Case Of Dr. Bennett

Prosecuting Attorney Withdrew Form [sic] The Inquest


Doctor Arraigned For Murder In The First Degree

Coroner Luton Mystified by the Actions of the Prosecutor—Cross Examination of Witnesses by Attorney for Defense, Which Furnished a Stenographer.

There were some very peculiar proceedings in the case of the prosecution of Dr. Charles T. Bennett of Detroit for alleged murder, and the coroner’s investigation into the death of Miss Alta B. Richards, who died while under chloroform administered by Dr. Bennett at the Eagle hotel. Coroner Luton called a jury, the members of which were S.K. Bolles, H.H. Drury, F.L. Colson, A.L. Hatch, F.E. Rice and Francis Lilly. The inquest was opened and the evidence of several witnesses was taken when Coroner Luton was called to the telephone. Prosecuting Attorney Rodgers was at the other end. He told the coroner to tell Assistant Prosecutor Minor to leave the inquest at once and go upstairs to the prosecutor’s office and that the prosecuting attorney would withdraw from the case. Mr. Rodgers told the coroner he had no business to allow Attorney McKnight, who was at the inquest as the representative of Dr. Bennett, to make any cross examination of the witnesses as he had done, and this was his reason for withdrawing from the case. Coroner Luton supposed the prosecutor was going to order the prisoner released and that all prosecution against him would be stopped, but this was not the case.

The coroner was completely at sea at the news from the prosecutor’s office and while he was wondering where he was at another proceeding in the case was going on in the police court. Dr. Bennett was not in the room in the basement of the county building where the inquest was in progress, but was in custody of an officer in the office of the sheriff. He was taken over to police court and arraigned just about the time the inquest was being adjourned. Attorney McKnight claimed last evening that he did not know Dr. Bennett was going to be arraigned or he should have been there at the arraignment. When he was asked if it was particularly important that he should be at the arraignment, he said it was not, but out of ordinary decency the attorneys defendant in any case is always notified when his client is going to be arraigned.

Charged With Murder.

Dr. Bennett demanded examination in police court, and the hearing in the case was fixed for next Saturday at 2 o’clock. The case is not one in which bail could be accepted, as the charge against Dr. Bennett is murder in the first degree. The complaint was signed by George B. Richards, a brother of the dead woman, Alta Richards. His home is at Hastings. Judge Doyle stated that after the examination it may be shown that the case is one in which bail can be accepted, and Dr. Bennett will then probably give bail, as he is said to be a man of considerable wealth.

In explanation of his action in calling Assistant Prosecutor Minor from the proceedings at the inquest, Mr. Rodgers stated that the coroner’s inquest does not amount to anything anyway, that the evidence taken in it is not considered worth the snap of the finger in a criminal court, and the verdict of the coroner’s jury would have no weight in the trial of Dr. Bennett on a criminal charge. He was angry at Coroner Luton for allowing the representative of Dr. Bennett to cross-question the witnesses. The coroner claimed he was conducting the inquest to the best of his knowledge of the way it should be conducted. He had seen Mr. Rodgers’ several times in the early part of the day, and claims that Mr. Rodgers told him to go on with the case in his capacity as coroner and he would send his assistant down to assist. When the coroner’s court was ready to open, no stenographer could be found and the opening was delayed. Attorney Minor was there and went out and had a conference with Prosecutor Rodgers, came back and stated that the inquest would go on without a stenographer, on Mr. Rodgers’ order. The inquest was opened, and the examination of the witnesses begun. Before the inquest had proceeded far, W.W. Mitchell, stenographer in the office of W.F. McKnight, came into the room and began to take a stenographic report of the testimony.

Testimony of Rose Fleser.

The first witness called was George B. Richards of Hastings. He was called to state that he identified the body at the undertaking rooms of O’Brien Bros. as Alta B. Richards, who had left Middleville Saturday morning. He said she had been in Minneapolis for the two and one-half years preceding the middle of April of the present year.

