Charles Thiede v. People of the Territory of Utah Docket No. 1895-633 159 U.S. 510, 40 L.Ed. 237, 16 S.Ct. 62 ( 1895) Submitted October 21, 1895. Decided November 11, 1895.
The Court heard this case without benefit of arguments or a brief filed by an attorney. While in prison, Thiede simply asked the Court to review the more-than-400 pages of proceedings and make rulings based on his assignment of errors. Although the Court discussed five of the assigned errors, only one is relevant to the conflict between a free press and a fair trial.
Four jurors admitted they had read newspaper stories about the murder for which Thiede was convicted. They also stated that, on the basis of these news stories, they had indeed formed "some impressions" (515), but they asserted they could "lay aside any such impressions and could try the case fairly and impartially upon the evidence presented" (516). The only question for the Court, therefore, was whether or not the jurors' declarations fell within the relevant law of the Territory of Utah, a law which it had previously declared constitutional, in Hopt v. Utah ( 1887).
Charles Thiede, 33, owner of a brewery and an adjacent saloon, said he woke tip a Jacob Lauenberger about 1 A.M. on Tuesday, May 1, 1894, telling Lauenberger that his [ Thiede's] wife, Mary, was lying dead at a corner of his saloon with her throat cut. Later testimony indicated that her head was nearly "severed" from the body by a large knife. About thirty feet away was a pool of blood and signs of a struggle. Blood stains led from that point to the body. A large knife often used by Thiede was never found.
Thiede, who had been in the saloon that night and who had blood on his hands and clothing, went with Lauenberger to find a physician. During