Murder vs. Manslaughter

For this week’s post, our general concept was to illustrate the difference between murder and manslaughter, and why Harrison’s sentence was reduced to manslaughter when first charged with murder. We were able to find the differences in murder and manslaughter and when Connecticut formally recognized a distinction between the two. Our overall thought was that the sentence was reduced due to the fact that the victim was a women. We looked through different sources and found different crimes between 1870-1890, to see if we can make a connection that men who murdered women, would receive less jail time, then a man killing a man. Unfortunately we could not make a connection with our hypothesis. We wanted to connect Ada’s gender to Harrison’s jail time. This post was also supposed to be made up with three parts using different subsections from each part as evidence. Part one was murder vs manslaughter, part two the mental health and background of the criminal, which we explored last week, and part three as gender being the focal point in the sentencing. However, we could not make the connection we wanted to with gender.

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According to David H. Wrinn, the state of Connecticut did not formally recognize a distinction between murder and manslaughter until 1719, almost a century after the colony was settled in 1636. Connecticut’s early legal history is closely intertwined with the legal systems and ideology in play in England in the late 17th century to early to mid 18th century. The crime of murder implies that killing was done in malice. Murder can be broken down further into both the first and second degree. A first degree murder is both malicious and premeditated, as well as intentional. A second degree murder differs in that the killing is not premeditated.  Viewed historically, the crime of manslaughter may be divided generally into two main categories as well. The first being voluntary manslaughter. The second: involuntary. Voluntary manslaughter is what we think of when someone is killed “in the heat of passion” whereas involuntary manslaughter would be something more along the lines of driving recklessly and killing someone, or, more specifically, involuntary manslaughter is the act of killing someone accidentally while engaged in a non-felony.

We know from the dossier, Article 9,  that both Harrison and Gregory were originally both charged with murder early on. Their charges were then dropped to manslaughter, and eventually Gregory’s manslaughter charge was dropped as well. Based on the distinctions between murder and manslaughter we can conclude that the lessening of the charges was due to a lack of malicious intent. Based on the evidence, it is possible that Harrison did not intend to kill Brown, explaining the drop to manslaughter. Harrison was eventually sentenced to 7 years at Wethersfield State Prison, as well as given a fine. We suspect the drop in charges as well as the light sentencing may have been related to Brown’s gender as well as social status.

As we saw in Eric Larson’s, Devil in the White City, single or unmarried women were often somewhat disposable. Women with money (or simply with husbands for that matter) were given more consideration or higher priority by police departments. Ada Brown was by no means a woman with money. Brown was single, and living with a man, most likely to foot the bills and support her child. Her status as a lower class single woman could easily have been a significant factor in the charging and sentencing of Harrison.

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