Wednesday, December 30, 2015

On This Date in Minnesota History: December 30

December 30, 1905 – At 3 p.m. today, Stella Brennan was found guilty of murder in the second degree for the shooting deaths of three of her stepchildren, Elizabeth, Alice and Arthur. The jury was out for 20 hours after listening to close to two weeks of testimony.

She will not hang, but must suffer imprisonment for life; a sentence expected due to Mrs. Brennan’s testimony that a doctor had recently examined her while she was in the county jail, and affirmed that she was in a “delicate condition.”

In response to County Attorney Al J. Smith’s rapid volley of questions, Mrs. Brennan also stated that:

• Contradictory to the information in their Chicago divorce records and
  testimony of several prosecution witnesses, she testified that she had
  no problem with the children; her problem was with her husband’s

• She had previously suffered four miscarriages;

• While married to Mr. Brennan and living in Chicago, she had attempted to
  commit suicide 
by turning on the gas; her stepson Tommy had discovered
  her and saved her life;

• The reason she and her husband brought the children to an orphanage in
  Chicago was so that the children could be taken care of while she went to
  visit her family for two weeks.

The defendant and her attorney, E. S. Cary, came into court with an unusual defense: she did not kill Elizabeth Brennan, and if she did kill her, it was when she was insane and not responsible for her acts.  What?!
Drs. Williams, Bartlett and Clark were sworn in and testified that Mrs. Brennan is and was at the time of the murder, in a delicate condition; second, that if she committed the horrendous crime of which she is accused, she was, in their opinion, insane. On cross-examination, however, each of the experts testified that she is sane now, that she now knows the difference between right and wrong and that she may have known the difference when she committed the crime. Another what?!

“Do you assume that the defendant did murder these children?” Smith asked Dr. Clark.

“Yes,” Dr. Clark replied.

Dr. Bartlett, a specialist in nervous diseases and for years connected with insane hospitals, told the courtroom he believed the defendant committed the crime and was insane at the time.

The defense attorney also pulled a Johnnie Cochran. Cary gave Mrs. Brennan the revolver admitted into evidence, and asked her to pull the trigger. She first tried with the left hand, and couldn’t do it. Then she tried with her right hand; again, she couldn’t do it. Lastly, she tried using both hands, but the result was the same. (If she cannot shoot, you must give her the boot?)

Mrs. Brennan continued to stress that she saw a man at the end of her bed, and that he was the one who had shot her. Apparently the jury did not believe that anyone else was in their rooms with a gun but her.

Expecting to be acquitted, Mrs. Brennan burst into sobs at the announcement of the verdict; one of the rare times during the trial she had shown any emotion.

Stella Brennan entering Stillwater Prison

Stella Brennan was sentenced to the State penitentiary for life. “Until the establishment of the Shakopee State Reformatory for Women (1920) the Stillwater prison received female as well as male convicts.”1


Murder of three Brennan children while they slept; oldest son and stepmother shot; see Nov. 4, 2015 blog

Stella Brennan indicted by coroner’s jury for murder of stepdaughter; see Nov. 9, 2015 blog

Stella Brennan indicted by Hennepin County grand jury for murder of her three stepchildren; see Nov. 21, 2015 blog

County Attorney outlines the state’s theory of the Stella Brennan murder case in his opening statement; see Dec. 19, 2015 blog

Stella Brennan spends Christmas in hospital room of the Hennepin County Jail; see Dec. 25, 2015 blog

Minneapolis Tribune
; “Five Jurors. Lawyers Succeed in Securing Half of Jury in the Brennan Murder Case. Prejudice Against Death Stops Many. New Panel of One Hundred Men Is Drawn in Attempt to Complete Jury. Woman Tried For Her Life Is Not Nervous. Mrs. Brennan Chats With Matron and Reporters and Expects To Be Acquitted.”; Dec. 19, 1905; p. 6.

Minneapolis Journal; “Outlines State’s Murder Theory. County Attorney Al. J. Smith Makes Opening Address. Says State Will Show That There Was no Man on the Roof or in the Room and That Mrs. Brennan Murdered Children Because of Her Jealous Hatred of Them.”; Dec. 20, 1905; p. 15.

Minneapolis Journal; “Mrs. Brennan Gives Account of Tragedy. She Insists that Man Stood by Her Bed and Shot Her—All the Evidence May Be In Today”; Dec. 27, 1905; pp. 1, 5.

The Minneapolis Morning Tribune; “Mrs. Stella Brennan is Visibly Agitated. Prisoner in Mysterious Case Changes Color Rapidly While Lawrence Kennedy Is Giving His Testimony—Defense Takes Case and Outlines Policy To Be Pursued in Proving Innocence. Expert Evidence Will Be Heard During The Trial Held Today.”; Dec. 27, 1905; p. 1.

The Minneapolis Tribune; Mrs. Brennan Struggles for Life Through Searching Court Inquiry. Prisoner Declares She Saw Murderer. Mrs. Stella Brennan Accused of Killing Step Children Claims She Was Startled on Night of Tragedy by Seeing Man on Shed Roof—When She Awakened Later Man Shot Her. Husband Is Placed On Stand By The Defense.”; Dec. 28, 1905; p. 1.

Minneapolis Journal; “Insane If Guilty, Say Doctors. Medical Men Testify as to Mrs. Brennan’s Condition—Case Will Go to Jury Saturday.”; Dec. 28, 1905; p. 1.

The Minneapolis Morning Tribune; “Suspense. Jury in Brennan Murder Case Retires to Form Verdict. Lawyers Occupy the Entire Day. Judge Dickinson in Charge Allows Second Degree Conviction. Prisoner Weeps At Father’s Name. Interest of Great Throng Continuous Until Jury Finally Retires.”; Dec. 30, 1905; p. 1.

The Minneapolis Journal; EXTRA. Mrs. Brennan Found Guilty. Murder in Second Degree Is Verdict of Jury in Sensational Murder Trial—Maximum Penalty Is Life Imprisonment.”; Dec. 30, 1905; p. 1.

The Minneapolis Sunday Tribune; “Mrs. Brennan To Spend A Lifetime In Prison. Jury at 3 O’clock Yesterday Afternoon Finds Prisoner Guilty in the Second Degree Which Means Life Imprisonment—Convicted Woman Bursts Into Tears As She Hears Her Fate. Jury’s Only Question Is Degree Of Crime.”; Dec. 31, 1905; p. 1.

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