, by petitioning the Sheriff of Kincardineshire for voluntary banishment on a prior occasion, the Public Prosecutor departed from that charge, and confined himself to the charge against the pannel of breaking in to the house of Isabella Smith, in the neighbourhood of Stonehaven, and carrying off various articles narrated in the indictment.

It appeared that Isabella Smith had, about the end of the year 1812, left her house, and gone on a visit to a daughter in Arbroath; and during her absence, her dwelling house had been forcibly entered, and completely ransacked of every article of value.  Sometime after, a bed and bed-tick, the property of Smith, was traced to the house of John Duncan, broker in Montrose, and was clearly proved to have been purchased from the pannel; but none of the other articles were ever heard of.  The Public Prosecutor attempted to bring the housebreaking home to the pannel; but the evidence on this part of the libel, though strongly presumptive, was by no means conclusive on the point.  The Jury were enclosed, and returned a verdict yesterday morning, when they unanimously found the pannel, upon his own confession, guilty of prison-breaking, and of stealing a bed and bed-tick, the property of the said Isabella Smith; but found the other parts of the libel not proven.

His Lordship then pronounced sentence of transportation against the pannel for 14 years.

Thereafter came on the trial of George and John Downie, and of Joseph Machardy, accused of assaulting and deforcing Malcolm Gillespie, excise officer, to the effusion of his blood and danger of his life.  The Public Prosecutor passed from the charge in so far as related to Machardy; and the pannels, George and John Downie, pleaded "guilty in part" which was afterwards explained by their Counsel to import a denial of the deforecement, and a denial of having assaulted or beat the exciseman to the danger of his life; but they admitted, that they had been engaged in a scuffle with the said exciseman, and had struct him so as (they were since informed) to draw blood from his body.  The Advocate-Depute acquiesced in the accuracy of this qualified confession; and thereafter an appeal to the clemency of the Court and Jury was made on behalf of the pannels, in respect of their candid confession, - their submissive and voluntary appearance to meet the justice of their country, - and their previous good characters, of which a proof was offered by respectable witnesses then attending.  The Court judged it unnecessary to go into any proof on the matter of previous character, of which no impeachment had been made; and a Jury having been enclosed, they unanimously, and without leaving the box, found the pannels guilty in terms of their confession; but recommended them to the clemency of the Court.

Sentence of imprisonment in Bridewell for the period of nine months was pronounced upon them, after a suitable admonition from the Bench, and at the end of the period of their confinement, to find bail for their good behaviour for three years.

Counsel for the Crown, Mr Home Drummond; for the Pannels, Mr Gordon.

Published in the Aberdeen Journal, Wednesday 28th September 1814.

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