When two women, who worked at the local sisal cleaning house not far from Bay Street, got into a fight in June 1909, it ended tragically, for both. The defence of provocation offered by defence lawyer Mr. W. E. S. Callender did not stand against the fact that the altercation was premeditated as the accused was lying in wait. Justice in the Bahamas in 1909 was swift and final. Sentences, especially, death sentences, once pronounced, were carried out quite quickly. When the local newspaper first reported the empanelment of a jury in the Supreme Court, in August, 1909 for the trial of Susan Tait, they got her name wrong. They called her Cecilia Tate. As it turns out, the printing error didn’t matter much in the end.
The trial lasted one day.
The all male jury deliberated for an hour and half before coming back with a verdict.
They got her name right for the death warrant.
August 4th, 1909
The Court met.
Sir Ormond Drimmie Malcolm, Knight, Chief Justice.
7. The King vs. Susan Tait — murder.
The prisoner on being arraigned, pleaded not guilty. A jury was empanelled and the trial proceeded.
The case for the Crown as presented by the Attorney General was that the deceased, Julia Bethel, and the accused Susan Tait, were both employed in the cleaning sisal in Messers. Chas. J. Kelly & Co.’s work yard. On Saturday afternoon, June 26th, about twenty minutes before the affray occurred with resulted in the death of Bethel from a would inflicted by Tait with a Green River knife she had been using for cleaning sisal, the attention of Mr. Kelly was drawn by the deceased to an act committed by the prisoner in the workroom, which drew down the accused a reprimand from Mr. Kelly.
This was resented by Tait, who called the deceased woman a dog and used other abusive language towards her.
When the work day was over for the day and the deceased was going to the office for her wages, to do which she had to pass through Bay Street. The accused was standing on the sidewalk and according to evidence give by Mr. John A. Demeritte, made threats against the deceased.
Mr. Demeritte swearing that he heard Tait say, “I’ll not go from here until I have got my revenge. I’ll sleep in the guard room tonight for you.” Almost immediately afterwards the two women closed with each other and began fighting, the deceased having a stick in her hand with which she struck the prisoner, who struck the deceased with there fist first, and then drew her knife from her self and stabbed Bethel in the left chest, inflicting a wound from which she died shortly afterwards.
The defence was offered by the prisoner’s counsel, Mr. W.E.S. Callender, was that the deed was the result of the great provocation offered Tait by the deceased and others–the ridicule and teasing she had been subjected to with reference to the act for which she was reprimanded. The prisoner swore that the threats alleged to have been uttered by her against the deceased were not true, and that the stabbing was the result of passion aroused in the fight.
With reference to the stabbing, the accused said on oath: ” As she held me, I pulled out my knife, she drew up to me and as she fired with there left hand the next blow with the stick, I lifted my right hand with my knife in it under her arm to move (ward ?) off the blow. I didn’t mean to cut her, I meant to hit her blow off.”
After His Honour had charged the jury, carefully reviewing the evidence and explaining the law as regards murder, the jury retired to their room at 5 o’clock, and returned after an absence of about an hour and a half with a verdict of guilty of wilful murder. His Honour then in a few brief and impressive remarks, sentenced the prisoner to death, the execution to take place on Friday, August 20, between the hours of eight o’clock a.m. and twelve o’clock noon, within the walls of the prison in he Island of New Providence.
The Court adjourned to Tuesday the 10th instant at 10:30 am.