Mr. Heap to Mr. Hunter.
Tunis , April 8, 1873. (Received April 29.)
Sir: I have refrained from again referring to the murder, on the night of the 24th–25th of December last, of the dragoman of the United States consular agent at Bizerta, which I communicated in my dispatch No. 136, dated December 31, 1872, in the hope that I might be able to inform the Department of the punishment of the guilty parties.
- In this hope, I regret to say, I have been disappointed, and I am apprehensive that corrupt influences are at work to defeat the ends of justice.
- As soon as I was notified by telegraph of the murder, I waited upon the prime minister, and requested him to give instructions to the governor of Bizerta to use every effort to discover and apprehend the murderers, which he promised to do. The governor, aided and stimulated by the consular agent, held an inquest at the village of Menzil-Djemil, where the murder was committed, and four men, three brothers and their servant, were arrested, with strong evidence of guilt and the testimony of almost the entire population of the village against three of them. Voluminous affidavits were taken in the presence of notaries, the inquest being conducted in accordance with the laws of the country, and the accused were sent in chains to the Bardo, the Bey’s official residence, for trial.
- The evidence against the brothers is overwhelming. They are rich land-proprietors, and it appears from the evidence that they committed the murder partly to rob the dragoman of a large sum of money and valuable papers in his possession, the property of Mr. Spizzichino, and partly from motives of revenge.
- Among the Bey’s officials there is one, the young general in command of his body-guard.
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- To this individual the murderers of Mahmood Sennen, the dragoman, have applied, and, possessing the means to secure his favor, they are striving to escape scot-free by casting upon their servant the burden of their guilt.
- By Mohammedan law, a sentence of death for murder cannot be pronounced except upon the direct evidence of witnesses, or the dying deposition of the murdered person. As in this case the only witnesses of the murder were the murderers themselves, and the victim was placed beyond the possibility of making a deposition, the extreme penalty for their crime is a sentence to the galleys for life, with hard labor and the bastinado.
- I have been unable to obtain that the accused be brought to trial. To every appeal I have made to the government, the reply has been that further depositions were being taken, which I know is not the case.
- I only ask that the accused be tried by the Bey himself, and not by the sciara or ecclesiastical tribunal, where a denial upon oath, administered with certain solemnities, will, in the absence of direct testimony, be sufficient to acquit the accused.
- In this state of the case, I beg respectfully to submit to the Department whether it would not be expedient to adopt some energetic measure to induce this government to give the very reasonable satisfaction I ask for the murder of a person so undeniably entitled to the protection of the United States as a dragoman.
- It is a question, if an officer appointed to guard the person of a foreign representative and his residence can be assassinated with impunity, whether the representatives themselves, in the midst of a semi-barbarous and fanatical population, can enjoy security.
- It will only need the exhibition of earnestness to bring this government to understand that the dignity of the United States cannot be trifled with, even in the person of one of its humblest protégés; and I, therefore, venture respectfully to suggest that I be directed to inform His Highness of the concern this matter has given the Department, and that instructions be sent to the admiral in command of our fleet in this sea to visit Tunis, in the event of a satisfactory solution not being arrived at.
- The Department may be assured that it is farthest from my desire to foment difficulties between my government and this, and, if I take the liberty of suggesting this course, it is because I am convinced that nothing is better calculated to insure harmony and friendly relations in the future than the exhibition of firmness in the present case.
- I have the honor to inclose the copy of a letter I have addressed to the Bey on this subject, but until I can inform him that I am acting under direct instructions from the Department, I apprehend that it will be of little avail against the fatal influence of his favorite.
I am, &c.,