Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Rollover text informationAmerican Experience Logo
Murder at Harvard
The Film & More
Special Features
Online Poll
Behind the Scenes
History and Fiction
The Parkman Family

People & Events
Teacher's Guide

spacer above content
Online Poll

Re-enactment of the Parkman-Webster trial In the mid-nineteenth century, the standard for conviction in murder cases was proof "to an absolute certainty" that the dead body was that of the victim, or absolute proof of corpus delicti.

John Webster, accused of killing George Parkman, was one of the first defendants to be convicted without absolute evidence that the victim had been murdered. It could not be established that the bones discovered were Parkman's. Judge Lemuel Shaw opened the door for the jury to convict anyway by changing the standard. He instructed them that they need only prove corpus delicti "beyond a reasonable doubt."

Present-day prosecutors have many more tools for proving guilt -- including DNA analysis, lie detectors, ballistics tests, and fingerprinting.

Which legal standard of guilt do you think is more appropriate in capital murder cases today?


beyond a reasonable doubt

to an absolute certainty

Did you watch the film, "Murder at Harvard"?
(Please vote "yes" if you watched at least half of the film.)




If yes, did it influence your answers?




I do not wish to vote but would like to see the current results

Site Navigation

Special Features: Online Poll | Behind the Scenes | History and Fiction
The Parkman Family

Murder at Harvard Home | The Film & More | Special Features | Timeline
Gallery | People & Events | Teacher's Guide

American Experience | Feedback | Search | Shop | Subscribe | Web Credits

© New content 1999-2003 PBS Online / WGBH

Exclusive Corporate Funding is provided by: