You Be The Judge

Relying on Eyewitness

Mr and Mrs Twichell lived in a house next to the street.
One night, Mr Twichell killed Mrs Twichell. Mr Twichell was convicted and executed. Justice done? Yes? No? Maybe? Here is more of the story.

Mr Twichell hit his wife on the head while they were in the bedroom. She died instantaneously. Mr Twichell then dragged her body to the front room. There he planned an alibi. He bent a poker and covered it with her blood. He then opened the front door and went back to bed. Made it look like some outsider had done the deed.

The next morning, the house-maid went to the front room, as she did every morning, and found the corpse. She ran out onto the road, screaming.

On her story, Mr Twichell was arrested and tried. The maid said that as soon as she found the body, she OPENED the front door and ran out. This meant that only a person staying inside the house could have murdered Mrs Twichell. Mr Twichell was duly convicted and sentenced to death.

 Now it so happens that, in many studies carried out in strictly controlled circumstances, witnesses never agree on what they actually saw. Not even 50% of the witnesses to an incident can even remember, or agree upon, the colour of the clothes the person, or persons, were wearing. Memory can play peculiar tricks and most witnesses, especially after prolonged periods, tend to testify to what they sincerely believe. They genuinely think that they are repeating the honest-to-goodness truth.

In this case, while awaiting his execution in jail, Mr Twichell confessed to his lawyer that he had left the door open and that the maid was not giving the correct story. Obviously, Mr Twichell himself could not have countered her testimony! The later consensus was that as the maid was so used to opening the door every morning, she imagined that she had done the same that day too. She was a creature of habit as we all are. If we take the left turn out of our home every morning, do we not do that instinctively even on that one day we have to turn right?

Now, you be the judge.
A murderer, admittedly a self-confessed one, is tried, convicted and executed. Is justice done? Especially when a man loses his life on false testimony?

To our mind, it was a wrong conviction of the right person. The correct option would have been for the lawyer to bring this point to the attention of the court which would then have recorded Mr Twichell’s testimony, such a confession being a valid one that can be used as evidence in a trial. He could then have been convicted on the basis of new testimony to avoid being set free on the plea of double jeopardy. We would have ordered a mis-trial. In matters of justice, the end cannot justify the means. It is for the judge to sift between truthful testimony, perjury and mistaken beliefs. It is a tough job; but it has to be done.

Now, this case brings to the fore the many subtleties in such instances. Was the maid really, and honestly, mistaken or was she put up by the prosecution to mouth this story? After all, this happened more than a hundred years ago when legal niceties were as rare as hen’s teeth.

Did the door slam itself shut with the wind at night? Did
Mr Twichell, in his anxiety to speed up the cover-up, actually forget to leave the door open and go back to bed believing he had? Did some passer-by, seeing the door ajar, shut it as an act of service?

For those interested in the frailties of the human mind and the tricks it can play, Psychology and the Day’s Work by Prof Edgar James Swift, amongst others, will be interesting.

Our story, however, does not end here. TWICHELL DID MANAGE TO CHEAT THE HANGMAN. His friend, a chemist, smuggled some very potent poison into the prison and Mr Twichell took it. And he, too, died instantaneously. Now, you be the judge. What would you have done to the chemist?

Bapoo Malcolm is a practising lawyer in Mumbai. Please email your comments to [email protected] or [email protected]



prakash nandedkar

4 years ago

a very thought provoking

Hero MotoCorp picks up 49.2% stake in Erik Buell Racing

The move is a part of the Indian two-wheeler major’s strategy to enhance technological prowess, post the break up of the erstwhile joint venture with Honda—Hero Honda

India’s largest two-wheeler maker Hero MotoCorp today said it has picked up 49.2% stake in US-based Erik Buell Racing (EBR) for $25 million (about Rs148 crore).


The company has incorporated a wholly-owned subsidiary in the US by the name of HMCL (NA), Inc for the purposes of investing in Erik Buell Racing, Inc, Hero MotoCorp (HMC) said in a filing to the BSE.


“HMCL(NA) has agreed to invest $25 million in EBR for a total stake of 49.2% in the share capital of EBR. The first tranche of $15 million has been invested by HMCL (NA) on 28 June 2013,” it added.


The second tranche of $10 million is proposed to be invested within the next nine months, the company added.


The company said it will work with Erik Buell Racing for selling bikes in North America and Europe, chief executive Pawan Munjal told reporters.


Last year Hero MotoCorp had entered into technology sourcing pact with EBR as it looked to strengthen its presence in the high-end bike segment.


The development is a part of the Indian two-wheeler major’s strategy to enhance technological prowess, post the break up of the erstwhile joint venture with Honda—Hero Honda.


The idea behind entering into partnership with EBR was a part of HMC’s overall strategy to have multiple technology sources for different segments and enhance its own R&D capability.


In December 2010, the Hero Group and Honda had agreed to end their 26-year-old relationship, with the Indian partner agreeing to buy out Honda’s 26% stake in Hero Honda for Rs3,841.83 crore.


The two erstwhile partners had, however, signed a new licensing agreement under which Hero will pay Honda 45 billion yen (about Rs2,450 crore) till 2014.


2G spectrum case: SC dismisses Essar, Loop plea on special court jurisdiction

A two-member SC bench rejected the pleas of the telecom companies that they be tried in a magisterial court unlike other accused in 2G cases as they have not been charged under Prevention of Corruption Act

The Supreme Court on Monday dismissed the pleas of Essar Teleholdings and Loop Telecom challenging the special CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) court’s jurisdiction to hold trial against them and their officials in the 2G spectrum case.


Over a year after the judgement was reserved, a bench of justices GS Singhvi and SJ Mukhopadhaya rejected the pleas of the telecom companies which pleaded that they be tried in a magisterial court unlike other accused in 2G cases as they have not been charged under Prevention of Corruption (PC) Act.


The bench, which had reserved its judgement in May 2012, said there was no merit in the plea and dismissed the same.


The companies and their officials are facing trial before the special CBI court constituted specially to hold trial in 2G scam case as the apex court had earlier refused to stay the proceedings against them.


The two telecom firms had said they have been named in the charge-sheet under Section 420 (cheating) and 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the IPC and the charges were triable by a magistrate and not by the special court constituted for hearing the 2G case.


Other accused named in the third charge sheet in 2G case are Essar Group promoters Anshuman and Ravi Ruia along with Loop Telecom promoters Kiran Khaitan, her husband IP Khaitan and Essar Group Director (Strategy and Planning) Vikash Saraf.


The companies and their promoters have denied any involvement in the scam.


The counsel appearing for Essar had said that even in the charge-sheet against them, CBI has said the offence was triable before a magistrate’s court but it was filing the charge-sheet before the special court as it was set up on the order of the apex court to deal with the 2G scam.


The counsel had said the 10 February 2011 order for setting up the special court exclusively for hearing the 2G case was delivered on the assumption that it was a case of corruption and the charge sheet would be filed under the PC Act.


17 other accused, including former telecom minister A Raja, his former private secretary RK Chandolia, former telecom secretary Siddharth Behura, DMK MP Kanimozhi and officials of Reliance ADAG, are also facing trial for their alleged involvement in the 2G case.


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