TUESDAY, 25TH AUGUST 1885
The trial, in Perth, of the prisoners Bevan, Warburton, and San Qui, suspected of the murder of Messrs Anketell and Burrup at Roebourne, has taken place since I last wrote. The result will, I presume, have become known to your readers by telegram.
Anything more discreditable to the police engaged in investigating the atrocious crime it would be difficult to imagine. So convinced, apparently, were the police and public at Roebourne that the guilty men were in their hands, that no special effort was considered necessary to fit together the links of evidence against them. It is easy to imagine that in a little township where everyone is known, his character understood, his daily movements watched and commented upon, the evidence connecting the prisoners with the murder may have been considered all sufficient from the mere fact that there was absolutely no evidence against anybody else. Somebody must have committed the crime, and if these men, upon whom strong suspicion rested, were not guilty, who in that small community could be guilty – suspicion pointing to no other quarter?
At any rate, I hear that at Roebourne, no shadow of a doubt rests in the mind of any one, and had the prisoners been tried at the Nor’ West they would certainly have received short shrift. When, however, it was unfolded in the Supreme Court-house, the evidence, notwithstanding the skilful management of the Attorney General, broke down almost completely. All that can be said for it is, that by a dramatic arrangement of the facts elicited, Mr Hensman contrived to inspire in the minds of most intelligent persons an almost overwhelming suspicion against Bevan, and an impression more or less strong that Warburton also was probably concerned in the murder. Against San Qui, the Chinaman, there was scarcely any evidence at all. No unbiased jury, however, could possibly have sent men to the gallows upon the facts adduced against the two white prisoners, and so thoroughly was the Chief Justice of this opinion that he almost relieved counsel for the defence of all necessity to bestir themselves on behalf of their clients during the course of the trial, while at its close he summed up strongly in favour of the prisoners who were acquitted by the jury after a very short retirement.
The court-house was crowded when the verdict was given, nearly a thousand persons being within its precincts. An unexampled scene occurred when the foreman pronounced the words “not guilty”, deafening, cheers arising from the packed surging mass of humanity – cheers and shouts which long continued, the officers of the court were powerless to subdue. What gave rise to the intense pleasurable excitement which found vent in this turbulent uproar does not lie quite close to the surface. The murder for which the prisoners had been tried had excited in the capital a feeling of horror almost as great as at Roebourne. Sympathy with the crime, therefore, it could not have been which caused the tremendous out burst of satisfaction at the verdict of acquittal. And it is only left us to suppose that the scene was due to a feeling of relief that upon such unsatisfactory and wretchedly got up evidence the men charged would not be sent to the gallows. The police seem wholly paralysed, and, so far as is generally known no further steps to elucidate the dreadful mystery are being made as yet.