The Murder Trial of Carmene de Renzo

An interesting case came before the September 1905 Indiana County criminal court.  Carmene de Renzo was charged with the murder of his sweetheart, Marianna Barra.  Judge Telford presided over the case.  The Indiana Progress described Renzo as “a large man, rather fair, with a peculiarly round head, the forehead sloping back from the eyes, which are small and light in color.  His hair is short and unkept…”

Both the defendant and the victim were foreigners, which made several interpreters necessary to understand both the evidence and testimony in the case.  The mother of the deceased took the stand and detailed the crime, which occurred before her at her home near Creekside on July 7.  The mother did not speak English, so her testimony was presented through the interpreter.  

From the testimony it was revealed that Carmene Renzo went to Marianna Barra’s home and questioned why the Barras did not like him.  Both mother and daughter replied that they did not care for him because he did not like to work.  After hearing their response, Mr. Renzo left the home, but returned to find Marianna standing on the doorstep.  He grabbed her by the arm and fired his revolver, causing five shots to enter her body.  The mother intervened and the girl fled.  As Renzo reloaded the revolver, he threatened the mother and followed the wounded girl.  He fired another shot, which was the fatal blow. 

Renzo had made an attempt on his own life, but was unsuccessful.  He narrowly escaped being lynched by his neighbors, by being arrested and taken to jail.

The testimony elicited showed that the deceased at one time wished to marry Renzo, but when she found out that he would not work, her mother became involved, and the romance ended.

The defendant took the stand and told his story of his love for Marianna and of her rejection and the ensuing quarrel.  He admitted that he shot her and graphically described to the court how she ran from the house.  Then according to Renzo, his mind went blank from that time until he found himself in jail.

Dr. George E. Simpson was called by the defense as to the question of transitory insanity.  The defense then offered to submit writings and medical books regarding insanity.  The prosecution objected to this and Judge Telford sustained the objection.

The defense then attempted to offer into evidence a certificate of good behavior and moral character, which was obtained from Italy, but it was ruled out.

This trial, although of some interest today, did not attract a great deal of attention as the attendance at the trial was quite small.  It was noted in the news report that most of the witnesses were also foreign.  It would be the guess of the author of this post, that because much of the testimony would be presented through interpreters, that many of the general public were deterred from attending.

The case was sent to the jury late in the afternoon on September 21, 1905, and at a quarter before eight that evening, the jury filed back into the courtroom with their verdict.  Once the jury was seated, word was sent to Sheriff Neal that a verdict was reached and he brought Renzo into the courtroom.  The jury foreman handed the verdict to Prothonotary Calhoun who gave the paper to Judge Telford.  Judge Telford gave the paper back to the Prothonotary who read it aloud, “Guilty of murder in the first degree.”

As Renzo walked from the courtroom, many witnesses to the scene drew a long breath and expressed in the words of pity: “Poor devil!”

Renzo was sentenced before Judge Telford on January 20, 1906.  Despite motions filed by the defense for a new trial, it was refused.

Renzo was asked if he had anything to say why the sentence of the Court should not be passed upon him; he said, “Nothing.”  During the sentencing, he remained standing with his eyes cast down.  The only thing he said was that one word.  The sentencing imposed was as follows:

“We have long delayed this official duty.  We meet our present obligation with a severe regret for its necessity.  As we have said, at last September court you were found guilty of murder in the first degree.  In passing upon you the sentence of the Court we trust, in view of the future, you will see truly your duty in the light of the teachings of the church.  Whilst punishment here falls hard upon you, may penitence and contrition sustain you and may you be given courage to sustain you now.  The sentence of the Court is: That you be taken by the Sheriff of Indiana County to the jail and from there to the place of execution within the walls or yard of the jail, and be hanged by the neck until dead.  And may God have mercy upon your soul.”

Governor Samuel W. Pennypacker set Thursday, July 26, 1906, for the hanging of Renzo.  The Italian consul had made an effort to save Renzo.  The execution was then stayed by Governor Pennypacker after he received a petition from C.C.A. Baldi, president of the Italian Federation of Philadelphia.  These attempts to save Renzo’s life were to no avail as he was hanged on August 27, 1907.

The hanging took place in the corridor of the county jail at 10:38 a.m.  Those who had tickets for admission went to the Sheriff’s office at 10:20 and were given their places in the jail corridor.  At 10:30 Sheriff Jacob Wettling ascended the scaffold and two minutes later Renzo ascended part way to the scaffold, accompanied by Father Emelio Farri of the Roman Catholic church; John B. DeSanta, a friend; and Officer Orrin Stiffler.

Renzo’s face bore no trace of fear and his step was firm and brave.  He was dressed in a dark suit, with collar and necktie and patent leather shoes – the County Commissioners had provided him with the new outfit. 

Father Farri and DeSanta followed Renzo to the scaffold.  The priest raised a crucifix and they all kneeled in prayer.  Following a short prayer, the Sheriff placed Renzo over the trap and quickly adjusted the noose around his neck and drew over his head the black cap.  

The Sheriff touched the lever which allowed the trap to drop at 10:35, but the rope broke and Renzo fell to the floor.  Officers quickly carried the body to the scaffold and the Sheriff placed the rope with which James Allison and Joseph Sarver were executed. The trap was sprung a second time at 10:38 which was successful.  

At 10:48, the four physicians present – Coroner W.D. Gates, Dr. McMillan, Dr. H. Ney Prothero and Dr. T.D. Stephens – pronounced Renzo dead.  The Sheriff’s jury – Dr. H. Ney Prothero, J. Earl Lewis, J.A. Crossman, John C. Work, George Jeffries, J.L. Orr, Dr. T.P. Stephens, M.H. Henry, D.M. Caldwell, Elder Peelor, George W. Roof and William H. Clawson – viewed the body and made an affidavit to the fact that they had seen Renzo executed in accordance with law.

After the physicians had pronounced Renzo dead, the body was taken down and prepared for burial by the undertaker.  About noon, the body was taken to the Arbitration Room in the court House, where it was viewed by hundreds of people.  At 4:00 p.m. the body was taken to the Catholic cemetery and buried.

Published by

hgsic

Through a broad range of activities, The Historical and Genealogical Society of Indiana County seeks to promote a greater appreciation of the Indiana community's rich heritage and a better understanding of life today.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s