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The Life, Crime and Capture of John Wilkes Booth George Alfred Townsend

Letter VIII: The Trial

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The face of Payne is not of the traditional southern peculiarities. He resembles rather a Pennsylvania mountaineer than a Kentucky rustic.

Three weeks ago I gave, in an account of the conspiracy which many gainsayed, but which the trial has fully confirmed, a sketch of this man, to which I still adhere. He was furnished to Booth and John Surratt from Canada; sent upon special service with his life in his hands; and he faced the murder he was to commit like any prize-fighter. I pity Beall, who died intelligently for a wretched essay against civilians, that his biography and fate must be matched by this savage's!

Next to Payne, and crouching under him like a frog under a rock, is an inconsiderable soldier, who chews his cud, and would cheerfully hang his protege for the sake of being rid of him. My sympathies are entirely enlisted for this soldier; he has neither the joy of being acquitted, nor the excitement of being tried. He is quite a sizable man by himself, but Payne overhangs him, and the dullness of the trial quite stultifies him. The few points of law which are admitted here are not so evident to this soldier as the point of his bayonet. I see what ails him.

He wants to swear.

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A beam running overhead divides the court lengthwise in half, and as the prisoners sit at the end of the court, the German Atzerott, or Adzerota, has a place just beneath the beam. This is very ominous for Atzerott. The filthiness of this man denies him sympathy. He is a disgusting little groveler of dry, sandy hair, oval head, ears set so close to the chin that one would think his sense of hearing limited to his jaws, and a complexion so yellow that the uncropped brownness of his beard does not materially darken it. He wears a grayish coat, low grimy shirt, and the usual carpet slippers of threadbare red over his shifting and shiftless feet. His head is bent forward, and seems to be anxiously trying to catch the tenor of the trial. Many persons outside of the court, Atzerott, are equally puzzled!

From as much examination of this man as his insignificance permits, I should call him a "gabby" fellow--loud of resolution, ignoble of effort. Over his lager no man would be braver. His face is familiar to me from a review of those detective cabinets usually called "Rogues' Galleries." As a "sneak thief" or "bagman," I should convict him by his face; the same indictment would make me acquit him instantly of assassination. In this estimate I rely upon evidence as well as upon appearance. Atzerott swaggered about Kirk wood's Hotel asking for the Vice-President's room; Payne or Booth would have done the murder silently. Nobody pities a dirty man. The same arts of dress and cleanliness which please ladies influence juries.

Next to Atzerott sits a soldier--a very jolly and smooth faced soldier--who at one time hears a witness say something laughable. The soldier immediately grins to the farthest point of his scalp. But he is chagrined to find that the joke is too trivial to admit of a laugh of duration. Very few jokes before the present court do so. But this soldier being of long charity and excellent patience, awaits the next joke like a veteran under orders, and reposes his chin upon the dock as if aware that between jokes there was ample time for a nap.

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The Life, Crime and Capture of John Wilkes Booth
George Alfred Townsend

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