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Mary Mabel ROGERS





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide - To collect insurance money
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: August 12, 1902
Date of birth: 1883
Victim profile: Her husband, Marcus Rogers
Method of murder: Chloroform asphyxiation
Location: Bennington County, Vermont, USA
Status: Executed by hanging on December 8, 1905

Mary Mabel Rogers (1883 – December 8, 1905) was the last woman legally executed by Vermont. Rogers was hanged for the 1902 murder of her husband, Marcus Rogers.


At age 17, Mary married Marcus Rogers. She was noted for being immature and restless, and often stayed away from home when she was upset with her husband. Rogers gave birth to a daughter in 1901. When the child was six months old, Rogers ran into a neighbor’s home crying that she had dropped the baby, who later died of a fractured skull.

Her husband’s family believed she had intentionally killed the child. These suspicions were heightened after Marcus Rogers became violently ill after drinking tea that his wife had prepared for him. Mary Rogers moved out of the house shortly after this incident, but her husband hoped they could reconcile.

The crime

Marcus Rogers found work as a laborer in Hoosick Falls, New York, while Mary lived in Bennington, Vermont. Although Marcus pleaded with his wife to join him in Hoosick Falls, she refused. Mary Rogers struck up relationships with a laborer, Morris Knapp, and two brothers living in the same residence house as Knapp, Leon and Levi Perham. Rogers first approached Levi Perham with an offer of $500 if he would kill her husband. Levi initially agreed to help her, but he was intoxicated at the time and later backed out; he did not tell the police because he felt it was just idle talk.

Rogers then proposed the idea of murdering her husband to Leon Perham while they lay in bed in early August 1902; Leon agreed to help her kill her husband, even though Rogers made it clear that her reason for disposing of her husband was to leave her free to marry Knapp. Rogers arranged to meet her husband in a Bennington picnic grove on the evening of August 12, 1902. Leon Perham was with Mary when Marcus arrived, but apparently Marcus did not question Leon’s presence. That evening, Mary pretended to be happy to have seen her husband and spoke with him of reconciliation.

At some point during the picnic, Mary offered to show her husband a rope trick she had learned from a friend. Mary tied Perham’s hands several times, and each time Perham easily broke free of the restraint, with Mary pretending to be disappointed when he did so. Mary then challenged her husband to try the trick. She tied his wrists a few times, and he also easily broke free. Then Mary “convinced” Perham to try the trick on her husband. When Perham bound Marcus' wrists behind his back, Rogers could not break free. Mary took a vial of chloroform from her purse and forced her husband to breathe it in for about twenty minutes, until he stopped struggling. Mary went through Marcus' pockets and removed his life insurance payment book. Mary and Perham then rolled the body into the nearby river and Marcus Rogers drowned. Rogers tacked Marcus' hat to a tree with a suicide note.

Investigation and trial

The investigation begun after the body was discovered; Perham made a full confession. At Rogers's trial in 1904, Perham was the state's key witness against Rogers. Due to his testimony (and his youth), Perham avoided a death sentence. At her trial, Rogers was portrayed as a shameless harlot and an unwomanly monster. She was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to death by hanging.

Commutation efforts

Following Rogers's conviction, there was a concerted effort to have her death sentence commuted. State Representative Frank C. Archibald of Manchester, who was also one of Rogers' attorneys, introduced a bill in the Vermont House of Representatives that would have commuted Rogers' sentence to life imprisonment. The bill was referred to the judiciary committee on October 12, 1904. On December 6, the committee reported in favor of its passage. On December 7, a vote on the bill in the House of Representatives was defeated by a vote of 139 to 91.

On December 9, Representative Archibald proposed a joint resolution of the Vermont House and Senate to investigate Rogers' physical and mental condition at the time of the commission of the crime and at the present time, and to prepare a report as to her condition for the governor. The resolution stated that if it should appear that Rogers either at the time she committed the crime or at present was mentally or physically unsound, that a reprieve should be requested and her execution delayed until after the 1906 Vermont Legislative Session. The House adopted this resolution but the Senate did not.

On May 30, 1905, Governor Charles J. Bell granted a reprieve to Rogers after the Vermont Supreme Court denied Rogers' appeal by a 5–2 vote; the reprieve was intended to allow the appeal to be heard by the United States Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court heard the case on November 6 and held on November 27 that the Court could not find that Rogers had sustained any violation of her Federal Constitutional rights by the proceedings of the executive or judicial departments of the State of Vermont.

Investigation into prison behavior

In 1904, the Vermont Commission to Investigate State Institutions began investigating charges of misbehavior at the Vermont State Prison, where Rogers was being held. A large portion of the commission's transcripts focused on its examination of allegations of inappropriate sexual relations between prison officers and Rogers.


