3. Emotions on Trial: Witness Testimony and the Prosecution
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159 3 Emotions on Trial Witness Testimony and the Prosecution Before the presiding judge, the erudite and well-respected A. A. Koni, dismissed the jury of the St. Petersburg Municipal Court to deliberate on the verdict in the Zasulich case, he instructed them to answer three questions: “1) Was Zasulich guilty so that, wanting to wreak vengeance on Commandant Trepov for his punishment of Bogoliubov and having acquired for this purpose a revolver, on January 24, with deliberate intent, she inflicted on the General-Adjutant a wound in the region of the pelvis with a bullet of large caliber? 2) If Zasulich carried out this act, did she intend to deprive Commander Trepov of life? and, 3) If Zasulich did intend to deprive Commander Trepov of life, did she do everything in her power to attain this objective, given that death did not ensue for reasons that did not depend on her?”1 If found guilty of the first count, a negative answer to either or both of the two remaining questions would have resulted in a mitigation of Zasulich’s sentence. The jury deliberated for a shockingly short time (anywhere between ten and thirty minutes) before returning to a courtroom audience that awaited her inevitable conviction with breathless tension. When the jury elder read the first question and the response “No, not guil—” the courtroom erupted. “Whoever was not present, cannot imagine either 160 Part Three: “The Little Devil Sitting in Your Heart” the outburst of sounds, which drowned out the voice of the jury elder, or the commotion that spread across the entire hall like an electric current. The shouts of unconcealed joy, hysterical sobs, impassioned applause, the stomping of feet, the shouts ‘Bravo, Hurrah! Well done! Vera! Verochka! Verochka!’—all fused into a single din, groan, and howl. Many crossed themselves. In the upper floors, the more democratic section set aside for the public, people embraced one another.”2 This evocative description from Koni’s memoir has been frequently quoted by historians to illustrate the courtroom’s—and more broadly, the Russian public’s—reaction to Zasulich’s acquittal. A strong emotionality irradiated the Zasulich case from the earliest newspaper reports and was carried into the courtroom, packed with six hundred spectators, and the restive crowd of more than a thousand clogging the streets outside the courthouse.3 But feeling was made the central issue of the trial largely by default—because the substantive issues of politics and Zasulich ’s revolutionary background and activities were barred, first by the Minister of Justice, Count Pahlen, and then, with entirely different motives, by Zasulich’s defense attorney, P. A. Alexandrov. In violation of Russian law, Pahlen had suppressed police information regarding Zasulich’s radical connections in order to send her trial to a criminal court, rather than risk the debacle of the most recent political trials that had been tried in the Senate.4 By Pahlen’s reasoning, because Zasulich had confessed her guilt a jury would have no choice but to convict her, as Pahlen assured the tsar that “the jurors would deliver a guilty verdict and thereby teach a sobering lesson to the insane, small coterie of revolutionaries ; they would show all of the Russian and foreign admirers of Vera Zasulich’s ‘heroic exploit’ that the Russian people bow before the tsar, revere him, and are always ready to defend his faithful servants.”5 The defense attorney, Alexandrov, on the other hand, bracketed Zasulich ’s revolutionary past and convictions in order to transmute her act of violence into a communicative act: a cry of the heart. Alexandrov was helped in this endeavor by the indictment itself, read at the beginning of the trial. This indictment presented as motivation for her act the foundational moral sentiments: empathy and sympathy. When Zasulich herself testified, her emphasis was not on Bogoliubov or his punishment, but on its effect on the inmates of the House of Preliminary Detention (Prelim). I heard about the events of July 13 and the motives for it from various individuals in Petersburg. They talked about how the soldiers tore into the cells [of the Prelim], how those making noise were thrown in the Emotions on Trial 161 punishment cells [kartser]; then I heard that Bogoliubov was not given 25 lashes, but was punished until he stopped screaming. From my own experience I know to what extremes of nervous tension long solitary confinement leads. . . . I could vividly imagine what a hellish impression the flogging would have made...

Subject Headings

  • Russian literature -- Political aspects.
  • Terrorism -- Russia -- History -- 19th century.
  • Terrorism in literature.
  • Alexander II, Emperor of Russia, 1818-1881 -- Assassination.
  • Dostoyevsky, Fyodor, 1821-1881 -- Political and social views.
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