Rodrigues Ottolengui.

A Modern Wizard



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"Diphtheria causes death in several ways. Commonly the false membrane grows more rapidly than it can be removed, and the patient is practically strangled, or asphyxiated by it. It is in such a condition that tracheotomy is essayed, affording a breathing aperture below the locality of the disease. It is not uncommon for the patient apparently to combat the more frightful form of the disease, so that the false membrane is thrown off, and the parts left apparently in a fair state of health, so far as freedom to breathe and swallow is concerned. But then it may happen, especially in an?mic individuals, that this fight against the disease has left the patient in a state of enervation and lowered vitality, which borders on collapse. The extreme crisis is passed, but the danger lurks insidiously near. At any moment a change for the worse might occur, whilst recovery would be very slow. When death comes in this form, it is a gradual lessening of vital action throughout the body; a slow slipping away of life, as it were."

"Exactly! So that such a condition might readily be mistaken for a gradually deepening coma?"

"Yes, sir. Whilst the term coma is applied to a specific condition, the two forms of death are very similar. In fact, I might say it is a sort of coma, which after all is common in many diseases."

"So that you would say that this coma, did not specifically indicate morphine poisoning?"

"No, sir, it could not be said."

"How was the pulse?"

"The pulse was slow, but that is what we expect with this form of death."

"So that the slow pulse would not necessarily indicate poison?"

"Not at all."

"Was the breathing stertorous?"

"Not in the true sense. Respiration was very slow, and there was a slight difficulty, but it was not distinctly stertorous."

"How were the pupils of the eyes? Contracted?"

"No, they were dilated if anything."

"Now then, Doctor – please consider this. Dr. Meredith told us that a symptomatic effect of morphine death, would be pupils contracted and then dilating slowly as death approached. Now did you observe the contracted pupils?"

"No, sir."

"What effect does atropine have upon the pupils?"

"It dilates them."

"Dr. Meredith admitted that he injected atropine. In your opinion would that account for the dilatation of the pupils just previous to death, which you say that you yourself observed?"

"I should say yes."

"I will only detain you another minute, Doctor." Mr. Bliss then asked for and obtained the aluminum hypodermic case and handed it to Dr. Fisher. He asked:

"Doctor, do you recognize that?"

"Yes, it is mine."

"How long has it been out of your possession?"

"I missed it on the day of Miss Sloane's death. I think now that I may have left it there by accident."

Mr. Bliss then yielded the witness, and Mr. Munson began a re-direct examination, which was practically a cross-examination, because this witness, though technically for the prosecution, was in effect a witness for the defence.

The lawyer tried with all his cunning to confuse the old doctor, but the longer he continued the more he damaged his own cause. About the only thing which he brought out that might help him, was the following in relation to the hypodermic case.

"How do you know that this case is yours?"

"Because it is made of aluminum. I had it made to order. I do not think that such another is yet on the market, though the house that made mine for me, has asked permission to use my model."

"So this is certainly yours?"

"Yes, sir."

"If you did not make any injections, as you have testified that you did not, how is it that you could have left this at the house?"

"I probably took it out of my bag, when getting out my laryngoscope and other instruments to treat the throat."

"I see that this case not only contains the syringe, but also some small phials filled with tablets. What are those tablets?"

"They are various medicines used hypodermically."

"Was there any morphine in this case when you last saw it?"

"Yes, sir."

"How much?"

"There was a phial filled with tablets. Altogether eighty tablets, of one eighth of a grain each."

"Please count the tablets remaining, and state how many there are?"

"I find forty-eight."

"That is to say thirty-two pellets have been taken out?"

"Yes, sir."

"Now, then, supposing that this is the identical syringe which the nurse saw Dr. Medjora using, and deducting the four pellets which she found in the bed, how large a dose must have been administered at that time?"

"I object!" said Mr. Bliss.

"It seems to be a mere matter of arithmetic," said the Recorder.

"No, your Honor. That question supposes that the tablets missing from the phial were administered to the patient. Now there is no evidence whatever as to that?"

"Whether the missing tablets were administered or not is a question for the jury to decide. You may state, Doctor, how much morphine was contained in the missing tablets."

"As there are forty-eight here, thirty-two are missing. Deducting four, that leaves us twenty-eight, or a total of three and a half grains."

This was a corroboration of the estimate made by the experts, that three grains must have been the minimum dose administered, and if the jury should believe that these missing tablets had been given by the prisoner, it was evident that they must convict him. So that after all the prosecution did gain something out of the witness who had been forced upon them. They then rested their case, and court adjourned, leaving the opening for the defence until the following day.