After the U.S. Supreme Court decision, Governor Bell signed Rogers's execution warrant and the execution was scheduled for December 8, 1905. Rogers inquired on December 7 whether the gallows were being erected, despite efforts having been made to muffle the construction noise. During the ten days between the signing of the warrant and her execution, Rogers ate and slept well, but she declined breakfast on the morning of her execution.

Governor Bell granted leave to hear an appeal from Rogers' counsel at 8 a.m. on her scheduled execution day; however, he found no reason to commute her death sentence. With no new evidence, he declined to stay the execution and Rogers was hanged at the Vermont State Prison later that day.


Did Mary Rogers deserve hanging?

By John Stark Bellamy -

June 12, 2005

Editor's note: Many of the quotations that appear in this story are from court transcripts, official documents and news reports from the Rutland Herald and Bennington Banner.

Mary Mabel Rogers's last seven minutes were probably the best, or at least the best-behaved of her life. When Sheriff Henry H. Peck and his deputies came for her at 1:06 p.m. she arose and walked silently to Windsor Prison Matron Sarah Durkee's parlor where she listened for a few moments to Father Cornelius C. Delaney's final prayer. Walking calmly to her doom, she clutched the crucifix chained around her neck, a last gift from her half-sister Catherine. As she had promised, Mary then walked unaided and quietly to the scaffold, only blanching a shade paler as she spied the fatal rope. Still silent, she mounted the steps, carefully clutching the folds of her black dress so as not to step on it. As per her request, she was wearing a new pair of shoes.

A minute later Sheriff Peck, following the solemn, ghastly ritual prescribed by law, asked her if there was any reason why the sentence of death should not be passed upon her. She made no answer, simply continuing to stare into space as if she had not heard him. He repeated the question. Still no answer, and it seemed to the 40 spectators present as if she were unaware of his query. Mary's hands and ankles were securely tied with rope. Deputy Sheriff Romaine Spafford placed the traditional black cowl over her head. He then said to her, "I now execute the sentence of the law, and may God have mercy on your soul." She nodded and repeated the words, almost inaudibly, "May God have mercy on my soul." A second later Deputy Sheriff Angus McAuley pressed his foot on the wooden trigger and Mary Rogers hurtled downward, the last woman ever to be executed by hanging in Vermont on Dec. 8, 1905. How had this seemingly stoic young woman come to this ignoble end?

Depending on one's view, the Mary Mabel Rogers saga might be suitable matter for either an antique penny dreadful or a Eugene O'Neill play, a la "Desire Under The Elms." Was she a coldly calculating, if careless, virago who plotted her husband's demise for a mere $500 insurance policy and the allure of a new sexual playmate? Or was she merely a spiritually stunted near-moron with no sense of right or wrong, a pitiful but inevitable product of her antecedents and environment?

Whatever Mary's true nature, surely Marcus Merritt Rogers might have chosen a more compatible spouse. Both originally from the Hoosick Falls area in upstate New York, Mary and Marcus met sometime in the late 1890s. Just 16 when she married the 27-year-old Marcus in 1898, Mary, by all accounts, was a vicious, ignorant hellion well before they plighted their troubled troth.

Born on March 9, 1883, the illegitimate spawn of a criminal father and a mentally deficient mother, Mary became an orphan six months later and was subsequently reared by a Johanna Callahan. Immature and restless, Mary hungered for excitement and continually bedeviled the more conventional Marcus with her material demands and frequent absences from home. No matter where they lived—Hoosick Falls, Bennington, Walloomsac or Shaftsbury – Mary was unhappy. Matters were not alleviated by the chronic poverty that dogged the four years of their marriage.

Worse was to come. Mary gave birth to a baby daughter in the spring of 1901, while they were living at Shaftsbury. Six months later she came running to a neighbor's home, crying that she had accidentally dropped the baby at home. When the neighbor returned with Mary, they found the infant dying of a fractured skull. There was no inquest; unexplained infant deaths were not uncommon in that era and Mary was the sole witness. But Marcus's relatives believed that Mary had deliberately murdered her baby. Such suspicions waxed exponentially several months later, after Marcus became violently ill after drinking tea prepared for him by Mary. Shortly after that, Mary moved out of the house. But Marcus would hear no ill word of his teenage wife and continued to hope that he could somehow patch up their foundering marriage.

By the spring of 1902, however, there was little to cling to. Owing to their continuing poverty, Marcus was working as a laborer on his brother William's farm in Hoosick Falls. During Mary's infrequent visits there and Marcus' pilgrimages to see her in Bennington, he pleaded with her to live with him. But Mary always refused, citing their poverty and her relatively comfortable circumstances in Bennington.

