Saturday, April 21, 2012

"12 Angry Men" : The 1826 version.

12 Angry Men”, a film starring Henry Fonda is considered a classic. It tells the story of a jury made up of 12 men as they deliberate the guilt or acquittal of a defendant on the basis of reasonable doubt. A young Mexican is facing trial for murder and, after the trial, the jury retires to a private room to discuss the verdict. At this point, the members of the jury are convinced that the defendant is guilty- with the exception of just one jury member, played by Henry Fonda. The rest of the film is how, on the basis of his doubt, he manages to convince the rest of the jury, one at a time, that there was reasonable doubt about the guilt and it wasn’t such a water-tight case. The jury finally comes up with a verdict of ‘not guilty”, all thanks to the seed of doubt planted by one member. The entire film, barring 3-4 minutes, is shot in a single room and is gripping throughout..

No doubt, the film must have won several awards, including 'best story', The story was refreshingly different and original.

Hang on, was it original?

Surprise. An incident narrated in page 117 of  "The Oriental Herald and journal of General Literature", published in 1826, appears almost similar to the plot of “12 Angry Men”. Here is the narration and the context:

In the island of Ceylon, soon after the introduction into it of the noble institution, Trial by Jury, a Native of some consideration was put upon his trial for murder. The rank of the parties implicated, and the circumstances attending the deed, had occasioned this trial to excite the greatest interest throughout the country, and the Court was crowded to witness the proceedings. After a patient investigation of the affair, the Jury retired to consider of their verdict; and so plausible was the evidence against the accused, that the whole of the Jury, with one single exception, considered his guilt to be completely established. The individual who did not concur in this opinion, was a young Native, of about five-and twenty, of superior understanding; and the reasons stated by him for his dissent were sufficiently powerful to induce the rest of the Jury to consent to return to the Court, and give him an opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses whose evidence had made so strong an impression of the prisoner's guilt. The witnesses being recalled, this young Indian went through their cross-examination with so much skill, yet in so inartificial and straight-forward a manner, as to elicit the most complete proof of the innocence of the accused, and to establish, beyond all doubt, the existence of a conspiracy against his life by parties interested in succeeding to his property. The result was, that the arraigned individual, who, but for this subsequent examination of the witnesses, would have been condemned, and executed within four-and-twenty hours, was restored to his family, his reputation, and his property, by the superior intelligence of one of his fellow countrymen.

When the trial was over, the Chief Justice sent for the young Native, and expressed a desire to know what had been the course of study and occupation which could have given him such penetration and such skill; when he understood from him that he had been educated only in the usual mode adopted for persons of good condition in the country, and that there was nothing peculiar in this to account for the qualities which had excited the judge's admiration. But, he observed, that being naturally of a studious disposition, he sought out and read all the books he could procure on the learning of Europe, both in ancient and modern authors ; and having met with a Persian translation from the Greek of Aristotle's Dialectics, he had sufficient acquaintance with the language into which it had been translated to understand it well, and was so struck with its importance, that he made a translation of it from the Persian into the Sanscrit. It was to th;s masterly production of the mind of a Greek philosopher that he owed all his powers of analysis and reasoning; and the present instance of its successful application tq the great ends of justice would only stimulate him, he said, to new researches into the wisdom of other countries and of other days.

This fact is of itself sufficient to show what wonders might be wrought by a proper encouragement of such a feeling on the part of the nation in whose hands the destinies of the countless millions of Asia are now placed: Sir Alexander Johnston's introduction of Trial by Jury into Ceylon, is one example that has already produced immense benefit.

There it is. The same story, in real life, 130 years before the film came out.

If there is any award for investigative journalism, please be kind enough to nominate me.


Saurabh said...

Wonderful story. Nominated and awarded by personal award!

Vaidy said...

Excellent job Raj!

Balajisblog said...

from 1 angry old man in Mumbai ...good work...small b

Raj said...

Saurabh, Vaidy, Balaji : Thanks.

ramesh said...

wow raj what in the world were you digging about the raj that you stumbled onto this ..

Terence said...

Very interesting and lovely post.