26 Apr: Murder In Lafayette Square

On 26th April 1859 Congressman Daniel Sickles’ claimed the dubious honour of becoming the first person in US history to successfully escape a murder charge using the insanity defence, even though pretty much nobody thought he was insane.

Sickles freely admitted that he had shot and killed US District Attorney Philip Barton Key near Lafayette Park in Washington D.C. following his wife’s confession the previous day of her protracted affair with Key. But as it turned out, Sickles’ enormous popularity proved a great asset in court, and the jury needed only 70 minutes to deliberate before returning their verdict that Sickles was not guilty on the grounds of temporary insanity.

In this episode, Arion, Rebecca and Olly explain why Sickles’ crack team of lawyers brought up Shakespeare’s Othello in court; marvel at how an enterprising theatre managed to stage a play depicting Sickles’ trial just a week after the case finished; and discuss why every Civil War general except Sickles was commemorated with a statue at Gettysburg…

Further Reading:

‘Temporarily insane’: A congressman, a sensational killing and a new legal defense’ (The Washington Post, 2018): https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/retropolis/wp/2018/03/02/temporarily-insane-a-congressman-a-sensational-killing-and-a-new-legal-defense/ 

• ‘How Congressman Daniel Sickles Admitted To Killing His Wife’s Lover And Got Away With It’ (All That’s Interesting, 2020): https://allthatsinteresting.com/dan-sickles 

• ‘Daniel Sickles’ Temporary Insanity’ (The History Guy, 2019):


#1800s #US #Crime