"Comfortable" was not the term pious souls would have chosen to describe Mary's Bennington lifestyle. In the spring of 1902 she was living at the Spaulding rooming house on East Main Street. Also in residence there was one Estella ("Stella") Bates, about Mary's age, and of like ephemeral loyalties and elastic chastity. Both girls had a taste for night life, and a number of young men frolicked with them at the Spaulding house and elsewhere. In June 1902, Mary met two men there who would fatally change her life.

One was Morris Knapp, 21, then living with his family on Birch Street. When not toiling as a manual laborer, Morris fulfilled his obligations as a member of the Vermont National Guard. Both commitments left him with ample leisure, and he was happy to strike up the acquaintance of accessible ladies like Mary and Stella. Shortly after meeting Morris, Mary moved out of the Spaulding house to board at the home of Emmett and Laura Perham on Beech Street. Also in residence there were the Perham sons, Levi, 28, and Leon, 18. In July, the Perham family moved to a home on Safford Street. With them went Mary and Morris Knapp. Soon Mary was enjoying sexual relations with Morris and both of the Perham brothers.

There is no evidence that Morris Knapp took his relationship with Mary seriously. Whether he knew about her husband or not, Knapp was not the kind of person to worry about such formalities. He may have believed her when she told him Marcus Rogers was her brother. Maybe not. What he did believe was that they were having a very good time on Mary's mattress and box springs during those long summer nights in her second-floor bedroom in the house on Birch Street. That was enough for him.

Unfortunately for Marcus Rogers, Leon Perham took his relations with Mary very seriously. By the middle of July he was sexually besotted with her. And Leon, like Marcus Rogers, was not a very shrewd person, so it took Mary little time to persuade him to the ends of her dread purpose. That purpose, which she unfolded to him in early August pillow talk, was to murder her husband, Marcus.

Leon was Mary's second choice. She had already approached his brother, Levi. On Sunday, Aug. 10, she had asked him to help her kill her husband. She promised him she would pay him "$500 clean dollars" from Marcus' life insurance. Levi, who had been drinking heavily, initially agreed to the proposition. But after sober second thoughts, he backed out. Strangely, he did not inform the Bennington police authorities about Mary's murderous scheme. He did tell his mother, Laura, but both of them agreed that it was just idle talk.

It wasn't idle talk to the infatuated Leon. The next day he agreed to help Mary, even though she made it clear her primary motive was the freedom to marry Morris Knapp. All was now in readiness except the presence of the victim. He duly appeared on the afternoon of the 12th. After meeting Mary at the Spaulding house at her invitation, Marcus sauntered with her through the Bennington streets, pleading again that she live with him at his brother's farm. They parted about 6 p.m. and Mary's version of their farewell was that when she refused to return to him, Marcus became hysterical. Pulling out his insurance payment book, he hurled it into her lap, demanding that she take it, as she would "never look on his living face again."

Whatever Mary's later lies, it is an established fact that Marcus arrived an hour later at the Bennington home of his cousins, Mabel and Myrtle Phillipott. He said nothing to them of his marital turmoil and he showed them his insurance book. He left about 8 p.m., saying he was going to meet his wife. An hour later, Marcus dropped in on Frank Shaw, another relative, at his home on Congress Street. Marcus left there about 10 p.m. and was never seen alive again by anyone except his murderers.

Leon was sleeping when Mary came to his room on that very day. She awakened him, and after they discussed their plans she said: "Are you ready?" Leon assented — and immediately fell back to sleep. Mary awakened him again at 11 p.m. He got dressed and they silently tiptoed down the back stairs of the house and into the night.

It was a warm night, dark and cloudy. After walking for a few minutes, they arrived at a wooded area by the Walloomsac River known as Morgan's Grove. A half hour later Marcus Rogers showed up. Marcus didn't seem to find Leon's presence there odd, and they sat on a stone wall chatting for a few minutes.

The critical moment came about 11:30 p.m. when Mary said to Marcus, "Stella Bates did some tricks today with a rope. Let me show them to you. Leon, give me that rope." Taking the rope that Leon had brought, Mary said to Marcus "Give me your hands." She tied his hands behind him and asked him to see if he could escape her cunning knot. She carefully disguised her chagrin when he did so easily. Turning to Leon, she said, "You take the rope and tie it."

As soon as Leon tied Marcus's hands, Mary grabbed his head and shoved a bottle of chloroform underneath his nose. Even as Marcus hollered, "Stop!" Mary screamed to Leon, "Hold his legs! Hold his legs!" It took 20 minutes for Marcus to die, as Mary kept the bottle under his nose and Leon hung on to his thrashing legs. Finally, Marcus stopped moving and Leon and Mary fell back in exhaustion.

