Ashford v Thornton was an 1818 English legal case in the Court of
King's Bench that upheld the right of the defendant, on a private
appeal from an acquittal for murder, to trial by battle. In 1817,
Abraham Thornton was charged with the murder of Mary Ashford. Thornton
met Ashford at a dance, and walked with her from the event. The next
morning, Ashford was found drowned in a pit, with little outward signs
of violence. Although public opinion was heavily against Thornton, the
jury quickly acquitted him, and also found him not guilty of rape.
Mary's brother, William Ashford, launched an appeal, and Thornton was
rearrested. Thornton claimed the right to trial by battle, a medieval
usage which had never been repealed by Parliament. Ashford argued that
the evidence against Thornton was overwhelming, and that he was thus
ineligible to wager battle. The court decided that the evidence against
Thornton was not overwhelming, and that trial by battle was a
permissible option under law; thus Thornton was granted trial by
battle. Ashford declined the offer of battle and Thornton was freed
from custody. Appeals such as Ashford's were abolished by statute the
following year, and with them the right to trial by battle. Thornton
emigrated to the United States, where he died about 1860.
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Wikiquote quote of the day:
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