Mr. Hoffman to Mr. Evarts.
St. Petersburg, May 5, 1879. (Received May 20.)
Sir; An officer of the Russian army, Second Lieut. Hadimir Dombrovine, was tried by court-martial on the 25th ultimo, condemned as a member of a secret Nihilist society, and for resisting the officers sent to arrest him, and hung on the 2d instant.
As capital punishment, which has been substantially abolished in Russia for many years, is now revived by decree of the Emperor, this execution is perhaps worth reporting in some detail.
There can be no doubt of the guilt of the prisoner. Compromising documents in his handwriting were found in his room, and when the gendarmes came to arrest him, he seized a revolver and fired upon them. When this was taken from him, he caught up a poniard and inflicted slight wounds upon two of the officers.
But while there was no question of his guilt, there was question of his sanity. Two physicians, however, were sent to examine him, and they pronounced him to be sane.
But what strikes one accustomed to the care with which the rights of the prisoner are protected in the United States and Great Britain is the absence of counsel for the defense. As far as appears from the published record, no officer was assigned to defend the prisoner, to bring more prominently before the court the question of his sanity, or to urge extenuating circumstances if any existed. The testimony was all adduced by the prosecution.
Again, the proceedings were had in the absence of the accused. When brought into court he was violent and would not remain in his place. He was removed from the room and the witnesses examined, and the trial continued in his absence, and without giving an opportunity for cross-examination. It appears to have occurred to the prosecuting officer that the prisoner ought to be present, and he sent to invite him to return to the court-room. As he refused to answer the messenger he was left where he was. He was subsequently brought in, however, to hear his sentence pronounced, when he appears to have been quiet enough. The governor-general of St. Petersburg approved the sentence and the man was publicly hanged at the Fortress of Peter and Paul on Friday last.
All governments seem to be liable at times to panic, or to undue excitement when the ordinary safeguards thrown round life and property [Page 919] are thrust aside or disregarded. We have seen this in our own country at the time of the assassination of Mr. Lincoln. It was seen in the Indian mutiny, and notably in France immediately after the Commune.
At the same time, I see by the London and New York papers that exaggerated statements are current in Western Europe and the United States in regard to the condition of affairs here. The London Times of the 1st instant has an editorial from which I learn that “the population of this city is to be disarmed”; that our “houses are converted into prisons”; that we are not allowed to stir out after nine o’clock at night, and that “the lights must be extinguished at ten.” Until I read the London Times I was not aware of the pitiable condition to which we are reduced. Except that citizens must report their arms and receive permission to retain them, there is not a word of truth in this affecting picture of our sufferings.
I have, &c.,