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Elizabeth, Murder in 1845


The Governor of the State of New York

ALBANY, 10th January, 1846

To the Sheriff of Fulton County

Sir ;

The Circuit Judge of the Fourth Circuit has transmitted to me, in obedience to the law, a statement of the conviction and sentence of Elizabeth Van Valkenburgh, now in your custody under sentence of death for the murder of her husband, with the notes of testimony taken by him on the trial.

I have carefully examined this report of the Judge under a deep sense of the responsibility of my position in regard to the convict, and of the solemn character of the decision it becomes my official duty to make; and I sincerely regret to find myself compelled to form the conclusion that there is no ground upon which I can consistently with my conscientious sense of duty, interfere with the sentence which the law has pronounced against this unfortunate woman.

Her age, her state of health, her poverty, her young family, and, more than all, her sex, have appealed to my feelings with painful force in her favor; but her awful crime and the clearness with which it appears to me to be established by the proofs in the case, have forbid that I should yield to those feelings.

The closest examination of those proofs which I am capable of giving to them, has not left a doubt upon my mind of the guilt of Mrs. Van Valkenburgh of the crime with which she stands charged, and of which she has been convicted after a patient and fair trial; and for me, with this view of the case, to interpose and arrest her execution, would be, as it appears to me, to repeal the law prescribing the punishment for murder, in this instance.

The same law which requires the Circuit Judge to transmit to me a statement of the conviction and sentence, with the notes of testimony taken by him on the trial, provides that 'the Governor shall be authorized to require the opinion of the Chancellor, the Justices of the Supreme Court, and of the Attorney General, or of any of them upon any statement so furnished.'

In this case I have had an opportunity to submit the report of the Judge to all of these officers, and they have, in company with myself, gone through with careful examination of the whole report, and a free discussion of all the points of law and evidence presented by it. Their unanimous opinions confirm that I had formed for myself, and which I have above expressed, that there is no ground for a reasonable doubt, from the evidence reported, of the guilt of the defendant.

These gentleman also pronounce to me the unanimous opinion that no question of law raised upon the trial appears from the report to have been decided by the Circuit Judge against the defendant improperly, so as to lay any foundation for my interference to arrest the execution of the sentence upon that ground.

Petitions have been presented to me from quite a number of the inhabitants of several of the towns of your county, praying my interference to arrest the execution of the sentence. They have been carefully examined, and I do not find any new facts stated in them, to enable me to change the opinion as to my duty formed from the examination of the Judge's report.

A suggestion is made in one of these petitions which, though wholly unsustained by any thing appearing in the testimony in the case, it may not be improper for me to notice. It is that the poison was administered to the deceased, not with a view to take life, but under the belief that it would cure his appetite for ardent spirits and reclaim him from his habits of intemperance. -- Had this remedy been attempted when the deceased was under the influence of this destructive habit, and were there no circumstances to rebut the inference that this was the intention, this suggestion, even though out of the case, might deserve great weight; but when it appears from the testimony that the deceased was recovering from a long sickness, and had just been pronounced free from disease by his attending physician; that the poison was procured and administered without the knowledge or advice of his physician; that when sent for because the poison had made the patient again very sick, he was not informed that it had been given, but on the contrary, was confidently assured that nothing had been given which he had not prescribed, these acts, together with the firm denial of the prisoner that she had given poison, and her conduct subsequent to the charge being made against her, render it impossible for me to find, in this unsupported suggestion, a ground for that interference with her sentence, which I cannot find in the report of the trial.

A paper is also presented to me, signed by ten of the Jurors, who pronounced the verdict of guilty in this case. I find no fact stated in this paper to show that the jury would not, with the same testimony, pronounce again the same verdict; and I cannot, after the most careful perusal, consider the expression as casting any doubt upon the guilt of the convict, although it does show that these members of the jury are very desirous that I should interfere and avert the punishment which the law affixes to their verdict. They do not however, present to me any ground upon which I can comply with their request, any more easily than they, believing the prisoner guilty, could have pronounced a different verdict from the jury box.

I have been desirous to give to you, at as early a day as practicable my final conclusion in this case, that you might know what further duty is to devolve upon you in regard to this most unfortunate prisoner; and more especially that you might be able to communicate to her that conclusion, at as long a period as possible before the day fixed for her execution, and particularly if it should be, as from the first reading of the case, -- feared it must, that I could not interfere. Considerable delay has been suffered to wait the application which I was notified would be made on her behalf from the citizens of the county; and this letter is written at the earliest moment, after that application had been fully examined and considered.

You will please to communicate the substance of this letter to Mrs. Van Valkenburgh, without delay, and in the manner which you shall consider best calculated to prepare her mind for the solemn result to which it leads. My personal feelings would impel me to change that result, but an imperious sense of public duty overrules them, and forbids my interference with the course of the law in her case. I hope she will devote the few remaining days allotted to her, to a preparation for that change of worlds she is soon to experience, and for her appearance before that Judge, who knows the thoughts and intents of the heart, and whose pleasure consists, not merely in administering perfect justice to all, but in awarding pardon in return for true and sincere penitence.

I am very Respectfully

And truly yours.


Michael Thompson Esq.,

Sheriff of Fulton Co.,


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