CHAPTER VIII.
FOR THE DEFENCE

When Mr. Dudley arose to open the case for the defence, the crowded court-room was as silent as the grave, so intense was the interest. He spoke in slow, measured tones, with no effort at rhetorical effect. Tersely he pictured the position of his client, assailed by circumstantial evidence, and encircled by a chain which seemed strong enough to drag him to the dreadful doom which would be his upon conviction. But the lawyer claimed that the chain was not flawless. On the contrary he said that many of the links had been forged, and he dwelt upon the word with a significant accent, as he glance towards the prosecuting counsel; forged from material which was rotten to the core, so rotten that it would be but necessary to direct the intelligent attention of the jury, to the inherently weak spots, to convince them that justice demanded a prompt acquittal of Dr. Medjora.

A part of his speech is worthy of being quoted, and I give itverbatim:

"This case has aroused the interest of the entire community. Prior to the beginning of this trial the people, having heard but the distorted reports of the evidence against our client, were wondering what the defence was to be. I do not mind confiding to you now that we, the counsel for the defence, wondered also. It had been told in the newspapers, that Dr. Meredith, one of the attending physicians, had suspected morphine poisoning, before the death of Miss Sloane. We were informed that the autopsy, made by most eminent and skilful pathologists, had revealed evidences of this deadly drug. We heard later, that the chemical analysis had proven the actual presence of the poison itself. What defence could we rely upon to refute such damning evidence as that? We were in a quandary. We went to our client and revealed to him the gravity of his position, and we begged him to suggest some way out of the dilemma. What was his reply? Gentlemen of the jury, he said to me: 'I cannot invent any defence. I would not if I could. I would not accept my life, or my liberty, by means of any trick. But I know that I am innocent. Moreover, as a member of the medical profession, and as an acquaintance of the experts who have been at work for the prosecution, I rely upon their integrity and skill, to discover the true secret of this death, which was as shocking to me, as to the community.' Thus we were told by our client to formulate no defence in advance, but to wait for the evidence of the prosecution's expert witnesses, and from the very source from which conviction would be expected, he bade us pluck his deliverance. At the time, it seemed to us a hazardous dependence, but, gentlemen of the jury, it has proven better than we had reason to expect, for it will be upon the testimony of the prosecution's witnesses, almost exclusively, that we will look to you for an acquittal. In evidence of what I have told you, I will ask you to recall the testimony of the first witness, Dr. Meredith. He claimed that the characteristic symptoms of morphine poisoning could alone indicate that death had been due to morphine. Then you will remember that my associate, in cross-examination, formulated a hypothetical question in which he asked if it would not be possible for a patient dying of diphtheria to take morphine, and whilst exhibiting symptoms of that drug, still to die of diphtheria. I submit it to you, gentlemen, was not the hypothesis suggested by that question an ingenious one? I think so, and as such I think that my associate is entitled to credit. But, gentlemen, it was the invention of a lawyer, conscientiously seeking for a loophole of escape for his client; it was not the true, the only proper, defence in this case. And it is this that explains the fact that the question has not been propounded to the other experts. It was, nevertheless, a shrewd guess on the part of Mr. Bliss, though being only the guess of a lawyer groping blindly amidst the secrets of medicine, it does not include the whole truth. But now, our defence has been made plain, illuminated, as it were, by the statements of the experts, who have testified, until even the minds of plain lawyers, like myself and my associate, have grasped it. Then, and not until then, did our client give us information, which he will repeat to you presently, and which corroborates the view which we shall ask you to accept. The simple facts in this case are: Miss Sloane suffered terribly from Bright's disease, until through pain she was driven to take morphine, finally becoming addicted to it. Then came the attack of diphtheria, throughout which Dr. Medjora nursed her, procuring skilled physicians, and a competent nurse, until the arrival of the tragic day which ended her life. When the doctors believed that the worst phase of diphtheria had passed, but when, as you have heard, she was still in danger from exhaustion, she experienced a severe attack of pain caused by the Bright's disease, and to relieve that, morphine was given as you shall hear. That night she died, whether of exhaustion from diphtheria, or whether, because of Bright's disease, morphine had been stored up in her system, until a fatal dose had accumulated, none of us will ever know. But that is immaterial, for in either case, she died a natural death, and thus our client is entirely blameless in this whole affair. The Doctor will now take the stand in his own behalf."

