This case presents one of the most extraordinary instances of cross swearing ever witnessed, and so positive was it on each side that the jury were unable to determine which party was entitled to credit, and actually separated without giving any verdict.
Edward M'Elroy, a coarse country lad, about twenty years of age, was capitally indicted, on the 12th of March, 1823, for setting fire to a car-house, belonging to David Woods, of Carduffkelly, near Carickmacross, in the county of Monaghan, in the preceding month of February. David Woods deposed to the circumstances attending the burning of his car-house, which took place about 12 o'clock at night, when the family were all in bed. Being awoke, he heard a noise outside his house, as of some persons stumbling, in consequence of which he was induced to rise out of bed; and on going down stairs and opening the hall-door, which he did quietly, he beheld his car-house on fire, and distinctly saw the prisoner (M'Elroy) urging the flames towards the dwelling-house. Thomas Woods, son to the prosecutor, stated, that, on hearing his father call out that the car-house was on fire, he ran out naked, and saw the figure of a man at a distance, running from the flames. He could not say who that person was.
This was the case for the prosecution. In defence, Charlotte Woods, aged 18, the daughter of the prosecutor, appeared. She denied that any attachment subsisted between her and the prisoner, and then gave the following account of the transaction, in coming forward to declare which, she said, she was actuated solely by a regard for truth, and a desire to save an innocent life. On the evening in question, all the family, excepting herself and a servant girl, whom she called Ellen, went to bed between 9 and 10 o'clock. She usually slept in a small bed-room on the ground floor, off the kitchen; the servant girl, who slept in the same room, having some articles of wearing apparel to mend, sat up for that purpose, unknown to her master and family, and she (the witness) remained in the kitchen assisting her, until about half-past 11 o'clock, when, hearing her father cough and make a noise as if rising, she and the servant hurried into their bed-room, extinguished the candle, and began to undress; for she was afraid of her father knowing that they had been sitting up, as he had expressly prohibited any of the family from doing so. She and the girl had just knelt down to their prayers, when she heard a stool fall, and her face being turned towards the kitchen, into which a small window looked, she observed her father approaching the fire, from which he took a lighted turf; she then beckoned the servant to watch her father, and the two followed him to the door, where they remained concealed, and actually saw him with his own hand set fire to the car-house, he having first carefully loosened the calf and pig, and set them at liberty. On witnessing such extraordinary conduct on the part of her father, she and the servant hastily returned to the room, and crept into bed. She then heard him close the kitchen door and go upstairs, where he remained about a quarter of an hour, and then came down and gave the alarm of fire.
In addition, she related the particulars of a conversation between her two elder brothers, which she overheard a night or two after the burning. One of them remarked to the other—"It (speaking of the burning) was a good plan to put M'Elroy out of the way:" on which he replied, "Yes, but I doubt my father will go too far—he must perjure himself." She also said, that, some days previous to the burning, her father accused her of being intimate with M'Elroy, and told her that he would not suffer any person of such condition to come near his house, or have any acquaintance with his daughter. Being cross-examined on this point, she declared that she had no particular regard for the prisoner; that there had been no intimacy between them, nor had he ever taken improper liberties with her; that she always addressed him as a servant, and looked on him only as her father's servant. She admitted that she now lived under the protection of the prisoner's relations, having left her father's house about a fortnight previously, at which time she and the maid-servant, who accompanied her, gave information of the foregoing facts to a neighbouring magistrate.
The servant-girl corroborated, in every particular, the statement given by Miss Woods.
A tailor was examined to prove an alibi for the prisoner. He swore, that, on the night on which the burning was said to have taken place, the prisoner came to his house to get a pair of small-clothes mended; and that the prisoner remained in his house from sun-set to sun-rise.
After the examination of these witnesses, the counsel for the prosecution called George Woods, son to the prosecutor, who said, he had heard what was stated by his sister, relative to a conversation between him and his brother Thomas; he swore positively that no such conversation, nor any such words, ever passed between them. Witness stated, that an intimacy had subsisted between his sister and the prisoner, whom he discovered together one day, in a back room of a house in Carrickmacross, in such a situation as left no doubt on his mind of their improper intimacy.
Thomas Woods was then examined, relative to a conversation sworn by his sister to have taken place between him and his brother George. He swore positively that no such conversation had ever taken place.
A girl, named Collins, also in the service of the prosecutor, was examined. She stated, that she was in the kitchen on the night in question, in company with Miss Woods and the servant Ellen, and swore positively, that they did not remain there more than half an hour after the family went to bed; that they merely washed their feet, and did not sew or mend any part of their clothes. She said, that Miss Woods, Ellen, and herself, then went into the bed-room off the kitchen; that they had all three undressed, and were in the act of praying, when the alarm of fire was given by her master. She denied all that the two others had sworn respecting the conduct of her master; nothing of the kind took place that she saw, nor could it have taken place without her seeing it. Charlotte Woods and the girl Ellen were confronted with the last witness, and both adhered firmly to what they had previously sworn. The judge proceeded to sum up the evidence.
The jury remained closeted during the night, and until the afternoon of Thursday, when, not having agreed on any verdict, they were conveyed to the verge of the county, and there discharged in the usual way.