All day long a large and anxious crowd blockaded the main entrance to the Court House, and the patience and temper of Bailiff Smith and his constables were tried to the utmost in the almost vain endeavour to keep order. However, they succeeded in keeping back the sometimes angry crowd without using unnecessary force. Bailiff Smith says that if he said “you can’t get in” once, he said it a thousand times.
Spectator January 31, 1876
The McConnell Trial commences:
“This morning at eleven o’clock the trial of Michael McConnell on the charge of murdering James Nelson Mills was commenced. Long before the time appointed for the trial, a large crowd of people had gathered in front of the Court House, and it was all that a large posse of constables could do to keep them back. Mr. Sinclair, Crown Counsel; assisted by Mr. B. B. Osler, conducted the prosecution, and Mr. John Crerar appeared for the prisoner. A large number of the legal gentlemen of the city were present, also a large number of the County Magistrates. The prisoner appeared perfectly collected, but showed a deep interest in the proceedings. He was slightly pale, but whether this was owing to his confinement in the jail it would be hard to say. He was neatly dressed in grey pants and a black coat.
The following are the jury empanelled : George Buell, foreman ; Robert Douglass, John Arthur, Thos. Innes, John Fillman, David Biggar, J. A. Hunt, James Adams, Robert Pollock, Jos. Haney, Michael Clark, and James Munn.
Mr. Sinclair said : The prisoner at the bar, Michael McConnell, stands charged with the crime of murder, the most terrible in the calendar, and it is, therefore, your duty, gentlemen of the jury, to divest your minds of any impressions which they may have acquired, but to judge the prisoner by the evidence which will be adduced in the box. Murder is the killing of one man by another whom he hates. The law presumes that hate is the cause of murder. On Wednesday morning, the 10th of January, the deceased – Nelson Mills – had placed a landlord’s warrant in the prisoner’s house; the prisoner’s wife carried the news to her husband, and he became greatly incensed, and then and there sharpened his knife, placed it in the sleeve of his coat and walked out of his stall, uttering threats against someone; his wife went with him ; he went to McNab street, up McNab to King, up King to Mills’ house on the corner of George and Queen streets. He then rapped at the door and asked for Mr. Mills. That gentleman was not in, and on turning from the door, he met his victim, and without any hesistation (illegible) on Mr. Mills’ person. Should the defence set up the plea of insanity, the jury should look well into it, and see that it was clearly and distinctly made out, as every man is responsible for his acts. The prisoner had done business in this city for the last five years, and though he was known to be a man of violent passions, still he was never taken to be insane. Mr. Sinclair referred to the death. He pointed out that the deceased died of the wounds he received at the prisoner’s hands. Therefore, if you find that the prisoner inflicted theese wounds, then it will be your duty to find the prisoner guilty of murder. It may be a painful duty to you, still it is your duty to preserve peace and order, and show that the strong arm of the law will mete out justice to those who do wrong.
Robert Milne, sworn : Am a photographer in the city of Hamilton; know where the late Nelson Mills lived on the corner of Queen and Geirge streets; it was a brick house; was called to photograph the locality. The first view produced represents the spot where it is supposed they first met; the house faces on Queen street. The second view produced is taken from the first place where the deceased is supposed first to have fallen. View No. 3 produced is the place on George street, where he is supposed to have fallen last. The places were marked out to me by the colored servant; the fence at the corner is iron – the rest of the fence surrounding the premises is of stone.
Andrew Gage, sworn : Am father-in-law of the late Nelson Mills; I lived in the house with him; was living with him on the morning of the 8th of January; the last I saw of him that morning was at the breakfast table; his general state of health was good; I think he was about 57 years of age; he was a man of very regular habits; the next I saw of him was after the stabbing; from a message brought to me I went down and out on George street, and saw a hat lying on the street and on turning round I saw the prisoner going past me on Queen street; he said to me “ I have done it for him, and I intended to do it.” ; he had a butcher’s knife in his hand; the knife produced resembles the one he had in his hand; he continued going south on Queen street; Mr. Mills was McConnell’s landlord; I know that relation existed between them; I had been employed by Mr. Mills to collect the rent the last two times; after I met McConnell he disappeared from my vision ten or twelve feet past the corner of Queen street; Mr. Mills died on the morning of the next Sunday; I never heard the wounded man say he would recover; heard him say on the day of the stabbing that he would never get well; Mr. Cahill was only there on one occasion.
At this point Mr. Crerar asked that the witnesses be put out of court.
Mr. Sinclair said he would agree to the witnesses being put out of court, although the counsel for the defence had no legal right to demand it.
Cross-examined by Mr. Crerar : I was present with Mr. Mills at breakfast on the 5th of January; he went out and I remained in the house; was in my own room ; left there when my grandson came in and said his father was murdered; I went out of the front door; saw no one on my way through the house; I turned to the left towards George street; the first person I saw was McConnell; he was walking towards me; just as I got to the corner on George street he was then crossing George street on Queen street; I told numbers of people of the remark made to me by McConnell; at the time I first saw McConnell there were several men and boys gathered; did not hear any of them speak to him; I saw Mr. McConnell the day before the murder; I went for the rent; McConnell told me to tell Mills that he would come and see him; heard Mr. Mills say on Tuesday night that McConnell had been there and had words about some cedar posts; McConnell’s exact words to me after the stabbing were : “I have done it for him, and had intended to do so.” I never heard Mr. Mills express the belief that he would recover.
