- Historic Sites
Larcenous Mrs. Cody Vs. Pious Miss Gould
June 1975 | Volume 26, Issue 4
Mrs. Cody was subjected to nearly three days of cross-examination by De Lancy Nicoll, the most voracious of the Could legal sharks. Mr. Nicoll, a former district attorney of New York City, was noted for his ability to browbeat and gobble up hostile witnesses. Though Mrs. Cody fainted once and Mr. Nicoll was so unkind as to suggest that her faint might be feigned, she came out of her ordeal still spitting. Her sharp replies brought titters of amusement from the ladies of Albany, and there was at least one exchange Mr. Nicoll himself would not forget:
Q. Now, you never studied law, did you, Mrs. Cody?
A. No, sir; I have not; I don’t want to, nor wouldn’t want a child of mine to study it.
Speaking for the defense, Mr. Dugan had a rhetorical field day in his closing remarks to the jury, caustically sneering at the credibility of witnesses for the state and vigorously insinuating that they had been shamelessly bribed by the Goulds. He ended his remarks on an ominously cryptic note: “It looks to me, gentlemen,” he confided, “as if this prosecution was brought to deter Mrs. Cody and others from bringing honest claims against the Gould estate.”
What bothered the prosecution, however, was not so much Mr. Dugan’s insinuations as it was a noticeable shift in public sympathy, as the trial progressed, from the noble Miss Gould to the ignoble Mrs. Cody. The anxiety caused by this inexplicable change was dramatically expressed by John T. Cook, an assistant D.A., in his summing up for the state. With a gallant gesture toward Miss Gould, who had been busily taking notes and conferring with counsel throughout the trial, Mr. Cook declaimed, “Is there anyone here who believes for a moment that this noble, patriotic, charitable woman is here for the purpose of prosecuting this old woman?”
Mr. Cook could hardly have been accused of exaggerating Miss Gould’s sterling virtues. Only the day before, Congress had voted to bestow upon her a specially minted gold medal “in recognition of the patriotic devotion and bounteous benevolence of Miss Helen Miller Gould to the soldiers of the army of the United States during the war with Spain.”
Twenty-five increasingly long hours after the jury marched out to weigh the evidence, twelve weary men trudged back and informed Judge Gregory that it was impossible for them to reach a verdict. The first ballot had been eight to four for conviction. Eleven ballots later it was nine to three against Mrs. Cody, but there was no prospect whatever that the dissenting trio would ever bow to the will of the majority.
The outcome of the trial, though inconclusive, was a personal triumph for Patrick Dugan and Newton Van Derzee, and Albany was proud of them. The Albany Times-Union , expressing what it believed to be the opinion of most of the local citizens, said that the honor of the Goulds should now be satisfied and that the charge against Mrs. Cody should be dropped. But the Goulds, frustrated and embarrassed, were more determined than ever that Mrs. Cody must be punished, and she was remanded to jail to await a second trial.
It began on March a, 1899. Miss Gould was as devout as ever in her attendance, and the display of millinery by the ladies of Albany was again superb. It was soon evident, however, that the prosecution had realigned its forces. Mr. Nicoll and the other mercenary troops from New York City were now relegated to the rear, and the district attorney’s office was firmly in command. Even Miss Gould kept her pad and pencil out of sight.
A change in strategy was also apparent as Peter A. Delaney, an eloquent assistant D.A., made the opening remarks for the state. Mr. Delaney unblushingly tempted the jury with the alluring suggestion that they could find Mrs. Cody guilty without necessarily consigning her to prison. The penal code of the state of New York demanded no minimum sentence in criminal cases; consequently, as he carefully explained, “His Honor … might, if his wise judicial judgment should lead him in that direction, altogether suspend sentence. …” The happy results of a verdict of guilty would be, first, to rid the district attorney of Miss Gould and then, with her sentence suspended by the kind grace of Judge Gregory, to rid Albany of Mrs. Cody.