This is a melancholy case; and the victim of offended laws excites our pity, though we must approve his punishment.
John Britain was indicted at the Warwick assizes, August the 18th, 1813, for the wilful murder of his own wife. On his trial the principal evidence against him was his own son, who, on the sight of his father, was scarcely able to sustain the shock. His countenance betrayed his horror at the painful part he was called on to act: nor were his feelings confined to himself: judges, counsel, jury, and spectators, were alike affected at the scene. After some time had been allowed the witness to recover himself, the judge (Sir S. Le Blanc) told him that the task was, indeed, a painful one; but that it was a duty he owed to his God, his country, and the memory of his deceased mother, to relate to the Court such circumstances of the murder of his deceased parent as were within the compass of his knowledge, recollecting that his father had broken the chain that binds society together. After repeated encouragement from the counsel, he proceeded in his testimony, with but little interruption, and in the course of it stated the following facts:
The witness was sleeping, on the morning of the 6th of April, in the same room with his father, mother, and a younger brother; about six o'clock, on being suddenly disturbed by a noise which proceeded from that part of the room where his parents slept, he rose and went to the spot, and there found his father standing in a threatening attitude over the bed in which his mother lay. On examining the bed, be found his mother weltering in her blood, which flowed from a wound she had received from a bar of iron which his father held in his hand. The prisoner was again in the act of raising his hand to strike the deceased, when witness rushed up to him, and wrested the bar from his grasp, exclaiming at the same time, 'O, my dear father, have mercy!' and, in his endeavours to obtain the murderous weapon, received a violent blow on one of his arms. On his father becoming cooler, witness went again to his mother, and saw that she was much bruised about the head and face, her blood flowing very fast: her speech was gone, and she appeared to be in extreme agony. He wiped the blood from her face with some water, and his father in a short time came to the bed and assisted him. Witness left the room to call for the assistance of his neighbours, and then proceeded in search of medical aid. The witness further stated, that he had often been disturbed in his rest, during the last six or seven months previous to the murder, by his father's singular behaviour; as, for instance, by getting out of bed at night, going down stairs, and misplacing the furniture, and by his use of strange expressions. He was convinced that his father laboured, at times, under mental derangement, but nothing had occurred of that description within a mouth previous to the murder.
Some other evidence, in corroboration of the facts above stated, was gone through, when the prisoner was called upon for his defence. He accordingly uttered a long and unconnected address, partaking more of a soliloquy than of any thing else. He seemed to rely on his insanity at the time the fatal deed was committed, and on the act being voluntary and unpremeditated.
The learned judge, in summing up, stated to the jury that they had to confine themselves to the question, whether the prisoner was sane at the time of committing the deed, the fact of the deceased having met her death at his hands being indisputable.
The jury in ten minutes returned their verdict -- Guilty.
On the following Friday he was executed in front of Warwick gaol, in the presence of a large concourse of spectators. He declared that he had no animosity against his wife the time he went to bed on the night of the murder; but that, on a sudden and irresistible impulse, and without any provocation, he jumped out of bed, and perpetrated the horrid crime with a bar of iron. After condemnation he manifested an appearance of calmness and serenity. He left three children to lament his shocking end, and bewail the fate of their mother.