Dr. Medjora did as he was bidden by his counsel, and thus became the cynosure of all eyes. Mr. Dudley took his seat and Mr. Bliss conducted the examination.

"Dr. Medjora," he began, "will you please state what relation you bore to the deceased, Miss Mabel Sloane?"

"She was my wife!" he replied, thus producing a startling sensation at the very outset.

"When were you married, and by whom?"

"We were married in Newark, by the Rev. Dr. Magnus, on the exact day upon which Miss Sloane parted from her mother and left her home in Orange. The precise date can be seen upon the certificate of marriage."

Mr. Bliss produced a marriage certificate, which was admitted, and identified by Dr. Medjora, Mr. Bliss explaining that the clergyman who had signed it would appear later and testify to the validity of the document.

"Did you and your wife live together after marriage?"

"Yes. For more than a year. Then I had occasion to go to Europe for several months, and she went to live at the Twenty-sixth Street house."

"How was it that at that place she passed as a single woman?"

"Because before I went away, I took from her the marriage certificate, and her wedding-ring. I then instructed her to keep our marriage a secret, threatening to abandon her if she did not obey me."

"What explanation have you to make of such conduct?"

"Shortly after our marriage, I discovered that my wife was afflicted with Bright's disease, for which I treated her with much apparent success. Unfortunately, however, previous to our marriage, she had become addicted to the use of morphine for relief until she had almost become an habitu?. I used every effort to cure her, and thought that I had succeeded, when, just before my departure for Europe, I found her one day with morphine tablets and a new hypodermic needle, in the act of administering the drug. In despair I simulated great rage, took away her marriage certificate and ring, and threatened that if during my absence she should use the drug, I would never acknowledge her as my wife. Thus, my apparent cruelty was intended as a kindness. I knew that she loved me, even more than she did morphine, and I hoped to compel her to abandon the drug, by causing her to fear the loss of her love."

"Did you take any further steps for her safety!"

"Yes. I confided her secret, and mine, to a dear friend and skilful physician, who promised to watch over her, and shield her from pain or other harm during my absence."

"Will you state who this friend is?"

"Was, you mean. He no longer is my friend, if he ever was. He proved himself to be a traitor to friendship, for he tried to alienate my wife's affections from me, in which, however, he failed utterly. That man was Dr. Meredith, the false friend who charged me with this crime."

Here was a sensation so entirely unexpected, and the situation became so intense, that people held their breaths, awed into silence. Dr. Meredith, who was in court, held his eyes down and gazed steadfastly at a knot in the floor, whilst those nearest to him saw that he trembled violently. Mr. Bliss, quick to recognize that his client was making a most favorable impression, with true dramatic instinct, paused some time before continuing. Finally he asked:

"Then Dr. Meredith knew that Miss Sloane was your wife?"

"He did."

"Also that she was addicted to morphine?"

"I told him so myself."

"That she had Bright's disease?"

"Yes."

"How soon after your return did you learn that he had been too attentive to your wife?"

"I must object, your Honor," interjected Mr. Munson. "Counsel is again endeavoring to impeach our witness, and I must once more maintain that it is too late to do so."

"The question is allowed," replied the Recorder.

"But, your Honor," persisted Mr. Munson, "you ruled yesterday that questions of this nature could not be asked."

"I know very well what I ruled, Mr. Munson," said the Recorder, sharply. "You objected yesterday to evidence against Dr. Meredith's ability as a physician, and I sustained you. This is a different matter. As I understand it, counsel is now endeavoring to show that Dr. Meredith was a prejudiced witness. I shall allow the fullest latitude in that direction."

"We thank you very much, your Honor," said Mr. Bliss, and then turned to his client saying: "Please answer my question."

"I knew of it before I returned. In fact, it was because of letters from my wife, complaining of this man, that I shortened my trip abroad."

"What happened between you after your return?"

"I charged him with his unfaithfulness to his trust, and we quarrelled. Had he been a larger man, I should have thrashed him!"

"Was it after this that you attacked one of his papers in debate?"

"Yes, immediately afterwards. In fact I think that the quarrel between us had much to do with it. He must have been in a very disturbed frame of mind, to have written such a blundering thesis, for ordinarily he is a skilful physician."

"Then, on the whole, Dr. Meredith was inaccurate when he said that you and he are not enemies?"

"He simply lied."

"You must not use such language," said the Recorder, quickly.