Leon was beside himself with panic but Mary was equal to the awful moment. "You've got to take the jackknife out and cut the rope and get it off his hands," she commanded. "Then you take him and roll him into the river and cover him up so that nobody can see his clothes." Before the body splashed into the Walloomsac, however, Mary had the presence of mind to rifle Marcus' pockets and retrieve his insurance payment book. Then, Mary picked up Marcus' hat from the ground. Nailing it to a nearby tree, she pinned a "suicide" note to it, carefully composed several hours before. It read:

Blame no one as I have at last put an end to my miseberl life as my wife nows I have every threatened it, every nows I have not enything or no body to live for no one can blame me and so blame no one as my last request.

Marcus Rogers

P. s. May hope you will be happy

The two killers then returned to the Perham home, removing their shoes and tiptoeing back up the stairs.

The crime scarcely needed investigation. Marcus's corpse was discovered 34 hours later. An inquest was held at which Levi Perham testified that Mary had asked his help in killing her husband. Minutes later, a conscience-stricken Leon Perham broke down and made a complete confession. On Saturday evening, Aug. 16, Mary, Leon and Stella Bates were arraigned on first-degree murder charges. They pleaded not guilty.

Although Mary Rogers was defended by competent lawyers, her trial was almost a formality. Leon Perham was the chief witness against her, and the circumstantial evidence was so overwhelming that her lawyers, Frank Archibald and Daniel A. Guiltinan, did not call a single witness to testify in her defense. What hurt her most with the jury, however, was her seemingly cold-blooded demeanor. Characterized by a journalist as a look of "brutal don't care," Mary's impassivity was interpreted by many as evidence that she was an "unwomanly" monster. Just after Christmas of 1903, Mary was sentenced to death, with a tentative execution in February 1905.

Given the cursory nature of her trial, the ensuing fight to save Mary's life was a surprisingly hard-fought contest. Her best hope was the Vermont Legislature, which then had the sole power to commute a death sentence. Only one woman had ever been executed in Vermont, and Mary's chances for a commutation seemed good. But her champions suffered a preliminary defeat on Nov. 16, 1904, when the Vermont House of Representatives voted down a bill to abolish the death penalty.

Efforts then turned to the floor fight over the bill prescribing Mary's commutation. Mary's fight for mercy was led by the Rev. D. J. O'Sullivan, a Catholic priest from St. Albans. His plea was just as stoutly opposed by the Rev. D. L. Hilliard, a Congregational minister from Cabot, who shouted: "Gentleman, you dare not vote to commute this woman's sentence! You dare not do it! I swear to you, gentlemen, before my God, if she was my own sister, I would vote to hang her!"

The final vote on the bill to commute Mary's death sentence was 139 to 91. Rebuffed subsequently and repeatedly by the Legislature and Gov. Charles J. Bell, Mary's partisans turned their efforts to the appeals process. They relied chiefly on fresh affidavits collected by Mary's lawyers. The most important of them contained the testimony of Dr. Leroy D. MacWayne. The doctor swore under oath that he examined Mary Rogers in his Hoosick Falls office on Sunday, Aug 10, 1902. MacWayne had determined Mary was pregnant and that she was suffering from "puerperal insanity" as a result. Windsor Prison Supt. Wilson S. Lovell testified in his affidavit that he had witnessed an interview in which Leon Perham had admitted perjuring himself at Mary's trial. Additional affidavits supported the claims of Mary's partisans that she and her whole family were mentally subnormal. Still another affidavit from Bennington undertaker James Walbridge insisted that he had found a compound fracture in the skull of Marcus Rogers, belying the belief that he had been killed by chloroform asphyxiation.

The evidence of the appeal affidavits quickly collapsed. Mary's opponents produced counter-testimony impugning Dr. MacWayne's professional reputation. They also cited overwhelming evidence that Mary had been in Bennington on Aug. 12. Investigation of Leon Perham's prison interview disclosed that he had admitted lying at Mary's trial but never specified the matter of his perjury. And Walbridge's testimony was dismissed, it seeming improbable that two autopsy physicians could have missed a compound skull fracture.

On May 19, 1905, the Vermont Supreme Court justices heard Mary's appeal based on the affidavits and on May 30, it was denied by a vote of 5-2. Gov. Bell immediately granted a reprieve so that a writ of error could be sought from the United States Supreme Court. Lawyers T.L. Jeffords and F.M. Butler argued Mary's case before the nine justices on Nov. 6, 1905.

Their argument concerned solely the technical issues relating to her sentence and its execution by the Vermont courts. On Nov. 27, U.S. Supreme Court Justice William R. Day handed down the decision denying Mary's last hope for legal salvation.

Mary wept when informed of the Supreme Court ruling. But she soon pulled herself together as preparations commenced for her scheduled hanging on Dec. 8. In the aftermath of her sentencing Mary had angrily spurned religious consolation; when her mother Johanna offered to bring her a Roman Catholic priest, Mary sputtered, "You can take your priest and go to hell. I have no use for him." She now relented, welcoming both the Rev. Father Cornelius C. Delaney and Windsor Prison chaplain W.H. Hayes to her death row cell. There, she spent the last two weeks of her life in the constant company of prison official Merton Loukes and his wife, who were there to keep a "suicide watch" on their prisoner. Mary also whiled away her remaining time by crocheting aprons, her gifts to those who had given her financial and moral support during her long imprisonment.

