And Nothing But The Truth

Sault Ste. Marie Courthouse c. 1910

Photo: Sault Ste. Marie jail and courthouse c. 1910.

"Upon this evidence I am not clearly satisfied that Charles Bryan was sensible of impending dissolution and I therefore excluded the declaration made to this witness and to the witness Benjamin Boyer. "

The above note was inserted into the trial transcript by Judge Walter McCrae in the midst of testimony by Manitoulin Island magistrate Charles Boyd during the 1877 murder trial of George Amer and his adult son Laban at the courthouse in Sault Ste. Marie. The note was prompted by the magistrate telling a lie so outrageous that the judge was not willing to let it go by without comment. Neighbour Benjamin Boyer had told a similar lie during his own testimony earlier that day.

Both men testified about interactions they had with Charlie Bryan on his deathbed during which Charlie was supposedly conscious, alert, and able to make statements to the men. If true, what Charlie said on separate occasions to each man could have a significant impact on the outcome of the trial. However, the judge wasn't convinced that Charlie could have made the statements attributed to him and it is easy to see why.

During the altercation between Charlie Bryan, his father William, and the Amer men, Charlie was shot in the forehead just above his right eyebrow with a lead ball that travelled the entirety of the right lobe before flattening against the back of his skull. The damage to his brain was catastrophic and there is court testimony from the doctor who examined him and others that blood and brain matter were oozing from that wound. Most of the witnesses who encountered Charlie in the immediate aftermath of the shooting report that he was unaware of his surroundings and able only to issue guttural noises. Within a half an hour of being shot, he lost consciousness and did not regain it before he died later that day. And yet Charles Boyd and Benjamin Boyer claimed to have had lucid conversations with the dying man. Not likely.

Charles Boyd, who had been sworn in as a magistrate not even a year earlier, saw fit to go into a law court and tell numerous lies, all of them designed to see George and Laban Amer found not guilty of killing two men that they had unquestionably killed. He not only made up statements by one of the deceased, he also did his best to discredit the testimony of prosecution witnesses by making claims that cast shadows over their testimony and their motives for testifying.

He's not the only one who lied in that courtroom. Some of those lies were subtle and difficult to identify while others were whoppers. Judge McCrae let most of them go by without comment or requested clarification from the witnesses that served to highlight the disparities in their testimony.

But Charles Boyd was a lawman and Judge McCrae knew that his testimony would carry greater weight with the jury than that of an ordinary citizen. So he responded to the most outrageous of Mr. Boyd's lies by having it struck from the record even though he had remained silent when Ben Boyer had told a similar lie.

Ultimately, George Amer would be found guilty and sentenced to hang for the cold-blooded murder of Charlie Bryan and his father while Laban Amer would be found guilty of killing Charlie Bryan (but not his father).

Based on the real-life 1877 killings of William and Charles Bryan by their neighbours, The Haweaters brings to life some of Manitoulin’s earliest European settlers as they struggle against nature, poverty, and each other in a collective quest to leave their dubious pasts behind them and attain prosperity in this rugged wilderness community. Learn more.