Thursday, May 7, 2009

Reckless Driving and Character Guilt

If you ever wanted to give your character a heavy backstory, today's case at the Old Bailey offers a situation with major guilt potential. And possibly revenge, too.

William Liecester was charged with murder in the death of a boy, John Corbet, who fell under the wheels of his cart: "the Deceas'd was running a Truck to and from in the Highway, and the Truck threw him suddenly under the Wheel of the Prisoner's Cart."

I was confused about what exactly was going on until I looked up the word "truck" and found this part of the definition: "a small barrow consisting of a rectangular frame having at one end a pair of handles and at the other end a pair of small heavy wheels and a projecting edge to slide under a load —called also hand truck."

If the boy who died had been pushing such a thing, holding onto the handles, and it veered into the path of the cart, that could have caused him to get hit.

The accused said he never saw the boy until after the accident, and "it was thought by the Evidence that he could not help it if he had seen it, it was so sudden, thereupon the Jury acquitted him."

The record doesn't indicate how old John Corbet was, but he's referred to as "the boy", so we can assume he's probably less than 16.

How does William feel about what happened? All we have is "The Prisoner pleaded he did not see the Boy before the Accident was over." "Pleaded" doesn't necessarily mean he was upset; it may simply mean that was his testimony in court.

There isn't any specific testimony from other witnesses, although presumably there was, as there is "evidence," which at this time, would mean eye witness testimony.

However, if you want a guilt-ridden character, it doesn't get much worse than accidentally killing a child, and in a manner that would be very painful.

One other thing strikes me about this case - why was Leicester indicted for murder, and not manslaughter? That option certainly existed for cases where the death wasn't intentional. And who charged him? At this point (1717), a person would have brought the charges, not the Crown. So who accused Leicester of the more serious crime of murder and why murder?

This is where the novelist's imagination can really go to town.

What if it really was an accident, but Leicester is notorious for driving his cart too fast and too recklessly and for overburdening it so it couldn't stop quickly? He's been warned, but ignored everybody until the accident.

What if he had a beef against the boy or the boy's family, so people can believe he deliberately ran the boy down?

What he has an enemy who sees a way to use this terrible accident to get rid of Leicester?

What if Leicester has a drinking problem and doesn't know himself if he could have stopped the cart in time if he'd been sober?

What if Leicester really is guilty? What if really did run the boy down - but the jury believes his bogus remorse? What other avenue for justice does Corbet's family have? What might one of Corbet's loved ones do to get revenge?

If you're into paranormals, what if Corbet's ghost can't rest easy because of the way he died or because Leicester got off? Or what if that particular stretch of road is cursed?

What if it's not William Leicester who kills the boy, but Willemina? What if she was driving - maybe being determined to prove she can, or to escape from another situation - and she accidentally hits the boy? What if, instead of charging her with a crime, society shuns her?

What if a man was considered guilty, condemned by local gossip, but never charged or convicted, so the truth never really becomes known? How would that affect his life if he was innocent? If he was guilty?

Yep, lots of good backstory potential here, whether you decide to make Leicester innocent, guilty of manslaughter or guilty of murder as charged.
Locations of visitors to this page