Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Daniel Carroll Brent, 10 October 1802

To Daniel Carroll Brent

Washington Oct. 10. 1802

Dear Sir

On a suggestion that Judges Kelty & Marshall who pronounced sentence on Mc.Gurk were divided as to the recommending him to mercy I reprieved him that the opinion of judge Craunch might be obtained, who had also sat on the trial. I have this day recieved his opinion against a pardon. this is known to the criminal; and I have good information that, seeing all other hope cut off, he means to try every thing to make his escape. I therefore have thought it material to apprize you of this, and to recommend that no vigilance be spared to prevent his escape. not knowing the construction of the jail I can suggest nothing as to the position of the guard, but your knolege of it will enable you so to place it as to render his escape impossible without connivance. Accept my friendly salutations & assurances of respect.

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC); at foot of text: “Colo. D.C. Brent.”

OPINION OF JUDGE CRAUNCH: William Cranch wrote to James McGurk’s lawyer, Augustus B. Woodward, from Quincy, Massachusetts, on 20 Sep., responding to letters from Woodward and McGurk. Although there was “no direct Evidence” that McGurk had been motivated by a “deliberate intention to kill his wife,” the jurist noted, there was also “no evidence of any circumstance which could justify his striking her at all.” Cranch, who thought juries often demonstrated a “great tenderness” in cases involving capital punishment, was surprised that the jury deliberated only a few minutes before finding McGurk guilty, but he considered the verdict to be correct. In McGurk’s case, the judge noted, no “adequate punishment, short of death” was available to the court. When the choice was either “an unqualified pardon” or “a just punishment of the offender,” Cranch wrote, “whatever I might be disposed to do as a private citizen, I can not, as a judge, recommend the criminal to the mercy of the President. The interests of society, which it is my duty to protect, demand that crimes like these should be severely punished” (in DNA: RG 59, GPR; endorsed by TJ “Mc.Gurk’s case” and “Judge Craunch’s opinion”).

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