28th April 1859

Man denies that killing counted as murder because he was drunk

There was no doubt that fisherman George Elias Le Rougetel had shot his sister. He didn’t deny that he’d pulled the trigger and peppered her with swan-shot at the La Rocque home they shared with their mother – but that didn’t make him a murderer. Why? Because he had been drunk. 

When the case came to court in April 1859, four months after the killing, Le Rougetel’s advocate hung his whole defence off this point. He also explained to the jury that he had only taken on the case because Le Rougetel’s mother, who was also the mother of the dead sister, had asked him specifically.

An act of jealousy?

Perhaps the mother unjustly felt some guilt herself. She was largely bed-ridden and had got up to use the toilet and when Le Rougetel had tried to put her back to bed, she’d said she’d prefer his sister to do it instead.

“This appears to have exasperated the wretched man,” reported The Guardian on 16 December the previous year, shortly after the killing had taken place, “and in a fit of fury he took down his gun and fired at his sister, killing her instantly.”

The Solicitor General, who was prosecuting, refuted the claim that Le Rougetel had been drunk, quoted from the law and cited other cases before the bailiff summed up and the jury retired to consider the verdict. Forty minutes later they unanimously declared Le Rougetel “rather more guilty than innocent of manslaughter”.

As was his right under Jersey law, Le Rougetel immediately appealed the verdict to the Grand Jury, which would hear it again and had the power to overturn the Petty Jury’s findings.

The appeal

When the second hearing took place, a majority of the Grand Jury likewise found him “rather more guilty than innocent” of the charge but, because it was a split decision, the number of jurists who fell in each camp was important. Six of the 12 declared him “rather more innocent than guilty”, which must have been a relief to Le Rougetel and his advocate: if as few as five had come to that conclusion, even though they were in the minority, Le Rougetel would be acquitted. Thus, he left the court a free man.

The Jersey Independent commented that, with Le Rougetel’s case, a corner had been turned in the administration of justice. All a man needed to do now, the paper said, was drink enough to give him the courage he needed to carry out a murder and he could blame the killing on the drink and get off scot-free.


FREE Jersey history newsletter

Don't miss our weekly update on Jersey's fascinating history. We promise never to sell your data to anyone else, and there's a super-easy unsubscribe link on the bottom of each email so you can leave whenever you want.



Other events that occured in April