Crocheting was not all Mary was up to during her prison stay. An investigation of the Windsor Prison in 1905 revealed that Vernon Rogers, a convicted rapist acting as a prison "trusty," had enjoyed access to Mary's cell during the previous March. Owing to the laxity of prison officials, Rogers had procured a key to the front locks of Mary's cell. The result was unfettered fraternization for ten days, during which Mary had sexual intercourse several times with Vernon Rogers.

The disclosure of her jail sex came at the worst possible time for Mary. Lurid gossip about her had been repeatedly denied by prison officials – especially the rumor that they had deliberately given male prisoners sexual access to her in hopes she would cheat the hangman by becoming pregnant. The Vernon Rogers episode seemingly confirmed such rumors and constituted evidence that Mary was an unrepentant, scheming slut, rather than the moronic damsel in distress championed by her supporters. The scandal may have been the critical element in the failure to save Mary Rogers from the gallows.

But the efforts to save Mary's life continued to the bitter end. Thanks in great part to the tireless campaigning of Mrs. William J. Blickensderfer of Connecticut, a self-appointment Rogers champion, Gov. Bell was deluged with petitions from all over the United States demanding he do something to stop her execution. Typical of such heartfelt effusions was a letter from the board of the United Women of the Republic in Cleveland, Ohio. Signed by Mrs. Stephen Buhrer, the wife of a former Cleveland mayor, the letter focused on the barbarity of capital punishment, especially for a woman, and concluded, "It would be a shame and a disgrace in this enlightened day to execute a woman who for her actions was irresponsible at all times."

Such efforts continued to the last minute, with Gov. Bell granting a hearing to hear Mary's appeal by attorneys Charles A. McCarthy and E.B. Flinn at 8 a.m. on her death day. After hearing them out, Gov. Bell stated that the facts did not warrant further delay. And it is only fair to say that, notwithstanding the frantic campaign to save Mary Rogers, Gov. Bell may well have represented majority opinion concerning Mary Rogers. Buried in a dusty file at the Vermont Historical Society in Barre is an ample file of letters applauding Bell's decision to let the Rogers execution go forward. Typical of such effusions was the missive of Brattleboro attorney James Hooker, who, like most partisans on either side of the Rogers controversy, invoked the Deity to support his views, writing, "If ever a person deserved hanging, this wretch did, and I thank God the law has been vindicated." No less effusive was the praise of second-year Harvard Law students Carroll M. Perkins and John B. Roberts, who boasted that they took "honest pride as citizens of New England" in Bell's steely implementation of the law.

Mary played her part well in the final grisly scenes. After a good night's sleep, she awoke at 5 a.m. and dressed herself without aid. She then labored over a last note to prison Supt. Lovell. It read:

Dear Mr. Lovell,— As I am not much in speaking, I pen you a few words as an expression of my extreme gratefulness for your extreme friendness [sic] bestowed upon me since in your care.

Mr. Lovell, I may not always have done as well as I might have done, perhaps, but my only means of atonement now for what is past is to tell you that I am sorry and heartily sorry. I know that you have a very kind heart and I am bound to think that I may obtain from you forgiveness.

You know that Jesus tells us, "If thy brother trespass against thee and turn again to thee saying I repent, forgive him. Be ye tender-hearted and forgiving, even as God for Christ's sake has forgiven you in his name."

Mary skipped both breakfast and lunch on her last day on earth.

It appears that the other actors in Mary's final scene may not have played their parts as well as she. Although there were at least 40 spectators to her death, descriptions of her death differed widely. The real truth may never be known, as the only official account of her execution was a very sketchy release written by a committee of three reporters, the only representatives of the press allowed into the prison by Supt. Lovell. Other supposedly eyewitness descriptions, however, eventually leaked out and they suggested that the hanging was grotesquely botched. Owing either to an unforeseen elasticity in the hemp rope or the weight of Mary's body, the rope stretched so much as she fell through the drop that her feet were seen to hit the ground below. Prison officials denied that her feet remained there, claiming that she bounced back up in the air. Other witnesses, however, stated that it was found necessary for Deputies H.A. Bond and P.C. Tinkham to grab the rope above Mary and hold it up for the entire 14 minutes it took her to die. This account, however, was angrily denied by prison officials and also by one of Mary's original lawyers, Daniel Guiltinan, who witnessed her death. In any case, her execution clearly malfunctioned at the most basic level, as her neck was not broken by the initial drop and the 40 witnesses watched uncomfortably as she agonizingly strangled to death. One attending deputy was later quoted as saying, "I had to turn away my head. May I never be commanded to take part in another such undertaking."

