Pettit v. State

Decision Date19 October 1893
Docket Number16,438
Citation34 N.E. 1118,135 Ind. 393
PartiesPettit v. The State
CourtIndiana Supreme Court

From the Montgomery Circuit Court.

The judgment is reversed, with instructions to grant a new trial.

A. L Kumler, T. F. Gaylord, R. P. DeHart, T. F. Davidson, J. West and T. A. Stuart, for appellant.

A. G Smith, Attorney-General, G. P. Haywood and A. B. Anderson for State.


Hackney, J.

The appellant was charged by indictment, in the Tippecanoe Circuit Court, with the murder of his wife, Hattie E. Pettit by administering to her quantities of strychnine.

The venue of said cause was changed to the circuit court of Montgomery county, where, on the 20th day of November, 1890, after a trial occupying six weeks, he was convicted and his punishment fixed at imprisonment for life. He appeals to this court from the judgment of the lower court, and many questions are presented for review.

We are asked to pass upon the sufficiency of the evidence to warrant a conviction, and we have read much of the evidence, though it covers several thousand pages of typewritten record.

The prosecution rested upon circumstantial evidence, involving the appellant's loss of affection for his wife and his infatuation for Mrs. Whitehead, a widow with means and the prospect of an inheritance of a considerable sum. This line of evidence necessarily brought forward the relations existing between the appellant and his wife during the period of their married life, also the acquaintance, association, and conduct of the appellant and Mrs. Whitehead during a period of two years or more, including their meetings in public and in private, at Shawnee Mound, the place of their residences, at Indianapolis and other places; also his conduct after the death of his wife, both before and after the burial of her remains.

The charges against him, upon the evidence, included neglect of his wife and his home, relations with Mrs. Whitehead, that, if not criminal, and if not affectionate, were at least of a very intimate social character, of a character that he, as a minister of the gospel, could not indulge, in justice to the ties which, before the God he professed to worship, bound him to Hattie E. Pettit; that ten or twelve days before his wife's death he sought strychnine of a druggist under unusual circumstances and conduct; his wife did not feel well, he gave her tea of the taste of which she complained, almost immediately following the drinking of a portion of the tea she was violently ill with symptoms indicating strychnia poisoning; after vomiting she became better, and expressed the belief that she had received poison, and that it might have been in the tea; later, and during her illness, he gave her a capsule, the contents of which is in dispute, and following this she was again violently ill with symptoms of strychnia poisoning; he gave her other medicines claimed by the State to have contained strychnia; that the condition of the limbs and parts of the body after death indicated strychnia poisoning; his conduct with the family of Mrs. Pettit, in promising to explain to them her death, and hastening away from them without doing so, when he had had three weeks' leave of absence granted by his church, and other circumstances, which we will not repeat.

We do not say that these circumstances were given without attempted explanations, denials, and excuses, but they were of such strength and character that, in our opinion, they formed a proper case for the jury. If the evidence of the State was believed, the probabilities of guilt were strong, if not conclusive. But the conflict in the evidence, its weight and effect, were properly questions for the jury, and we will not consider them.

One of the alleged errors of the circuit court was in denying the appellant a continuance of the trial of the cause, as applied for on the 7th day of October, 1890. The cause had been set for trial on the 8th day of October, 1890, and when the 7th day of that month had arrived, the appellant filed his affidavit and motion for such continuance, in which it was shown:--

