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Colonial Cases

United States v. Webb, 1882

[murder - pardon]

United States v. Webb and others

United States Consular Court, Nagasaki
Source: The New York Times, 9 February 1882




WASHINGTON, Feb. 8. - President Arthur has pardoned James Webb, a sailor, who was tried for murder, convicted, and sentenced to be hanged by the United States Consular Court at Nagasaki, Japan.

This was an important case because of its relation to the question of consular jurisdiction in the countries of the East.  It was one of s even capital convictions which have occurred in China or Japan since the existing statute conferring judicial power upon diplomatic representatives and consular officers in those countries was enacted in 1848.

Webb was a seaman in the United States steamer Ranger, and in a quarrel on Dec. 1, 1878, he stabbed Constantine Kashine, a warrant officer of the Russian naval steamer Craysser, then in the port of Nagasaki.  Kashine died three days afterward from the effect of the wound.  Webb was arrested and tried before Willie P. Mangum, United States Consul, with four Assessors, sitting as a consular court, in accordance with our treaty with Japan and the extra territorial laws enacted in 1860 as an extension of the statute of 1848.  He was sentenced to be hanged, but the evidence clearly showed that the crime was not murder in the first degree, but manslaughter.  The Charge d'Affaires at Yedo submitted the proceedings to the Department of Justice, although not required by the statutes to do so.  This action was taken on the recommendation of the Russian Minister at Tokio and the Admiral of the Russian fleet, who earnestly urged that the President should be asked to commute the sentence to imprisonment.  Secretary Evarts sent the case to Attorney-General Devens, and said that he trusted the President's decision would, on the Attorney-General's recommendation, be a favorable one.  Webb's sentence was commuted to imprisonment for five years, and he was placed in a penitentiary in California.  He recently petitioned for a pardon, and a favorable answer was solicited by the Warden, who certified to his good conduct and described his heroic action during a fire in the prison buildings.  Attorney-general Brewster recommended that he should be pardoned, and the President has taken action in accordance with the recommendation.

This case and six others were undergoing review in the executive departments when the President, in his last annual Message, declared that some changes were necessary in our present system of consular jurisdiction in China and Japan, adding that he hoped to lay before Congress a scheme for the improvement of the system in the entire East.

The six other cases were as follows:

David Williams was convicted by Consul General Seward in 1863 of piracy and murder.  His death warrant was signed, but he committed suicide in jail.

James White was in like manner convicted of murder in Shanghai, in 1863, and the warrant for execution was issued by Minister Burlingame, but White escaped.

John D. Buckley was convicted of murder in the following year by the same court.  His counsel ably argued the unconstitutionality of a trial without indictment or jury, but his exceptions were not admitted, and Buckley was hanged. Minister Burlingame refused to refer the case to the President.

William Dinkelle was convicted of murder by a consular court at Osaka in 1880.  The case was referred to the President, who commuted the sentence to imprisonment.  Dinkelle refused to accept this and is in jail.

John Ross was convicted of murder in Yokohama in May, 1880, but his sentence was commuted, and he was sent to Albany.

The last case was that of Mirzan, convicted at Constantinople.Sentence was commuted to imprisonment.

The facts in all these cases have been sent to Congress by the President, with the statement that the subject deserves earnest attention. In an accompanying letter Secretary Blaine reviewed the question and made many suggestions to be considered in establishing a frame-work of extra-territorial jurisprudence which would remove all doubts as to the constitutionality and fairness of our judicial systems in the East.

Published by Centre for Comparative Law, History and Governance at Macquarie Law School