The execution of Mary Rogers did not put an end to arguments about her degree of guilt. Although it was not brought up at her original trial, the burden of Mary's subsequent defense was that she was either insane or at least not intelligent enough to be legally responsible for killing Marcus Rogers. As Mary came closer and closer to the gallows, more and more persons came forward to insist that her whole family was notorious for its mental instability and that she herself had never been better than a "half-wit." (Judging from the trial record, the same could have been said of Marcus Rogers, Stella Bates, Morris Knapp and both Perham brothers.) Suffice it to say that Mary Rogers was probably mentally deficient, virtually uneducated and not intelligent enough to cover the least of her tracks in the clumsy plotting of her husband's death. The last word on the Rogers case therefore should go to the anonymous Bennington Banner reporter who covered her trial and sentencing for the hometown crowd. Commenting on Mary's seemingly cold, calculated courtroom demeanor, the journalist acknowledged popular perceptions of her "unwomanly" behavior, but offered this persuasive demurral: "The impression she gave the reporter was that she is a stupid, ignorant woman, whose stupidity has been mistaken for nerve."

John Stark Bellamy is a writer from Corinth.



Supreme Court of Vermont

199 U.S. 425 (26 S.Ct. 87, 50 L.Ed. 256)

MARY MABEL ROGERS, Appt., v. HENRY H. PECK and Wilson S. Lovell.

No. 368.

Argued: November 6, 1905.
Decided: November 27, 1905.

Opinion, Day

The appellant, Mary Mabel Rogers, having been convicted and sentenced in the county court of Bennington, in the state of Vermont, of the crime of murder in the first degree, filed her petition on June 19, 1905, for a writ of habeas corpus against the sheriff and superintendent of the state prison, in the district court of the United States for the district of Vermont. The petition, having been heard, was denied on June 22, 1905. From that order an appeal was taken to this court.

The conviction of appellant was had at the December term, 1903, of the Bennington county court, and she was sentenced to be confined at hard labor in the state prison at Windsor until the 3d day of November, 1904, and on and after that day to be kept in solitary confinement until February 3, 1905, on which day she should suffer the penalty of death by hanging. On the first day of February, 1905, the Governor of the state of Vermont reprieved the execution of sentence until June 2, 1905. On April 29, 1905, the appellant presented a petition for a new trial to two judges of the supreme court of Vermont. On May 5, 1905, the judges made an order allowing the petition for new trial to be filed, and fixed May 10 for the hearing thereof. After hearing before the supreme court, sitting at Montpelier, Washington county, on May 30 an order was made dismissing the petition, and refusing the new trial. Rogers v. State, 77 Vt. 454, 61 Atl. 489. On June 1, 1905, the execution of sentence was further reprieved by the Governor until June 23, 1905. Thereupon appellant filed her petition in the Federal court for the writ of habeas corpus, which was dismissed, as heretofore stated. On the date of the dismissal of her petition (June 22, 1905), the Governor further reprieved the execution of the sentence until December 8, 1905. The appeal to this court was allowed on June 22, 1905. The petitioner (appellant) averred that, by the various proceedings in the state courts and her incarceration in the prison in solitary confinement, she has been restrained of her liberty and is about to be executed without due process of law, guaranteed for her protection by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

Messrs. Tracy L. Jeffords, T. W. Moloney, and F. M. Butler for appellant.

Argument of Counsel from pages 427-428 intentionally omitted

Mr. Clarke C. Fitts for appellee.

Argument of Counsel from pages 428-431 intentionally omitted

Mr. Justice Day delivered the opinion of the court:

For the reversal of the judgment and order of the district court of the United States, discharging the writ and remanding her to the custody of the Vermont authorities, appellant relies upon the following specifications of error:

'First. Because the petitioner was and is deprived of her liberty by the state, and subjected to the punishment of solitary confinement without any statute authorizing such punishment, and without any sentence of any court directing such punishment, and therefore without due process of law.

'Second. Because the supreme court of Vermont, having taken jurisdiction of the petition for a new trial, and having failed to comply with the requirements of law in respect of ordering a stay of execution and fixing the time for the execution of the petitioner, has failed to fix a day for the execution, and the Governor of Vermont has no right or authority to fix such a day, and the petitioner is being held to be executed in accordance with a precept not authorized by law, and which is not in and of itself due process of law.

'Third. Because the state of Vermont, having failed to maintain an appellate court in the County of Bennington, as required by its Constitution, has deprived the relator of the opportunity to be heard by a court of competent jurisdiction, and thus deprived her of due process of law.

'Fourth. Because the Governor of Vermont, having issued his order requiring execution of the petitioner on December 8, while proceedings were pending in the courts of the United States for her relief on habeas corpus, said order of the Governor is to be deemed null and void, and the petitioner should be released from custody thereunder.'

