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No. 12, Lowndes Square

by Thomas Waters

The failure of Justice in the remarkable case of Sheen, or Shea, the child-slayer, excited, it will be remembered, feelings of uncontrollable surprise and anger in the minds of the British community. Sheen, who kept a raffish public-house in Saint Gile’s, London, cut off, in a fit of drunken rage, literally cut off, his child’s head. He was arraigned for the murder, and ultimately acquitted—the popular notion being that he escaped conviction in consequence of having been indicted in a wrong name. This was a misconception. The result was a gross blot in the records of English criminal practice; but not quite so bad as that. Mike Sheen was indicted by the name, if I remember rightly, of Michael Shea, and a true bill for willful murder was returned by the grand jury. The prisoner pleaded not guilty; and Mr. Adolphus, the then Old Bailey counsel par excellence, objected that the accused’s name was Mike Shea, as set forth in the verdict of wilful murder returned by the coroner’s inquisition. In those days a judge had no power to amend any clerical error in an in­dictment; and Mr. Burbage, junior counsel for the Crown (his leader, Mr. Alley, being absent for the moment), consented, the Recorder concurring, that Shea should be tried on the inquisition. Mr. Adolphus saw his chance and seized it. In his seemingly careless, off-handed way, he said, that if that were to be done, it would be necessary to take a formal verdict of acquittal under the bill found by the grand jury. The Recorder acquiesced; the formal verdict was given, and recorded, as of course, by the clerk of arraigns. The prisoner was then charged as Mike Shea, upon the inquisition; Mr. Alley, who had returned into Court, was about to open the case for the Crown, when Mr. Adolphus objected that the prisoner had been already tried for the alleged crime, and acquitted—his plea, in technical phrase… Read More