Mr. Staunton testified to the accuracy of certain plans of parts of the city, including prisoner’s house, the market and Mr. Mills’ house; the distance from the market to Mr. Mills’ house is 3,311 feet; I walked the distance and timed myself; it took me 8 ¾ minutes from McConnell’s stall to Mr. Mills’ house; I walked as a man would who was in a hurry; the letters on the plan produced are points which were pointed out by the colored servant; B is where Mr. Mills fell the first time on the corner of George street; it is 8 ½ feet from Mr. Mills’ gate; E shows where he fell the second time; it is 145 feet from D; the plan now produced marked 6 is a plan of the four westerly stalls in the market, including McConnell’s; a person in Morris’ stall could see into McConnell’s.
George Morris, sworn : Am a butcher; carry on that business in the market; the plan produced shows the position of my stall and of the prisoner’s; on the morning of the 5th of January saw prisoner in his stall between 8 and 9 o’clock; I saw him sharpen his knife on his steel; his wife was there at the time; he then put it up his sleeve, point upwards, and the handle in his hand; he was going to leave his stall when his wife put her hands on his shoulders as if to prevent his going; he pushed her aside, and came out and told her to follow; heard him say, “I will see it he (or they) will boss me”; prisoner was in the habit of leaving at 12 o’clock for dinner; don’t remember him leaving so early as on the morning in question; never saw a butcher carry a knife in that way before.
Cross-examined : It is quite usual for a butcher to sharpen his knife in his stall; my attention was first called to McConnell by Mr. Taffe, who said, “See! What’s the matter with McConnell and his wife?”; it was then that he was sharpening his knife; I saw no appearance of excitement in his manner; can’t say that he had on a guernsey that morning; did not see McConnell give his wife a purse while they were in the stall; when he said that he would see if they would boss, he appeared somewhat heated in temper; can’t say that he addressed the remark to anyone.
At half-past one, the Court took recess for three-quarters of an hour.
Court again assembled at 2:15.
The first witness called was Francis Teaffe – sworn – My occupation is that of a butcher in James street market; the same market in which prisoner does business; the plan produced shows the positions of the stalls, including mine and the prisoner’s; on the 5th of January I saw prisoner’s wife come his stall; she appeared to be in haste; I went and spoke to Morris about it; heard her tell her husband that the bailiffs were in the house; he passed his hand behind, untied his apron, took his steel and sharpened his knife, put on his coat and stuck the knife up his sleeve; he did not use the knife for any purpose then; his wife put up her hands as if to prevent him going out; he pushed her aside and told her to mind her own business; he then said that he would show them; his wife followed him; that was all I saw; prisoner’s usual hours were from eight in the morning until noon; never saw him put a knife up his sleeve before.
Cross-examined by Mr. Crerar – First saw prisoner’s wife coming across the market square, going from west to east; she appeared to be in haste; her haste was the reason which drew my attention to her; heard her tell her husband about the bailiffs; did not hear her ask for money; did not see him give her his purse; I asked Morris if he seen Mrs. McConnell and said I wondered what was up; in sharpening the knife he seemed to be particular in sharpening the point; you can tell the difference by the sound between sharpening the point of a knife and the other parts of it; he came out of te stall before his wife did; think his boy Peter was in the stall; did not hear prisoner tell Peter to close the stall at the usual time; the only remark I heard prisoner make was that “he would soon show them.”; I have had McConnell before the Police Magistrate for calling m names; I was never brought before Police Magistrate by prisoner, and was not bound over to keep the peace; I have not been on speaking terms with the prisoner for more than a year past; I am not aware that the prisoner ever charged me with being the man who struck him on the head; I saw him get his eyes blacked one day, but I don’t remember the name of the young man who did it; I believe I had a little skirmish with him myself but it was a long time ago; it must be two or three years ago.
Sarah Smith, (colored) sworn : was in the service of Mr. Mills for five years; on the 5th of January Mr. Mills had breakfast in the house; he afterwards went out, about thirty minutes after that I saw him coming across Queen street; I saw the prisoner , then he came to the door and asked if Mr. Mills was in; I told I would see; I then went in and saw Mrs.; soon afterwards I heard the cry of murder; I went to the door; it was then I saw Mr. Mills running across Queen street; the prisoner was running after him with a knife in his hand; the knife produced resembles it; I saw the knife quite distinctly; Mr. Mills fell near the corner of Queen and George, and prisoner struck him several times on the head; Mr. Mills turned over when he again stabbed him in the body; prisoner then went along George to Queen street; Mr. Mills was assisted in through the side gate by Mrs. Mills; he died four days afterwards; saw his remains and knew them to be that of Mr. Mills.
Cross-examined by Mr. Crerar : think the cry of murder which I first heard, came from the woman who was with the prisoner; when prisoner left Mr. Mills, he walked up the north side of George street to Queen street.
Cross-examination going on at the close of our report.