JOHN BROWN HANGED – 1859
In Charles Town, Virginia, militant abolitionist John Brown is executed on charges of treason, murder, and insurrection.
Brown, born in Connecticut in 1800, first became militant during the mid-1850s, when as a leader of the Free State forces in Kansas he fought pro-slavery settlers in the sharply divided U.S. territory. Achieving only moderate success in his fight against slavery on the Kansas frontier, and committing atrocities in the process, Brown settled on a more ambitious plan in 1859.
With a group of racially mixed followers, Brown set out to Harpers Ferry in present-day West Virginia, intending to seize the Federal arsenal of weapons and retreat to the Appalachian Mountains of Maryland and Virginia, where they would establish an abolitionist republic of liberated slaves and abolitionist whites. Their republic hoped to form a guerrilla army to fight slaveholders and ignite slave insurrections, and its population would grow exponentially with the influx of liberated and fugitive slaves.
At Harpers Ferry on October 16, Brown’s well-trained unit was initially successful, capturing key points in the town, but Brown’s plans began to deteriorate after his raiders stopped a Baltimore-bound train and then allowed it to pass through. News of the raid spread quickly, and militia companies from Maryland and Virginia arrived the next day, killing or capturing several raiders. On October 18, U.S. Marines commanded by Colonel Robert E. Lee and Lieutenant J.E.B. Stuart, both of whom were destined to become famous Civil War generals, recaptured the arsenal, taking John Brown and several other raiders alive. On November 2, Brown was sentenced to death by hanging.
On the day of his execution, 16 months before the outbreak of the Civil War, John Brown prophetically wrote, “The crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.”
KENNEDY COUSIN RAPE TRIAL BEGINS – 1991
Opening testimony takes place in the highly publicized rape trial of William Kennedy Smith, a nephew of President John F. Kennedy and son of Jean Kennedy Smith, the president’s sister and a former ambassador to Ireland. Smith, then a 30-year-old medical student at Georgetown University, was accused of sexually assaulting a 29-year-old Florida woman in the early hours of March 30, 1991, at the Kennedy family’s Palm Beach compound.
On the night of March 29, Smith went out in Palm Beach with his uncle, Senator Ted Kennedy, and cousin, Patrick Kennedy. They ended up at a night spot called Au Bar, where Smith met the accuser, who later accompanied him back to the Kennedy estate. Smith and the woman went for a walk on the beach, during which time Smith allegedly tackled and raped her. Taking the stand in his own defense in court, Smith testified he had sex with the woman but that it was consensual. At the trial, Judge Mary E. Lupo barred prosecutors from presenting testimony from three other women who claimed Smith had assaulted them.
As a member of one of America’s most famous families, Smith became the subject of intense public scrutiny and his trial turned into a media circus. Millions of viewers watched the nationally televised event and reporters from around the globe converged on the West Palm Beach courthouse. On December 11, after deliberating for 77 minutes, the six-member jury acquitted Smith on all charges. (In an interesting side note, Smith’s lead defense attorney, Roy Black, later married Lisa Haller, one of the jurors, in 1995.)
During the live television coverage of the trial, the accuser’s identity was electronically obscured with a large dot to protect her privacy. However, following the trial, the woman, Patricia Bowman, chose to identify herself publicly.
William Kennedy Smith became a doctor after the trial, specializing in working with victims of land mines, and remained largely out of the national spotlight. In 2004, a Chicago woman who was Smith’s assistant at the nonprofit Center for International Rehabilitation filed a lawsuit accusing him of sexual assault. A judge subsequently dismissed the suit.
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