The trial of this person took place at Aylesbury, on Tuesday, March 10th, 1840, before Mr. Baron Parke, when the indictment charged that the prisoner had been guilty of the manslaughter of John Charles, on the 21st of October previous, at Buckland, in Buckinghamshire. The case excited a great deal of interest in the county, from the condition in life of the deceased and the prisoner, who were both respectable farmers, and from the close intimacy which had long existed between them, as well as from the mysterious manner of the death of the former. Though the coroner's jury returned a verdict of manslaughter only, the prosecutors sent up a bill of indictment for murder to the grand jury, which they ignored.
The main circumstances of the case were, that on the:20th of October 1839, the deceased John Charles went, about ten o'clock in the forenoon, to the "Boot," on Buckland Common, where he had some beer; and while there, the prisoner came in to take lunch, about twelve o'clock. They remained talking and drinking together until about five o'clock in the evening, when the landlord, John Edwards, came in, with whom they had some more drink. About half-past ten o'clock at night they rose to go away, their road being the same to pretty near their respective homes. Before they went, however, Charles said, "I think I am the best man now, let us walk the chalk;" meaning that he was the less intoxicated of the two. "Walking the chalk" is, in this part of the country, the test of drunkenness, and the experiment is performed by the attempt to walk straight upon a chalked line drawn across the floor, or by walking along the straight line between two layers of bricks where the floor is of that material. The experiment was tried in this case, and the result proved that Charles, the deceased, was the less affected by drink of the two; and he therefore undertook, as is usual between two companions on such occasions, to see the other safe home. Neither of them ever reached his home, for the deceased perished on the way, and the prisoner having been taken into custody the same night, remained in Aylesbury jail up to the day of the trial. The first person who made known the dreadful catastrophe was the prisoner himself, who, about half-past twelve o'clock on the same night, in a very wild and still intoxicated state, went to Johnson, the policeman, in the town of Tring, about two miles from the place where the death took place, and told him "he had killed a man." At first the policeman did not believe him, thinking it the mere folly of drink; but he persisted, and said he would take him to the place where the body lay. The policeman then went with him, and in a lane leading to the homes of both parties, the body of the deceased was found lying on its back on the grass, in a place not exactly on the road, but where a gap in the field, which was the termination of a footpath running parallel with the lane inside of the hedge, led into the road. That path was one which had been made by people going through the adjoining land to avoid a bad part of the road; and having passed that portion of the road, they came into the road again. The prisoner, before the body was found, had told the policeman that he was sure the person he had killed was "Joe Kibble, the sweep of Tring, who had been sent by Humphrey Bull to kill him." Humphrey Bull was the relieving officer of the union, of which both the prisoner and the deceased were guardians, and was of different politics from the prisoner, the latter being a liberal, and Bull a conservative; but they were on good terms; and nothing could show more strongly the strange state of delusion which the effects of intemperate drinking had wrought upon the prisoner's mind on that fatal night, than that he should give as a reason for killing one of his friends, that he believed him to be an assassin sent by another friend for the purpose of murdering him! On examining the body of the deceased, it was found to bear marks of dreadful beating on the head and face, which had produced great effusion of blood. The bones of the nose were completely broken, and a surgeon deposed to a concussion of the brain, as one of the effects of the violence which caused death. In the pockets of the deceased were found a ten-pound note, a five-pound note, and some sovereigns. On the notes being taken out of the pocket, the prisoner immediately exclaimed, "These are the two banknotes which Bull gave Joe Kibble to murder me!" At that time nobody present was aware that the body was that of farmer Charles. So far from that, the policeman actually sent a person to the house of Charles, to ask him to come to see the body. The prisoner had previously told the police that he had been going home from the Buckland Inn, with his friend Charles, but the latter parted from him somewhere on the road, he could not tell where. The probable solution of the mystery is, that the deceased, who was proved to be, when in his cups, of a jocose disposition, and rather addicted to the too-often dangerous practice of practical joking, or what is vulgarly called, "larking," had, in going home that night, resolved to frighten Patteson, who, though a man of prodigious bodily strength, was known to be rather deficient in courage, and had before expressed fears of going home by that lonely road. With this view, it is supposed that Charles, taking advantage of the very drunken state in which Patteson was, slipped away from him among some trees which stood at the entrance of the footpath which we have before described, and which ran parallel with the road along which Patteson had to proceed to his home. A. high bank and hedge would screen any person going along this pathway from the view of another on the road. At the place where the pathway led again into the road, at the gap, there was a mound of earth with an open space between that and the hedge, so that a person coming from the gap might, by going partly behind that mound, be concealed until he came suddenly in view, and this is probably what the deceased did in order to frighten his companion; and the position of the body near the gap when found seemed to strengthen that supposition. Whether the deceased laid hold of the prisoner before the latter saw him or not must remain for ever involved in obscurity, as the panic-terror into which Patteson was suddenly thrown, operating upon the drunkenness, caused him to destroy the unfortunate man immediately; and it is probable that from his strength, his first blow knocked him senseless. The prisoner said, that, while he was beating the supposed murderer on the ground, he asked him "who sent him to kill him," and that he pronounced the name of "Bull" three times. This of course was the mere hallucination of the temporary frenzy produced by drunkenness and terror. When the prisoner and deceased left the inn together, the latter had a knobbed walking-stick in his hand, the other had none. The stick was found under the body of the deceased, but not marked with blood, or presenting any appearance that could show that it had been used in inflicting the wounds by the prisoner. Those wounds the surgeon was of opinion were inflicted by the fist only. The prisoner was in an agony of grief as soon as he was made aware that it was his friend and companion Charles that he had so unwittingly slain, and continued in a state of deep affliction, even up to the time of his trial.
On behalf of the accused, evidence was adduced which showed that he was a most amiable and respectable man.
Mr. Baron Parke, in summing up the evidence, told the jury that if they were of opinion that the delusion which operated on the mind of the prisoner, and led to the perpetration of the fatal act, was caused by such an alarm of personal danger as would not have produced a similar effect upon the reasonable mind of a sober man, they must find him guilty of manslaughter, otherwise the act would be excusable homicide.
The jury returned a verdict of "Guilty of manslaughter," accompanied by a recommendation to mercy.
Mr. Baron Parke, in pronouncing judgment, observed, that from the time he had read the depositions he believed the fatal act of the prisoner to have been the result of a delusion produced upon a mind which intoxication had deprived of the control of reason; that the prisoner never had the slightest intention of killing his friend, with whom it was proved he never had any quarrel, was clear beyond all doubt. It was not right that he should, however, go altogether unpunished, but in consideration of his having already suffered five months' imprisonment, he should sentence him to be imprisoned for two months only, hoping that this case would be a warning to all who heard it of the danger of indulging in intemperate habits.