The pellet – the case against William Mangale

Today, court documents from the West Indies are important sources about life in the colony. When the archive boxes of these cases are opened, it is not only documents that are found. One of the stories told through legal documents is the tale of the case against William Mangale.
Photo of Erickson’s letter with the enclosed pellet.
Photo of Erickson’s letter with the enclosed pellet. (The Danish National Archives).

On July 8, 1857, at 10 a.m., the case against William Mangale began at the St. Thomas Special Court. Mangale was charged with having shot at and wounded the butcher Souffrain Gabeau with a shotgun. He had been apprehended, had confessed, and had been imprisoned at Fort Christian since the shooting two months earlier.

The trial

Adolph Rosenstand was the presiding judge. He was the Sheriff, Recorder and Police Chief on St. Thomas. The president of St. Thomas and St. John had appointed attorney G. Stenersen as prosecutor and attorney L. C. Gad as defense counsel. In addition to this, two witnesses and bailiffs participated. The case was actually quite straightforward. During police questioning one month before, Mangale had confessed to firing shots with a shotgun against Gabeau. The question was whether it was an intentional act or whether Mangale – as he himself claimed – acted under emotional strain.

Pellets from Gabeaus’ head

An exhibit in the case was a certificate from Landphysicus (the district medical officer) Erickson. In this, he states that he had removed 5-6 pellets from the back of Gabeau’s head and upper back. The pellets had penetrated the cellular tissue under the skin, but Erickson did not believe that Gabeau would suffer permanent injuries. Together with the certificate, he returned the pellet sent to him by Police Chief Rosenstand. He stated that the pellets that he had removed from Gabeau were of the same size.

Prosecutor Stenersen maintained that this was an intentional act and emphasized that the shots could have killed Gabeau. Therefore he asked that Mangale be sentenced to six years in the penitentiary.

A sudden impulse

Mangale’s defense counsel denied that it was a deliberate act. He argued that Mangale acted on a sudden impulse. The motive was that Gabeau supposedly had spread untruthful rumors about Mangale stealing money from him. He emphasized that Mangale only wanted to scare Gabeau and did not think “that the small Pellets with which the Gun was loaded could do any real Harm to Gabeau”. Furthermore, the defense believed that there was an extenuating circumstance as Mangale was very young, only 21, and because of his lack of a proper upbringing, he had never learned to keep his temper in check. All in all, the demand of the prosecution for six years in a penitentiary was too severe, he felt. Instead, he asked whether “his Punishment could not appropriately be set at some Period of Bread and Water”.

The verdict

On Monday July 27, 1857, the verdict was in. William Mangale was found guilty “of an intentional Act of Violence although no significant Harm was done or intended, however the Instrument with which it was performed was connected with Danger to the Health of the Person attacked”. Because of Mangale’s tender age and the motive behind the act, judge Rosenstand did not think that the sentence should be any longer than two years in the penitentiary. Mangale accepted the sentence and did not wish to appeal.