Convicted of the Manslaughter of Francis Elcock, an Attorney-at- Law, who had issued a Writ against him
JOHN STEVENSON was a cheese-factor at Bickerton, and, becoming insolvent, fortified himself in his house, and admitted nobody within the doors for fear of an arrest.
A writ was issued out against him by Elcock, at the suit of one Atkins, for eighteen pounds, eight shillings and tenpence; a warrant was made out upon the writ by one Baxter, who, by verbal appointment, acted for the under-sheriff. This warrant was delivered sealed to Elcock, or his agent, directed to one John Evans, a bailiff, and a blank left in it for the names of any other person by whom the attorney should think fit to have it executed, such being the custom of the place. After the warrant had been thus sealed and delivered, Elcock inserted the names of John James and John Jones, who were deemed bailiffs-extraordinary for this particular arrest; and as they had not given bond to the sheriff, Elcock undertook, by an endorsement on the warrant, to indemnify the sheriff from any injury he might suffer by the act of John James and John Jones, whose names he had inserted in the warrant, and to whom he had committed the execution of it.
John James found means to get into Stevenson's house by stratagem, and arrested him upon this warrant, but Stevenson rescued himself by snapping a pistol three times at James, which happily missed fire, and James escaped from the house and left his prisoner behind him.
When Elcock learned that Stevenson had been arrested, and rescued himself, he immediately sent for arms and a crow to break open the door, and retake Stevenson by force.
Several persons soon after assembled armed, and with James and Jones, the bailiffs, beset the house. James had put an iron crow under one door of the house and made an attempt to force it off the hinges; but, failing, he left Elcock at that door with the crow lying under it, directing him to watch that Stevenson did not escape, and went himself to another door. When James was gone, Elcock took up the crow, and, while he was making another effort with it to force the door, Stevenson discharged a grun through the door at him, which gave him a mortal wound, of which he died in about ten hours.
The facts were all incontestably proved, and that Stevenson knew the persons who were about to force his door were assistants to the bailiffs from whom he had rescued himself; but it was insisted by the counsel for the prisoner -- First, that the warrant was not good, because it was issued by a person who had no legal delegation of authority from the sheriff to grant it, verbal appointment being insufficient. To this it was replied, on behalf of the Crown, that it had been the custom immemorial for clerks to attend at the office of sheriffs and make out warrants upon writs directed to them, particularly at the two counters in London, and at the Middlesex office in Furnival's Inn. Secondly, it was insisted for the prisoner that the insertion of the names of the bailiffs by whom the warrant was to be executed, after the warrant was scaled, made it an illegal warrant; and Lord Hale was quoted, who says: "If a sheriff's bailiff come to execute a process, but has not a legal authority, as if the name of the bailiff, etc., be interlined or inserted after the sealing thereof, if such bailiff be killed it is but manslaughter." To this it was replied that this opinion of Lord Hale being omitted by Serjeant Hawkins, it might be presumed that he doubted it; that if a person gave a bond sealed and executed to another, with a blank for the sum, and directed him to insert two hundred pounds in it, and he to whom the bond was given filled it up, the bond was good, which was supposed to contradict Lord Hale's opinion concerning a warrant.
After further points had been argued it was resolved by the Court to direct the jury to bring in a special verdict, which was accordingly done.
On the 6th of May, 1759, the case of Stevenson was argued before the Hon. Mr Justice Noel, Chief Justice of Chester, and Thomas White, Esq., the other justice, who gave their opinion that the prisoner's crime, found by the special verdict, could amount at most to manslaughter only. Whereupon he was burned in the hand, and discharged from the capital part of the indictment.