Thursday, August 27, 2009

Tracking Dog Case from 1893

On the night of the killing of Rose Stanback in Alabama in 1893, a man’s tracks were found near her house. Neighbors arrived, one with a tracking dog, which scented to the tracks and followed the scent to the house of one Amos Hodge. Defendant’s counsel objected to the testimony of the man with the dog. The entire decision of the Supreme Court of Alabama consists of the following paragraph:

It is common knowledge that dogs may be trained to follow the tracks of a human being with considerable certainty and accuracy. The evidence in this case showed that a dog thus trained was, within a very short time after the homicide, put upon the tracks of the person towards whom all the circumstances strongly pointed as the guilty agent, and that the dog, as if following these tracks, or “trailing,” went to the house of the defendant. It was also in evidence by several witnesses that the tracks found at the scene of the homicide were followed by them thence to the house of the defendant, being measured at various points along the route, and otherwise at each of such points identified as being made by the same shoes as were the tracks at the place of the murder, and that the route thus traced by them was precisely that taken by the dog throughout. On this state of case we are of the opinion that the fact that the dog, trained to track men as shown in the testimony, was put on the tracks at the scene of the homicide, and, “taking the trail,” so to speak, went thence to defendant's house, where he, the defendant, is shown to have been that night after the killing, was competent to go to the jury for consideration by them in connection with all the other evidence as a circumstance tending to connect the defendant with the crime; and, of consequence, that the court committed no error in refusing to exclude it. The ruling of the court on this point is the subject-matter of the only exception reserved. This being without merit, the judgment must be affirmed, and, as affirmed, the sheriff of Escambia county will execute the sentence of death imposed thereunder, as prescribed by law on Friday, July 7, 1893. Affirmed.

A summary of the case in Law Notes from 1904 adds additional facts. Rose was killed by a shotgun blast and a shotgun with one barrel fired was found at the defendant’s house. The wadding and the shot matched wadding and shot found at the murder scene. The dog had tracked over a railroad track and across a street. Witnesses testified that Hodge had threatened to kill Stanback.

Life was simpler in 1893. Hodge v. Alabama, 98 Ala. 10, 13 So. 385 (1893)

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