Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Albert Fish

The Trial

The trial of Albert Fish for the premeditated murder of Grace Budd began on Monday, March 11, 1935, in White Plains, N.Y. in Justice Frederick P. Close's court. Chief Asst. District Attorney Elbert F. Gallagher was in charge of the prosecution and James Dempsey was the defense attorney.

Dempsey planned to attack the competence of the Bellevue Hospital alienists who had observed Fish in 1930 and declared him sane. He also planned to establish that Fish was suffering from "lead colic," a dementia often suffered by house painters.

Gallagher's key strategy was summarized early in the trial: "Now in this case, there is a presumption of sanity. The proof, briefly, will be that this defendant is legally sane and that he knows the difference between right and wrong and the nature and quality of his acts, that he is not defective mentally, that he had a wonderful memory for a man of his age, that he has complete orientation as to his immediate surroundings, that there is no mental deterioration, but that he is sexually abnormal, that he is known medically as a sex pervert or a sex psychopath, that his acts were abnormal, but that when he took this girl from her home on the third day of June, 1928, and in doing that act and in procuring the tools with which he killed her, bringing her up here to Westchester County, and taking her into this empty house surrounded by woods in the back of it, he knew it was wrong to do that, and that he is legally sane and should answer for his acts."

Defense attorney Dempsey focused on Fish's strange life and the self-flagellation with nail-studded paddles and needles. Then he brought up Fish's competence as a father and his love for his children: "In spite of all these brutal, criminal and vicious proclivities, there is another side to this defendant. He has been a very fine father. He never once in his life laid a hand on one of his children. He says grace at every meal in his house. In 1917, when the youngest one of his six children was three, his wife left him. And from that time down until shortly before the Grace Budd murder in 1928 he was a mother and father to those children." He closed his remarks by reminding the jury that it was up to the prosecution to prove that a man who killed and ate children was sane.


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