Murder by Sending Poison Charges Case in New York

In People v. Molineux, 168 N.Y. 264, 61 N.E. 286, 10 N.Y. Ann. Cas. 256, 16 N.Y. Cr. 120 (N.Y. 1901), the defendant was accused of murder by sending poison contained in a bottle of Bromo Seltzer (Bromo Seltzer is a brand of drug used to treat stomach upset and headache) through the mail to the director of the Knickerbocker Athletic Club. 61 N.E. at 287. The director, Harry Cornish, believing the silver "Tiffany's" bottle holder containing the bottle of Bromo Seltzer to be a Christmas gift, took it to his home. Thereafter, a member of his household, Katharine Adams, took some of the bottle's contents to relieve a headache and died. At trial, the State sought to introduce into evidence that the defendant was responsible for the previous death of Henry Barnet, who died at the Knickerbocker Athletic Club after taking a dose of a powder he had received in the mail the month before Cornish received his bottle. Id. at 289. Both powders were in fact cyanide of mercury, a rare and deadly poison. The evidence of the prior crime was admitted in the trial court. The Court of Appeals of New York reversed, and in a very thorough-going opinion, clearly articulated the limited nature of the common scheme or plan exception to the general rule which proscribes the admission of evidence of other crimes to prove the crime charged. The New York Court stated: "It sometimes happens that two or more crimes are committed by the same person in pursuance of a single design, or under circumstances which render it impossible to prove one without proving all. To bring a case within this exception to the general rule which excludes proof of extraneous crimes, there must be evidence of system between the offense on trial and the one sought to be introduced. They must be connected as parts of a general and composite plan or scheme, or they must be so related to each other as to show a common motive or intent running through both." Id. at 299.