"I must apologize to your Honor," replied Dr. Medjora. "But when I think of what this man has done to me, it is difficult to control myself."

"But you must control yourself," said the Recorder.

"Now, then, Doctor," said Mr. Bliss, "please tell us of your acquaintance with your wife prior to marriage." Thereafter Mr. Bliss always spoke of the dead girl as the wife, thus forcing that fact upon the attention of the jury. Dr. Medjora replied:

"I met my wife when she was scarcely more than a school-girl, and I became interested in her because, as her mother hinted, she was above her people, being far superior to them in intelligence and demeanor. I cannot say when my friendship increased to a warmer feeling, but I think that I first became aware of it, by seeing her mother beat her!"

"You saw your wife's mother beat her, you say?"

"I called one evening, without previous warning, and the door of the cottage being open, I felt privileged to walk in. I saw the girl down on her knees, before the mother, who held her by the hair with one hand, whilst she struck her in the face with the other."

"Did you interfere?"

"I was much enraged at the cruel exhibition, and I took the girl from her mother forcibly. After that I went to the house oftener, and we became more closely attached to one another. The mother never spoke civilly to me after that occurrence."

"Mrs. Sloane testified that she had had a quarrel with her daughter, shortly after which she disappeared. What do you know of that?"

"Mabel wrote to me that her mother had again undertaken to beat her. I use the word advisedly, because it was not a chastisement such as a parent may be privileged to indulge in. Mrs. Sloane would strike her daughter with her fists, bruising her face, neck, and body. Besides, Mabel was no longer a child. When I heard this, I sent a message instructing Mabel to meet me in Newark. There we were married."

"Now, Doctor, we will go back to Dr. Meredith. Will you explain how it happened that, although you and he were enemies, he should have been called into the case?"

"When the attack of diphtheria presented, I undertook to treat it at first. Two days later I became ill myself, and called in Dr. Fisher. I did not tell him that Mabel was my wife, but let him think, with those in the house, that she was merely my fianc?e. I gave the case entirely into his care. During my sickness Dr. Fisher became alarmed, and called in Dr. Meredith, of course not suspecting that there existed any ill feeling between him and me. That Dr. Meredith should have accepted the call under the circumstances, was contrary to medical etiquette, but he did so, and I found him attending my wife when I recovered. I could not interfere very well, without creating a scandal, and, besides, though I despise him as a man, I know him to be one of the best specialists in the city." Dr. Medjora accorded this praise to his rival with every appearance of honest candor, and it was evident that his doing so was a wise course, causing the jury to receive his other statements with more credulity. If he was playing a part he did so with marvellous tact and judgment.

"Between the time of your return from Europe, and this attack of diphtheria, do you know whether your wife took any morphine?"

"Upon my return I did not question her at all. I had made the threat of abandoning her, with no intention of course of carrying it into effect, for whilst I hoped that it would act as a deterrent, stimulating her will to resist the attraction of the drug, I knew from my professional experience that she would not be able to withstand it entirely. Thus if I had questioned her, she must have confessed, as she was strictly truthful. This would have placed me in an awkward predicament, compelling me to admit that my threat had never been seriously intended, and thus I should have lessened my influence over her for the future. However, not long before her last illness, I found a syringe in her room as well as some tablets. These I appropriated and took away without saying anything to her."

"How long before the attack of diphtheria was this?"

"Two or three days."

"Supposing that she had been taking morphine prior to that time, do you think that it might have accumulated in her system, finally producing death?"

"I object!" said Mr. Munson. "The witness is not here as an expert."

"He is the accused," said the Recorder, "and as the party having the greatest interest at stake I will allow him to answer. He simply expresses his opinion. The jury will decide whether it is worthy of credence."

Mr. Bliss smiled with satisfaction, but was a little surprised at the answer, though later he understood better that the Doctor appreciated what he said. The answer was:

"Considering the length of time which elapsed from the moment when I took away the syringe, to the day of her death, I cannot believe that morphine taken previously could have accumulated, and have caused death ultimately."

Mr. Bliss was puzzled and paused a moment to think, whilst Mr. Munson, much pleased at this apparently damaging testimony given by the prisoner himself, wore a pleased expression. Mr. Bliss scarcely knew what to ask next. He glanced at a list of notes supplied by Dr. Medjora and read this one. "Ask me about retained morphine. Go into it thoroughly." The latter part of this sentence convinced him that Dr. Medjora must have conceived his defence along this line, and, therefore, though doubting the propriety of doing so, he ventured another question.



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