We shall notice these several assignments in the order named.

As to solitary confinement of the prisoner, it is not contended that she was not properly sentenced in this respect by the court of original jurisdiction. The statute of the state of Vermont (Vt. Stat. § 2007) provides:

'When execution is not to take place until after six months from date of sentence, the court at the same time shall sentence the respondent to hard labor in the state prison or house of correction until three months before the time fixed in the sentence of death for execution thereof, and shall also sentence him to solitary confinement in the state prison or house of correction from the expiration of the sentence to hard labor until the time of execution.'

The court, in sentencing the appellant to be hanged on the first Friday of February, 1905, in pursuance of this statute, imposed a sentence of three months at hard labor until within three months of the time fixed for the execution, and three months of solitary confinement next before the day of execution.

The complaint in this behalf is not of a sentence alleged to have been imposed in violation of law but because of the manner in which the appellant has been kept in confinement in prison after the original day fixed for the execution of the sentence. She alleges that she is suffering solitary confinement without due process of law, within the meaning of the 14th Amendment. If she is held in such confinement by the state authorities,—which the record does not disclose, the confinement shown being close rather than solitary,—we are of the opinion that no case within the Federal protection is made. Re Medley, 134 U. S. 160, 33 L. ed. 835, 10 Sup. Ct. Rep. 384, is cited and relied upon by counsel. That case presented an entirely different question. It was there held that a sentence under a state law passed after the commission of felonious homicide, affixing the punishment of solitary confinement for a period of six months in addition to the death penalty, was an ex post facto law within the meaning of § 10, article 1, of the Federal Constitution, and therefore void. In Rooney v. North Dakota, 196 U. S. 319, 49 L. ed. 494, 25 Sup. Ct. Rep. 264, it was held that a statute which substituted close confinement in the penitentiary for a period before execution longer than had theretofore been authorized for confinement in jail was not an ex post facto law. In the present case no sentence or law is being violated, and, assuming the appellant to be held in solitary confinement, there is nothing to prevent her having relief at the hands of the state authorities, and nothing to show that the appellant is being deprived of her liberty in violation of any right secured to her by the Federal Constitution.

The extent of the right of the Federal courts to interfere by the writ of habeas corpus with the proceedings of courts and other authorities of a state is carefully defined by statute. When a prisoner is in jail he may be released upon habeas corpus when held in violation of his constitutional rights. Rev. Stat. § 753, U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, p. 592. In the case before us, assuming for this purpose that the appellant has been properly convicted and sentenced of one of the gravest offenses known to the law, she is properly restrained of her liberty while in custody, for the purpose of making the sentence effectual. If her custodian is improperly restricting her freedom more than is necessary or legal under state law, there is no reason to suppose that the state authorities will not afford the necessary relief. And certainly there is nothing in this branch of the case to justify Federal interference with the local authority intrusted with the keeping of the prisoner.

The reluctance with which this court will sanction Federal interference with a state in the administration of its domestic law for the prosecution of crime has been frequently stated in the deliverances of the court upon the subject. It is only where fundamental rights, specially secured by the Federal Constitution, are invaded, that such interference is warranted. Ex parte Reggel, 114 U. S. 642, 29 L. ed. 250, 5 Sup. Ct. Rep. 1148; Re Converse, 137 U. S. 624, 34 L. ed. 796, 11 Sup. Ct. Rep. 191; Allen v. Georgia, 166 U. S. 138, 41 L. ed. 949, 17 Sup. Ct. Rep. 525; Hodgson v. Vermont, 168 U. S. 262, 42 L. ed. 461, 18 Sup. Ct. Rep. 80; Brown v. New Jersey, 175 U. S. 172, 44 L. ed. 119, 20 Sup. Ct. Rep. 77; Re Frederich, 149 U. S. 70, 37 L. ed. 653, 13 Sup. Ct. Rep. 793.

As to the second assignment of error,—arising from the failure of the supreme court of Vermont to grant a stay, and fix time for execution of the sentence when it entertained and denied the petition for a new trial,—at the time of the ruling in this behalf the prisoner had been reprieved until June 2. The decision was made before that day had arrived (May 30th). It is difficult to perceive any good reason for requiring the court to fix a time for sentence which was already definitely set by the reprieve of the Governor. It was the opinion of the supreme court of Vermont that it was not required to do so, and this decision cannot be reversed by Federal authority. It has been so frequently ruled by this court, that it is scarcely necessary to cite cases, that the Federal courts will not, by writs of habeas corpus, undertake to reverse the proceedings of the state courts, while acting within their jurisdiction, under statutes which do not conflict with the Federal Constitution. Re Shibuya Jugiro (Shibuya Jugiro v. Brush) 140 U. S. 291, 35 L. ed. 510, 11 Sup. Ct. Rep. 770; Re Wood (Wood v. Brush) 140 U. S. 278, 35 L. ed. 505, 11 Sup. Ct. Rep. 738; Andrews v. Swartz, 156 U. S. 272, 39 L. ed. 422, 15 Sup. Ct. Rep. 389.

