AMONG the causes célèbres of American criminal jurisprudence, the case of The People v. Spies et al. will hold a prominent position. The atrocity of the act for which the defendants were prosecuted, the protracted trial, the intense popular interest in the issue, and the resort to all possible expedients to overthrow the result at which the trial court and the jury had arrived,—expedients including an appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States, and a petition for an inquiry as to the sanity of the prisoners after they had been condemned to death,—will make it a source of permanent interest to lovers of the sensational, while the points of law involved will render it worthy of the attention of the legal student.
But while the points of general municipal law raised in this remarkable case are both important and interesting, the purpose of the present article is not to consider them, but to deal with the case solely in its relation to the federal tribunal.
The circumstances which led to the prosecution of Spies and his seven associates, for the murder of Matthias J. Degan, are familiar to every one. That prosecution culminated in the judgment of the Supreme Court of Illinois affirming the judgment of Judge Gary. Then, and then only, did the opportunity occur for
- Reported on appeal, 122 Ill. 1; and 123 U. S. 131.