Garvin’s dramatic statement catches New York off guard, coming as it does at the end of seven dreary days of jury selection, during which the city’s attention has wandered. But in signaling that the real business of the trial is beginning, it revives interest in the case. The next day a huge crowd clamors to enter the courtroom. A brigade of police and a special posse of citizens summoned by Judge Ingraham are required to keep order on the street outside the court and to make sure that room is saved inside for those conducting the trial.
A rail separates the principals and the jury from the lucky members of the general public who manage to gain admittance. Ned Stokes’s father and brother have come. So have several mysterious, or at any rate unidentified, young ladies who appear to have a special interest in the case. Do they know Stokes? Personally? Others in the audience point at them and whisper.
The background buzzing diminishes as counsel Beach and Fullerton enter, escorting two women wearing black dresses and full veils over their faces. From their apparel, sobs, and general demeanor the audience surmises that these are the widow of the victim and her friend from Boston. Someone suggests that one or both of the women will testify; the audience quietly but emphatically debates the likelihood of such an event.
Ned Stokes enters, immediately shifting the undercurrent of conversation in a different direction. He tries to appear unconcerned but has difficulty carrying it off. He has visibly aged since last seen in public, on the day of the murder; his black hair is streaked with silver, his face is drawn and pale, his eye lacks its former luster. He seems fully aware of the gravity of his situation: that this trial is for his life.
Judge Ingraham scowls as he takes the bench. He glares at the audience to warn against any outbursts of emotion. He frowns at the opposing legal teams to let the district attorney and the high-priced counsel know that this is his court, where his rules apply.
The prosecution calls its first witness. Charles Hill identifies himself as a lumber dealer in West Troy who travels to New York frequently on business. He was a guest at the Grand Central Hotel on January 6. “I went into the hotel a little before four o’clock and went up to the second floor by the front elevator,” he says. “While standing there I heard the report of a pistol. First I could not say exactly where it proceeded from, but a second followed in quick succession, and appeared to come from the hall on the second side of the elevator. I went to the other side and saw a man standing on the left of the hall; I saw that man make a motion of his hand, turn and come toward me; as he passed I asked what was up and he said there was a man shot. I went on to the stairs and saw a man whom I recognized as Colonel Fisk down, I think, upon the platform of the stairs, leaning on the rail. At that instant someone said, ‘There is the man that shot him,’ and I immediately followed after him. I returned and went down toward the main stairs until I got to the third step, when they were bringing back this man whom I first saw.”
District Attorney Garvin asks, “Who was that man?”
“The prisoner who sits looking at me now,” Hill answers.
Under cross-examination by defense counsel McKeon, Hill says he left New York City later on the day of the shooting without speaking to police. “I cannot explain how they knew I had information on the subject. I did not tell it to Mr. Crockett”—of the hotel staff—“because I did not think it best, as I would be detained as a witness.”
“You had reason to know a homicide was committed,” McKeon demands, “and you did not think it your duty to communicate it to anyone?”
“I thought there was sufficient evidence without it,” Hill replies. “I have been here three times since January, and have never communicated to anyone a word of what I knew on this subject. I can’t conceive how it leaked out.”
The audience ponders who the leaker might be as the second witness takes the stand. Francis Curtis of Roxbury, Massachusetts, was also a guest at the hotel. He says he saw Fisk on the stairs after he was shot and was one of those who helped get Fisk into the suite where he was examined by the doctors. He was present when the police brought the prisoner in. Prosecutor Garvin instructs: “State what the officer said to Colonel Fisk, in the presence of the prisoner.”
The defense objects: “Hearsay and incompetent.”
Judge Ingraham overrules the objection.
Curtis answers: “The officer asked Colonel Fisk, ‘Is that the man?’ or ‘Do you recognize the man?’—I could not be certain which. Fisk said, ‘Yes, that is the man; take him out, take him away.’ ”
Cross-examining, McKeon asks how Curtis recognized Fisk.
“I had known Fisk for two years,” Curtis says. “I saw him aboard the boat, the Narragansett”—one of Fisk’s steamers. “I afterward saw him in Boston when he was on parade, saw him on his horse.” Under further questioning, Curtis describes helping undress Fisk after the shooting. “Colonel Fisk had a cloak or a cape on his shoulder, of a dark color. I took his coat off; I then took out my knife and cut off the sleeve of his shirt, clear above the wound, and either myself or someone bound it with a handkerchief. Colonel Fisk was put to bed; his pants were drawn down over his hips so the wound could be got at; the wound was below the navel, a little to the left of the navel.”
The third witness, Peter Coughlin, born in Ireland, is a coal porter at the Grand Central Hotel. He has been called to confirm Stokes’s identity and to locate him at the time of the shooting. “He had on a white coat with black collar. I saw him at the head of the stairs. His right hand was in his pocket, the other resting at the head of the stairs.” Under cross-examination Coughlin admits he was in the coal closet when the shots were fired; he didn’t see them but came out afterward.
John Chamberlain is a resident of New York City who was at the Erie office on the afternoon of January 6. “What part of the building were you in?” the district attorney asks.
“Mr. Fisk’s office.”
