Weeks’ trial sheds light on early procedure - HISTORY
Year
1800

Weeks’ trial sheds light on early procedure

The trial of Levi Weeks in New York City ends with his acquittal. The jury, either persuaded by the defense or extremely tired (the trial wrapped up after 2a.m.), returned with their verdict after only five minutes. The decision marked a large victory for Weeks and his attorneys, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.

The case, known as the Manhattan Well Mystery, had captivated the New York City public. It began on January 2, 1800, when Gulielma Sands was found dead at the bottom of a well. Sands lived in a boardinghouse in lower Manhattan and had been engaged to marry Levi Weeks, who also lived in the building.

Not much is known about what really happened to Sands, but the case provides insight into how trials were conducted 200 years ago. Women attorneys, judges, and jurors were unheard of at the tim, and the court had very different rules with regard to the clock: Trials didn’t stop in the late afternoon, or even the early evening. In fact, trials were known to proceed past 2 a.m. Requests for breaks from lawyers claiming fatigue were denied.

In addition, the finer points of evidence and objections were barely developed. In the two-day trial, 75 witnesses appeared and testified. They were generally allowed to tell what they knew without interruption from questions or objections.

Less than five years after defense attorneys Hamilton and Burr teamed up to save Levi Weeks, they fought each other in a duel that left Hamilton dead. Levi Weeks went on to become a respected architect in Natchez, Mississippi. He died in 1819, at the age of 43.

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