Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods


The Second Trial

Free from jail, Oscar found he couldn't rent rooms in London and was forced to go to his estranged brother for help. They had quarreled for years, but this time his brother was willing to overlook differences and gave Oscar a cot in a storage room. In many ways it was an omen of things to come for Wilde.

The second trial was a repeat of the first. The same witnesses came forward and told the same stories. One of the few surprises to come out was that each of the witnesses against Wilde had been receiving a five- pound stipend from the prosecution since the beginning of the first trial. The Parkers repeated their claims that they had engaged in sodomy with Wilde for money. Edward Shelley, the publisher's clerk whom Wilde had tried to seduce, also testified about his dinner with Oscar. The letters from Oscar to Bosie were introduced into evidence and Oscar was forced to try and defend them.

"The last day of the trial, 25 May, was the Queen's birthday," wrote Ellman. "(The prosecutor) made his final speech...He raked Wilde over; he dealt with the suspect letters to Douglas, the payment of blackmail to Wood, the relations with Taylor, Wood, Parker...which he insisted corroborated each other."

Sir Edward Clarke rose to sum up the case for the defense. It was more a plea for mercy.

"This trial seems to be operating as an act of indemnity for all the blackmailers in London," he said. "If on an examination of the evidence you, therefore, feel it your duty to say that the charges have not been proved, then I am sure that you will be glad that the brilliant promise which has been clouded by these accusations...(has) been saved by your verdict from absolute ruin."

In the British system, the judge is charged with summing up the facts of the case for the jurors and then presenting them with the questions of guilt or innocence. Justice Wills was a homophobe and, despite his education, one of the Philistines Wilde had railed against in his first trial. Wills was as sober and unimaginative a man as ever sat on the bench, and he ranked sodomy just slightly below murder in terms of atrocity. His summation proved this. He spoke of the letters to Bosie in the most unflattering terms and finished by saying, "This is the worst case I have ever tried."

Two hours after being given the case, the jurors returned. They found Wilde guilty on all counts save one involving Edward Shelley. Justice Wills then addressed the convicts.

"Oscar Wilde and Alfred Taylor, the crime of which you have been convicted is so bad that one has to put stern restraint upon one's self to prevent one's self from describing, in language which I would rather not use, the sentiments which must rise to the breast of every man of honor who has heard the details of these two terrible trials."

Wills went on for several minutes rebuking the two men before passing sentence.

"I shall, under such circumstances, be expected to pass the severest sentence that the law allows. In my judgment it is totally inadequate for such a case as this.

"The sentence of the Court is that each of you be imprisoned and kept to hard labor for two years."

Standing in the dock, Wilde blanched and reeled as if he had been struck. His face contorted in pain, he was heard to mutter, "My God. My God. May I say nothing, My Lord?"

Wills merely waved his hand at the jailers, gathered his papers and walked out as the prisoners were led away.

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