Roger writing the LAWmag
02
Oct 2011

"Kill Me", The Victim Said.

The devil made me do it is an old and well-versed defense in criminal law which, if believed, is usually a ticket for a long career in an institution for the criminally insane.

Another variation on the theme is much more terrifying: the victim made me do it, now returned to the forefront of the law by proponents of active euthanasia as those who have assisted face the sting of charges of murder and the attendant wrath of the criminal law.

On at least two occasions in the history of the law, mainstream criminal defendants have run with it, seeking judicial blessing because, they claimed, their victim asked that he might, by the hand of the accused, at the place, time and method of the victim's choosing, end his life.

1919: "Willy, Kill Me"?

When 60-year old George Jones was found by London police on June 11, 1919, he was practically beaten to death. In fact, with three knife wounds in the neck and three others in the chest, he lasted only three more days and was able to identify his attacker, a 17-year old by the name of William Nelson Adams. As he lay dying, he explained to the police that he had recently befriended Adams, had put the boy up in his home and took him to the local pub on the night of the attack.

Soon after Jones' death, Adams was arrested and promptly admitted to killing Jones. But, he told police, it was assisted suicide, really. Jones had supplied the weapon (a sharp shoemaker's tool) on the way to the pub and asked for a rather unique special favour in return for his hospitality:

"Will you kill me?"

Adams explained that Jones was depressed about an insurmountable income tax bill and then pointed to his neck suggesting to Adams that this would be the most efficient location for the stab.

kill meBut Adams had three facts against his unlikely story. First of all, he had fled the scene and secondly, he was found to have Jones' money on his person. Finally, he swore that there had been a witness to the whole thing, a Mr. Charlie Smith, but no-one could ever find Mr. Smith.

The teenager was found guilty of murder and sentenced to be hanged, but his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

1961: "Marty, Shoot Me"?

On the other side of the Earth, from north to south, in Cape Town, South Africa, March 24, 1961, a wealthy, 36-year old landowner, Dieter von Schauroth, was found shot in the head. The suspect was his 23-year old bodyguard, Marthinus Rossouw.

Author Rob Marsh wrote:

"On the morning of Saturday, 25 March 1961, von Schauroth's body was found at the side of the Old Malmesbury Road, about 24 kilometres from Cape Town…. Controversy surrounded the death of von Schouroth from the outset. There were allegations that he had been involved in illicit diamond dealing and, of course, there was the matter of his (360,000 rand) life insurance."

Rossouw was charged with murder and the jury trial commenced on September of 1961 presided by Justice Beyers. His defence team immediately introduced the theory of assisted suicide: that the victim was unhappy in his marriage and facing financial ruin. In the case, the decision was made to have the accused give evidence. Rossouw claimed that von Schauroth surprised him one night on a drive by giving him a revolver , a cheque for 2,300 rand and saying:

"I want you to shoot me ... in the back of the neck."

Once again, this novel defense ran into serious difficulties when the court was advised that Rossouw initially told police that he had not seen the victim on the night of the murder. Rossouw was himself in financial difficulties. A forensic expert gave evidence that it appeared that the victim had fallen backwards and not forwards; and that victims of a firearm discharged at point blank range into the back of the neck would inevitably fall forward.

The jury took 30 minutes to return a verdict of guilty for which Marthinus Rossouw was hanged at Pretoria on June 20, 1962.

REFERENCES:

  • Lane, Brian, Chronicle of Murder: A Dark and Bloody History of Our Age (London: Robinson Publishers, 2004)
  • Marsh, Rob, For Services Rendered, Famous South African Crimes [retrieved from the Internet on October 2, 2011, http://www.africacrime-mystery.co.za/books/fsac/chp13.htm]
  • Nash, Robert, Encyclopedia of World Crime: Criminal Justice, Criminology and Law Enforcement, Volume 1 (Wilmette, Illinois: Crime Books, 1990).

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