Reason First: How Can Someone Get Away With Murder?
Daniel Sickles left a long trail of calamities during his 95 years on earth. But was he guilty of murder?
A Medal of Honor recipient and a wounded veteran from the Civil War, Daniel Sickles led a life of crises and mishaps. At once a hero at the same time an alleged murderer, Sickles took it upon himself to strike down Philip Barton Key, the son of Francis Scott Key, writer of the Star Spangled Banner. Sickles had financial issues, marital problems, and all sorts of downfalls to speak of during his life. However, this incident would prove to be a landmark case.
Sickles, confined to his jail cell, kept his firearm for some strange reason. One conjecture would be that he was an old, white man in the 19th century. This isn’t privilege but pure racism. Imagine a black man holding onto a pistol in a jail cell. No matter if Key had put the moves on Sickle's wife, he had no right to shoot him three times like a mangy dog in the streets, in the light of day.
This case became so significant because it remains the first time that an insanity defense came across the courtroom and found permissable. Sickles said point blank that he shot Key and said that he “intended to kill him. He deserved it.”
Just imagine a black man being given the same treatment. Court officials would say, “Oh, you shot and killed a white man in broad daylight, they’ll be no more daylight for you.” Sickles positioned himself as a womanizer himself but couldn’t stand the fact that his wife enjoyed the company of other men. This simp mentality actually worked for him. He killed a prominent senator and the descendant of one of the most famous Americans in history.
As a congressman and later general in the Uniion Army, “Devil Dan” walked this earth as if he could escape from all of his problems by emoting.
The key component to this case is the fact that he served his country with honor and distinction both as a civilian and a soldier, respectively. But his defense of insanity is the true shining moment in all of this. What does it take for someone to be insane enough to commit the crime and still know what he did and then turn around and enter the very first insanity defense and be freed?
It all lies in the fact that racism plagued the justice system as it does now. Sickles is just an example of a man who could do anything he damn well pleased because he had the complexion for protection for protection. This is in no way a privilege. His ability to offer this defense hinged upon his background and his standing in the community. As a respected member of the House of Representatives, he could have killed anyone and said that insanity drove his actions.
Sickles represents the idea that the men in power could’ve gotten away with almost anything in those times. He had garnered enough recognition to be reprimanded for cavorting with prostitute Fanny White. His hedonism and emotion-fueled behavior led him to a place that might’ve been his final resting place.
Rather, Sickles beat the case like an old Louisiana slave in 1841. But this case occurred in Washington D.C. Imagine, if you will, the outcome of the life of a black man being acquitted for killing a white man in the same situation and time. His life after the ruling would be hell. Fraught with danger that he could br lynched would be around him, he’d be fighting for his life at every turn. Sickles’ insanity defense based on the alleged grief that he experienced as a cuckolded husband held up in court. Would it stand in today’s court, though?