“Did you see the prisoner that afternoon?”
“Saw him about half past three at the corner of Eighth Avenue and Twenty-third Street, going across Eighth Avenue in a coupé.”
“Did he have a driver?”
“Did you notice whether he was looking out?”
“He was looking up at the windows of the Erie Railway office.”
“State which way they were driving.”
“He was just crossing Eighth Avenue, going toward North River, down Twenty-third Street.”
“Did you see him after that on that day?”
“Was Colonel Fisk in the room with you at that time?”
“How long after that did you leave?”
“He soon went down to the Opera House, and I went away.”
“Did you see Colonel Fisk after that?”
“I saw him at the Grand Central Hotel.”
McKeon cross-examines. “What is your business?” he asks Chamberlain.
“What do you speculate in generally?”
“Ever speculate in stocks with Mr. Fisk?”
“Not in connection with him.”
“Have you been operating in the same stocks that he did?”
“Yes, sir, I think I have.”
“Were you in the operations of Black Friday?”
“No, sir, I was not in town then.”
“You had no puts or calls?”
“I had no puts or calls, but I had some stock, and lost a great deal of money.”
“Have you carried on any business at No. 8 Twenty-fifth Street?”
“What kind of a clubhouse?”
Chamberlain hesitates. “Gentlemen play cards there.”
“Is there such a thing as a faro bank there?”
Chamberlain is slow to answer, perhaps weighing the cost of confessing to illegal gambling against the price of perjury.
McKeon turns to Judge Ingraham. “He is obliged to answer, unless it connects him with some criminal offense,” he says. “I suppose the court will instruct him on that point.”
The judge puts the question to the witness, who still refuses to answer.
McKeon, having made his point—that Chamberlain is no cherub—moves on. “Were you in the habit of frequently going to the Opera House?”
“Yes, sir, two or three times a week.”
“Had you business with the Opera House?”
“Not at all.”
“Was it business with Fisk or Gould?”
“Not with Mr. Gould. It was with Mr. Fisk.”
“What was the nature of that business?”
“How high is Fisk’s room from the walk?”
“Pretty high up, is it not?”
“Was Fisk there when you went in?”
“Were you standing near the window?”
“I did stand near the window part of the time, and sat down part of the time.”
“Was it not cold weather?”
“Were you not sitting near the fire?”
The audience perks up at this effort to shake the testimony of the witness.
“There was no fire,” Chamberlain answers. “It is heated by heaters.”
The audience laughs. McKeon frowns. Judge Ingraham pounds his gavel. The witness is excused.
Thomas Hart, twenty, a doorman of the Grand Central Hotel, is the next to testify. The district attorney asks: “Had you seen Stokes in the hotel at any time before you saw Colonel Fisk come in that day?”
“Not before, but afterward. I was cleaning the windows at the foot of the private stairs, at the ladies’ entrance.”
“Was there any light?”
“Yes, sir, gas lights at the head of the stairs. I took a globe upstairs to clean it, and on looking down I saw Colonel Fisk come across the sidewalk and come in at the door. He said something to the other boy, and then started to come upstairs with his right hand on the railing. On looking around I saw Stokes come out of the parlor No. 207, and walk along the north side of the hall in a crouched manner, walking light. When he got near to the head of the stairs he stopped and looked down, and then turning round I heard him say, ‘I have got to do it now,’ or something to that effect. He then walked up to the head of the stairs, and I saw him put up his right hand, resting it on the railing, and I heard two reports of a pistol. I then laid down the globe and went up to within five or six feet of where Stokes was standing. At the first shot I saw Fisk stagger, and at the second he threw up his hands and exclaimed, ‘Oh! Oh! Oh, don’t!’ and slid downstairs. Stokes looked at him, and I saw him make a motion as if putting something under his coat. Turning round, he said, ‘There has been a man shot there, and somebody had better come and pick him up and see to him.’ I said, ‘Yes, and you are the man that shot him.’ He made no reply but, turning round, walked quickly toward the first parlor, No. 207, and I saw him make a motion with his right hand as if throwing something away. He then walked quickly toward the main staircase and ran down, and I followed him. When he got downstairs, he said to a man that someone had been shot upstairs and somebody had better go and pick him up. I said, ‘Yes, and there goes the man who shot him.’ ”
The prosecution brings forward several more witnesses. John Redmond was the hall boy at the Grand Central Hotel on January 6; he corroborates Tommy Hart’s account of the shooting. Frank Crockett, the front office clerk, describes Stokes running down the stairs and trying to escape out the Mercer Street door. Henry de Carley, a parlor attendant, explains how a lady guest found a pistol—“a very nice pistol, too,” de Carley says—in a second-floor parlor.
Dr. James Wood, one of the surgeons called to the scene, testifies as to his examination of Fisk. He describes probing the abdominal wound, unsuccessfully, for the bullet. He explains that the bullet pierced the small intestine in four places, passing in and out of two loops in the intestine, and pierced the colon twice.
The district attorney asks him to state the cause of death.
Wood answers that either shock or inflammation could produce death after such wounds. “But there was not enough of inflammation in this case.”
“Then it must be shock?”
“I can account for the death in no other way.”