The next witness was Rose Fleser, the girl employed as a domestic at the Eagle hotel, and who was called into the room by Dr. Bennett while he was giving the treatment to Miss Richards. She told her story to Assistant Prosecutor Minor, but was a better witness for the defense than for the prosecution. It was evident she did not want to say anything that would be detrimental to the case of Dr. Bennett, and when asked questions by Attorney Minor to which answers might have been damaging to the defendant, she almost invariably could not remember. She stated that the upper part of Miss Richards’ shirt waist was open and that her collar was not off, but only loosened at the back, and that she did this, but not before Dr. Bennett had become alarmed at the condition of his patient. Miss Fleser said the windows and transom over the door were open, and that the circulation of air in the room was good. She said Dr. Bennett told her that the woman’s clothing was loose and she had no corset on. As soon as Dr. Bennett had finished the treatment, he tried to resuscitate his patient. He became alarmed and called for brandy, which was not used, because it was too late. To Attorney McKnight she said did nothing in the room but take the cone off the woman’s nose when the doctor told her to, and to hold the instrument Dr. Bennett called a dilator. She saw Dr. Bennett raise the woman up and do a good many things to try to revive her, and was of the opinion he did everything he could to restore life. The bed in the room was a large double bed and the room was about 14 feet square, Miss Fleser thought. To Mr. Minor she said that Miss Richards did not seem to have any hesitation in taking the chloroform, that she groaned a few times and that Dr. Bennett examined her pulse three or four times during the treatment.

Dr. Griswold Testifies.

Dr. Griswold, one of the physicians who made the post mortem, was on the stand, but Dr. Perry Schurtz and Dr. Webb, the other two, did not testify, but will when the inquest is resumed at 10 o’clock this morning. Dr. Griswold explained at length what was revealed in the post mortem. He found some of the internal organs of the body in what might be called an abnormal state, but did not believe there was anything to cause nervous prostration, and thought the woman was in pretty fair health. He found some black and blue marks, and said they were caused by violence, but he qualified his statement by saying that he did not mean there was any indication of criminal violence, and he explained that a very slight knock or scrape was known in the medical profession as violence. He would not attach any importance to the black and blue marks. He found the sphincter muscles torn as if they had been recently stretched. Pleural adhesions were found in the chest, and he said the woman could not have breathed a full breath without pulling on the ribs. The heart and brain, he said, were paler than are usually found. He did not think the woman had any trouble that needed the attention of a physician, although her brother had testified that she was not in good health when she came from Minnesota, and had been improving under the treatment of Dr. Bennett. The pleural adhesions, he said, would render it somewhat dangerous to use an anesthetic, but the conditions were not such that he would not use it in such a case. He said patients are usually told to abstain from eating for several hours before an anesthetic is given and that he found only a small quantity, about six ounces, of liquid food in Miss Richards’ stomach. Every thing in the way of clothing, he said, should be loosened when an anesthetic is given, to allow the free working of the heart and lungs. It ought not to be the custom, he thought, for a doctor to administer chloroform to a patient without having another doctor there to watch the condition of the patient, and it is customary, he said, in every hospital and every institution of the kind to have a doctor present when an operation is being performed to administer the anesthetic and to do nothing else.

Gas dentists use, in his opinion, not one-hundredth part as dangerous as chloroform, and he stated that few physicians ever anestheticise a patient completely without having an assistant who is a doctor. Some times, if it be in the country and no doctor is within reach to assist, it is done without an assistant. Dr. Griswold considered it the absurdity of absurdities to use the treatment Dr. Bennett did in the case of Miss Richards for nervous prostration. In answer to the question of a juror he repeated that he found nothing in the anatomy of the woman that would indicate a state of chronic disease.

Dr. D.S. Sinclair, who arrived at the room in a short time after Miss Richards died, gave his testimony. He said he found on his arrival Dr. Bennett attempting to restore the patient by artificial respiration. It was at this point Coroner Luton was called to the telephone and had the conversation with Prosecuting Attorney Rodgers that brought the inquest to such an abrupt close for the day.

Source: Grand Rapids Press, June 27, 1899.

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