February 9, 1929: Wife-beater Fails to Convince Jury of Innocence


By Margaret Leidy Harner from her book One Day at a Time: A Social History of Boyertown, PA.

February 9, 1929: The jury deliberated three minutes before returning a verdict of guilty in the trial of William Smith a 67-year-old farmer from Sassamansville, who was accused of brutally beating his 38-year-old wife Alice. She testified at length of the troubles that led her to have her husband arrested, and that the beatings had been continuing over a long period of time.

The couple has four children and the oldest, a 10-year-old son, had summoned two neighbors during one of their fights, to come to their house to witness what his father was doing to his mother. Looking through a window, they saw Smith grab her by the hair and strike her, to which they testified in the trial. Having had enough of his brutality, one night after being slapped around and told to “get the hell out of my house,” she did, going to a magistrate to whom she told her troubles.

During the trial it was stated the “Smith showed a strong inclination to “talk back” at his wife while she was testifying. Efforts of his counsel, Robert Potts, to restrain him were “without avail,” until the judge threatened to send him to jail for contempt of court. That worked.

By the time he was called to the witness stand, Smith had calmed down and coolly denied all the allegations of his wife and neighbors, emphatically testifying that he had never struck her. Apparently, the jury didn’t buy it.

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