That appellant was charged with having feloniously caused the death of his wife, Hattie E. Pettit, by administering to her a certain poisonous drug called strychnine, at affiant's home, in Shawnee Mound, Tippecanoe county, Indiana; that affiant and one Elma C. Whitehead were jointly indicted for the murder of said Hattie Pettit; that they severed in their defense, and afterwards a nolle prosequi was entered in said cause against Elma C. Whitehead in the Tippecanoe Circuit Court, and the said case as to her was then ended that affiant is not guilty of the crime charged against him, and if he can have a reasonable time given him to secure the attendance of his witnesses at the trial of this cause, he will be able to prove his innocence, and that he can not safely go to trial in this case at this term of court, because of the absence of an important and material witness, Emmeline C. Ford; that he was married to his said wife on January 27, 1881, in the State of New York; that one child was born to them of their said marriage; that for about six months after their marriage affiant and wife lived at and near West Monroe, N. Y., and for the next six years they resided in St. Joseph county, Indiana; that affiant and wife came from St. Joseph county to Shawnee Mound, Tippecanoe county, Indiana, to reside, and resided there from that time until the death of his said wife; that said Mrs. Ford now resides, and for more than ten years last past, has resided in the city of South Bend, St. Joseph county, Indiana, but is now temporarily away from home, on a visit at East Portland, Ore.; that said Mrs. Ford is the aunt of said Hattie E. Pettit, and was for a long time almost a member of affiant's family; that the relations between Mrs. Ford and affiant's family were of the most intimate character; and that she was a warm friend of affiant's wife; that when affiant and wife came to Indiana in July, 1881, they went to the home of Mrs. Ford, and remained there until some time in August following, when they secured rooms about three blocks from the home of Mrs. Ford, and from that time, during all the time they lived in South Bend, Mrs. Ford was frequently at affiant's home, and affiant and family frequently at Mrs. Ford's; that Mrs. Ford frequently saw affiant and wife together, and that she is familiar with, and knows the relations that existed between affiant and his wife, the manner in which he treated his wife, and her conduct towards him; that in May, 1889, Mrs. Ford visited affiant's family at Shawnee Mound, and affiant's wife visited in South Bend in June, 1889, and shortly before her death, and was frequently at Mrs. Ford's home, and that Mrs. Ford's knowledge and means of observation of the conduct and relations between affiant and his wife continued down to the time of the death of Mrs. Pettit; that it will be claimed by the State upon this trial that the married life of affiant and his wife had not been happy, and that affiant did not love his wife; that on the day of her death the conduct of affiant was unseemly, unnatural, and showed an indifference to the death of his wife; that he was on said day under the influence of intoxicants; and for the purpose of showing a motive for the commission of said crime, the State will claim that prior to the death of his wife affiant had become infatuated with the said Elma C. Whitehead, and had ceased to love his said wife, and desired to be rid of her. And affiant swears that said matters are not true. That affiant expects to prove by said Mrs. Ford, and she will so testify, that she had the aforesaid means of knowledge of the relations existing between affiant and wife, and of their conduct toward each other; that she had a personal knowledge of the manner in which affiant treated his wife, during all of his married life, and of the conduct of his said wife towards affiant; and that affiant at all times treated her in a kind, loving and affectionate manner, and their conduct was at all times kind, loving and affectionate towards each other; that affiant and his said wife did love each other, and that affiant and his wife frequently, in her presence, spoke of each other in a loving manner, and frequently used terms of endearment towards each other; and that affiant always spoke of his said wife in terms of praise, and never found fault with the conduct of his said wife; that said Mrs. Ford arrived at affiant's home, at Shawnee Mound, on the day of the death of affiant's wife, and remained there until the morning following, and said Mrs. Ford will testify that during most of said time she was in the presence of this affiant, and frequently conversed with him, and had abundant opportunities to observe the appearance and conduct of affiant, and that the appearance and conduct of affiant at said time was natural and becoming, and was that of a devoted husband, and that he was not under the influence of intoxicants during said time. And affiant swears that the facts which will be testified to by said Mrs. Ford are true; that it will be claimed by the State, upon said trial, that affiant's conduct and relations with the said Elma C. Whitehead on the day of his wife's death were unbecoming and too intimate; but that the same are not true; and that Mrs. Ford will testify that from the time of her arrival at Shawnee Mound she (Mrs. Ford) occupied a room directly opposite and but a few feet distant from the room occupied by affiant, and that no one could approach the opposite room without attracting the attention of Mrs. Ford thereto, and that during her stay at the residence of affiant she was in and about the house at all hours, and that she witnessed nothing...

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4 cases
  • People v. Montgomery
    • United States
    • New York Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • October 13, 1903
    ...Ky. 354, 12 S. W. 471;State v. Duestrow, 137 Mo. 44, 38 S. W. 554,39 S. W. 266;Duncan v. State, 88 Ala. 31, 7 South. 104;Pettit v. State, 135 Ind. 393, 34 N. E. 1118;St. Louis v. State, 8 Neb. 405, 1 N. W. 371;Stricklin v. Commonwealth, 83 Ky. 566; and People v. Brown, 130 Cal. 591, 62 Pac.......
  • Woodruff v. Bowen
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court
    • October 20, 1893
    ... ... command it or the parties who execute their commands, must ... seek [136 Ind. 441] redress at the hands of the State itself ... and accept what the State awards." Cooley on Torts (2d ... ed.), p. 367 ...          We ... think Judge Cooley, in the above ... ...
  • Woodruff v. Bowen
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court
    • October 20, 1893
  • Pettit v. State
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court
    • October 19, 1893

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