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Commonwealth v. Webster - 59 Mass. 295 (1850)

Rule:

Homicide, of which murder is the highest and most criminal species, is of various degrees, according to circumstances. The term, in its largest sense, is generic, embracing every mode by which the life of one man is taken by the act of another. Homicide may be lawful or unlawful; it is lawful when done in lawful war upon an enemy in battle; it is lawful when done by an officer in the execution of justice upon a criminal, pursuant to a proper warrant. It may also be justifiable, and of course lawful, in necessary self-defense.

Facts:

Defendant was indicted for the murder of Dr. George Parkman. The indictment contained four counts, the first of which alleged the crime to have been committed by stabbing with a knife, the second by a blow on the head with a hammer; and the third by striking, kicking, beating, and throwing on the ground. The fourth count stated that defendant feloniously, willfully, and of malice aforethought killed and murder Dr. Parkman. The trial court instructed the jury on the applicable law in the case. Because of the lack of direct evidence of defendant's guilt, the trial court then advised the jury on the differences between direct and circumstantial evidence.

Issue:

Can the grand jury decide based on available evidence that the defendant killed and murder the victim?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The court instructed the jury on the applicable law in defendant's murder trial. The rules of law require the grand jury to state their charge with as much certainty as the circumstances of the case will permit; and, if the circumstances will not permit a fuller and more precise statement of the mode in which the death is occasioned, in this count conforms to the rules of law.

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