Albert Patrick Trial: 1902 - William Marsh Rice Murdered, Patrick Tried And Convicted, Suggestions For Further Reading
Defendant: Albert T. Patrick
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyer: Albert T. Patrick
Chief Prosecutor: William Travers Jerome
Judge: John William Goff
Place: New York, New York
Dates of Trial: January 22-March 26, 1902
Sentence: Death by electrocution, later commuted to life imprisonment, and ultimately pardoned by the governor of New York
SIGNIFICANCE: The Albert Patrick trial illustrated the often uncertain nature of medical evidence in proving a murder. Although the jury found Patrick guilty, lingering doubts about the evidence eventually caused the governor of New York to pardon him.
AIbert T. Patrick was the sort of man who gives lawyers a bad name. A native of Texas, where he went to law school and then practiced law for several years, Patrick moved to New York in 1892 to escape disbarment proceedings initiated by a federal judge who was outraged by Patrick's conduct in a particular case. Once in New York, Patrick continued his shady ways. Although nothing was ever proven, there were suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of a wealthy fertilizer magnate who had sued Patrick for restitution of $5,500—a respectable sum in those days—and surrounding the death of Patrick's wife in 1896.
In 1896, Patrick also became involved in the affairs of William Marsh Rice, a multimillionaire and philanthropist. Rice was born in 1816 in Springfield, Massachusetts, and moved to Texas in the 1830s when it was still the raw frontier. Rice built a fortune in oil, retailing, and real estate, and his empire extended into Louisiana and Oklahoma as well. In his old age, Rice had returned to the East Coast to live with his second wife in Rice's Dunellen, New Jersey mansion. Rice's wife died in July 1896, and in her will left a considerable amount of her estate to her family and relatives. Under Texas law, her estate consisted of half of all property acquired by Rice during their marriage, which amounted to millions of dollars. Her will conflicted with Rice's desire to leave virtually all of his estate to the William M. Rice Institute for the Advancement of Literature, Science and Art in Houston, Texas. Rice, having a Madison Avenue apartment, asserted that he was a New York resident and therefore not subject to Texas law. When he started legal actions against the executor of his wife's estate, O.T. Holt, Holt went to Patrick for help.