Whether, when the Governor had issued a reprieve which carried the date of execution beyond the time of decision in the supreme court, such action rendered unnecessary the fixing of a new day for execution, was purely a question of state practice, not controlled by the Federal Constitution or laws, and upon which the state court had final jurisdiction. Lambert v. Barrett, 159 U. S. 660, 40 L. ed. 296, 16 Sup. Ct. Rep. 135.

As to the third assignment, that the state of Vermont had failed to maintain an appellate court in the county of Bennington, as required by its Constitution, and thereby deprived the appellant of an opportunity to be heard in review by a court of competent jurisdiction, the state has the right to determine for itself the courts in which crime may be prosecuted, and the appellate tribunals, if any, to which such causes may be carried for review. McKane v. Durston, 153 U. S. for review. McKane v. Durston, 153 U. S. 913. Due process of law, guaranteed by the 14th Amendment, does not require the state to adopt a particular form of procedure, so long as it appears that the accused has had sufficient notice of the accusation and an adequate opportunity to defend himself in the prosecution. Louisville & N. R. Co. v. Schmidt, 177 U. S. 230, 44 L. ed. 747, 20 Sup. Ct. Rep. 620; Wilson v. North Carolina, 169 U. S. 586, 42 L. ed. 865, 18 Sup. Ct. Rep. 435.

The appellant had the right, by the laws of the state, to have a jury trial before a competent court. Upon exceptions, duly and seasonably taken for errors of law alleged to have occurred upon the trial, the appellant had a right to review in the supreme court (Vt. Stat. § 1961); whether this court should be held in each county, or at the state capital for all the counties, is entirely a question of state procedure, presenting no Federal question for review here.

The fourth assignment of error calls for the consideration of § 766, Rev. Stat. of the United States, as amended. 27 Stat. at L. 751, chap. 226, U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, p. 597. This section provides in substance that any proceeding against a person imprisoned or confined or restrained of his liberty, in any state court, or by authority of any state, pending the proceedings or appeal in habeas corpus cases in the Federal courts, and until final judgment therein, and after final judgment of discharge, shall be null and void. The contention for the appellant in this behalf is that the order further staying execution of the sentence by the Governor of Vermont, made on June 22, 1905, granting a reprieve until December 8 of the same year, was made pending the habeas corpus proceedings in the Federal courts, and is therefore void. The order of reprieve was made on June 22, the day upon which the writ was dismissed and appeal allowed to this court, just after the petitioner was remanded to the custody of the state authorities, and very shortly before the appeal here was allowed. The power of the Governor of Vermont to grant reprieves in cases of murder is ample. Vt. Const. Amend. art. 8, chap. 2, § 11. And such power is neither granted nor withheld by the Federal Constitution. Storti v. Massachusetts, 183 U. S. 138, 46 L. ed. 120, 22 Sup. Ct. Rep. 72.

It is perfectly apparent that it was exercised in the present instance for the very purpose of permitting the prisoner to appeal to this court, and not to render ineffectual or in anywise interfere with the jurisdiction and orders of the Federal courts. Statutes should be given a reasonable construction with a view to make effectual the legislative intent in their enactment. The object of this statute is apparent. It requires the state courts and authorities to make no order, and entertain no proceeding, which shall interfere with the full examination and final judgment in a habeas corpus proceeding in the Federal courts (Re Shibuya Jugiro Shibuya Jugiro v. Brush 140 U. S. 291, 35 L. ed. 510, 11 Sup. Ct. Rep. 770), and in no wise to interfere with the judgment if it shall result in a restoration of the petitioner's freedom when wrongfully imprisoned or restrained. The proceedings annulled are 'against the person so imprisoned,' etc. The statute aims to entirely prevent action which shall interfere with the perfect freedom of the Federal courts to inquire into the case and make such orders and render such judgment as they shall see fit.

The reprieve granted has had the effect doubtless intended by the chief executive of the state, to allow the cause to be heard upon appeal in this court. To denominate such an order a proceeding against the prisoner would do violence to the terms of the statute and defeat, not carry out, its purpose.

We are unable to find that the appellant has sustained any violation of rights secured by the Federal Constitution by the proceedings of the executive or judicial departments of the state of Vermont. The final order is affirmed, mandate to issue at once.



Death by hanging. After spending two years in a Vermont prison, Mrs Mary Mabel Rogers (1883-1905) is hanged for killing her husband, Marcus Rogers, in 1902 -- she takes 14 minutes to die. She was the last woman to be legally executed in Vermont.



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