Again, I did not see this episode of ON TRIAL - if it still exists. It's too bad, as the central role of Governor Joseph Wall of Goree was played by an actor I am very fond of (Roger Livesay). I'm certain he gave the role a tragic dignity. And the story was worthy of dramatic presentation.
Wall was a military man from Dublin who got appointed to be military governor to Goree (in modern Senegal, in Africa) in 1779. While there he earned a reputation for being brutal - far more brutal than the better remembered Captain/Governor William Bligh of H.M.S. Bounty and New South Wales fame. The fact is he ordered the flogging of two soldiers in what he claimed was a mutiny, and they were both flogged to death. But word got out that there was no mutiny. Wall was ordered home in 1782, and was aware from the tone of the orders that he was going to stand trial for murder. After arriving in England, he fled to France (which was still in a state of war with England over the American colonies). He remained in France and Italy. From the records he made two visits to England and Scotland in the intervening years. He also married a younger woman.
It became a running joke in Britain - when was Governor Wall coming to face the music? Wall knew his reputation was in tatters, but kept staying on the continent. Then, in 1801, he wrote to the then Home Secretary offering to stand trial. He and his wife went back to England, under an assumed name, and were arrested.
The case against Wall was weakened by the long period of time since the events occurred a generation earlier. Most witnesses had died since then. Wall conducted his own defense with two barristers assisting him. But the prosecution was in the hands of England's most ruthless and effective barrister, Sir Edward Law (assisted by the then Solicitor General Spencer Percival*). Attonery General Law was a shark in court, with a singularly effective soft spoken voice. Wall failed to prove that there was a mutiny, and so the deaths ascribed to him could not be covered as justified. He was convicted and finally executed on January 28, 1802. It has been suggested (in the article on Wall by G. Lefrys Norgate in the original DICTIONARY OF NATIONAL BIOGRAPHY) that the Government refused clemency despite evidence that Wall had led an exemplary life in exile, because the public was still upset over the large number of executions of sailors like Richard Parker for the 1797 mutinies at Spithead and the Nore. It was felt that the public would have been upset if an upper class defendant was freed in a case involving a questionable mutiny resulting in deaths of so-called mutineers.
(*Percival, of course, became Prime Minister in 1809 until 1812. He is recalled not so much for his three years of leadership (best for his getting the Regency bill through for the Prince of Wales, and for supporting the Duke of Wellington's campaign against Napoleon's armies in Spain) than for being shot and killed in the House of Commons in May 1812 by John Bellingham. Percival is the only modern Prime Minister of Great Britain to be assassinated.)
It is rare for a cold case to get to trial like this, but not unheard of. The recent multiple homicide case of family murderer John List of New Jersey is very similar, as it took nearly thirty years to find him and bring him to trial.
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