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viernes, 28 de enero de 2011

Insanidad temporal


Theresa had to fend for herself, and she managed quite admirably, hooking-up with, her husband’s political crony, Philip Barton Key, in the spring of 1858. The 39-year-old DA of DC was a widower with four children. He ran in the right circles and was a terrific storyteller, fabulous dancer, dedicated follower of fashion, and on top of that he was thought to be the handsomest man in town. Bart was also the nephew of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and son of Francis Scott Key. 1

Dan was out of town with obliging frequency and the couple felt obliged to take advantage of the situation: They showed up at the same receptions and teas, attended the theater together and graced the capital’s various balls with their presence. All of that was interspersed with romantic carriage rides around town. As the relationship progressed Bart decided to rent a pied-a-terre in a neighborhood that, although shabby, had the benefit of being within walking distance of Theresa’s Lafayette Square residence. Presumably this modest apartment was for more intimate, less public encounters. But these encounters turned out to be not-much-less public. The two were attractive, well-dressed, and, therefore, totally out of place in that neighborhood; they were spotted at once. If that wasn’t enough their ostensibly secret code (the first to arrive would hand a white ribbon from the second floor shutter to signal that they were in attendance) was noticed by, well, nearly everyone.
The smitten pair carried on their intrigue so openly they seemed never to have entered their place of assignation on Fifteenth Street without a crowd of admiring witnesses at windows of the neighboring houses.

Dan was warned by friends, servants and at least one anonymous letter that something was not right. After making further inquiries Dan agreed. Armed with the evidence he confronted his wife and forced her to fess up:
I have been in a house on Fifteenth Street with Mr. Key. How many times I don’t know… Usually stayed an hour or more. There was a bed in the second story. I did what is usual for a wicked woman to do.
Theresa contributed some helpful details. They had met at least a dozen times. The hour varied from day to day. They never ate or drank anything, and, oh yes, when Dan was away, they made love on the sofa in the parlor.
Delighted with Theresa’s candor Dan had her written confession signed by two witnesses, you know, just in case. Trustworthy diarist George Templeton Strong picks up the action twenty-four hours later:
February 28. (1856) The news of the day is that the Honorable Dan Sickles has attained the dignity of homicide. Having ascertained that Mr. Phillip Barton Key… has been too intimate with his pretty young wife… he put three pistols in his pocket and shot Key in the street yesterday morning.

Two derringers and a pistol, to be precise. It was 2 p.m., and Dan saw Bart waving a white hanky across from his house (another not-so-subtle signal) and immediately armed himself and confronted Bart: “Key, you scoundrel, you have dishonored my house—you must die!” Dan shot. They grappled. Bart threw his opera glasses at Dan. Dan shot again, misfired and then shot again, mortally wounding his rival. Dan went to inform Theresa that their affair, in a manner of speaking, was over.
Dan confessed and retained eight lawyers including Edwin M. Stanton, who would go on to become Lincoln’s highly-effective, no-nonsense Secretary of War. And nonsense was precisely what Dan’s lawyers had in mind, conjuring up the first ‘If he ain’t fit, you must acquit’ defense.
Nearly the whole country followed the three-week trial, reading Theresa’s tearful Confession (printed in facsimile) in their newspaper. Public opinion, however, was clearly in Dan’s favor thanks to the Unwritten Rule (i.e. it’s okay to shoot your wife’s lover).
The jury acquitted him without even leaving the box to deliberate. Spectators burst into applause and cheered their hero all the way to his waiting carriage.
Dan Sickles had become the first person in American history to plead temporary insanity.

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