Breaking Down Chicago’s First Recorded Murder

The United States had only been a nation for about 30 years when, 205 years ago in June, John Kinzie killed Jean La Lime in what several contemporaries and witnesses described as an argument turned violent.

A few historians still consider Mr. Kinzie, who opened a trading post on the current Tribune Tower site in 1779, to be the founder of Chicago. Mr. La Lime was a French trapper and interpreter. While the two were geographic neighbors, their relationship was not at all neighborly. In fact, various historians have used words like “aggressive,” “volatile,” and “violent” to describe Mr. Kinzie. The dispute ccame to a head on the morning of June 17, 1812, when the two confronted each other outside what was then called Fort Dearborn. Mr. La Lime had a pistol and Mr. Kinzie had a butcher knife. No one knows exactly what happened, although witnesses said that the two men struggled, each man wounded the other one, and Mr. La Lime did not get up.

Although a court later ruled that the killing was self-defense, the fact that Mr. Kinzie fled the jurisdiction still leads many to question the legality of the act.

Fair Trials and Other Procedures

There is speculation among historians that Mr. Kinzie ran away not because he was afraid of being convicted, but that he was afraid he could not get a fair trial. A fair trial is a component of what some lawyers call procedural due process.

Most fair trial/change of venue motions are based on extensive pretrial publicity, but these motions are not easy to win. In addition to widespread press coverage, which is fairly easy to demonstrate, the defendant must also show that the publicity has prejudiced jurors to such an extent that they cannot reach impartial verdicts. A sampling of social media reactions is often the best way to show such prejudice.

The same analysis applies to racial or other bias. There must be so much hatred for that group, and the hatred must be so intense, that a fair trial is impossible. A Muslim defendant in New York in the weeks following 9/11 might have prevailed on such a motion.

To resolve these matters, many judges simply double or triple the size of the jury pool, so a defense attorney must be prepared to argue that the animus is so widespread that it would take forever to pick an impartial jury.

Restrained defendants in the presence of the jury gives rise to due process claims, as well, because many people assume that people in jail did something wrong. If the trial judge orders the defendant to appear before the jury in handcuffs or other restraints, and the jury later finds the defendant guilty, there may be grounds to challenge the conviction.

The justice system is not without its complexities. On appeal, courts have consistently held that defendants are entitled to a fair trial, but not a perfect one. If you need help navigating this confusing and often intimidating landscape in order to ensure the process teats you as fairly as possible, we can help.

Contact Aggressive Attorneys

Criminal cases are often won or lost on procedural motions. For a confidential consultation with an experienced criminal law attorney in Schaumburg, contact Glasgow & Olsson.

(image courtesy of Greg Rakozy)

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