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Roland Burnham Molineux was a chemist and social climber from Brooklyn. He was charged with first degree murder for having caused the death of Katherine J. Adams by poisoning on December 28, 1898. It was alleged that Molineux had a feud with the director of his local athletic club, Harry Cornish, and had mailed a bottle of Bromo-Seltzer laced with cynide to Cornish.
Katherine Adams was providing lodging to Cornish and came across the bottle. She drank the contents in an attempt to cure a headache and died within minutes, in the presence of Cornish who had been the intended target. Molineux was arrested and his trial lasted from November 1899 to February 1900, making the People v. Molineux the longest and one of the most expensive trials in New York history to that date. Molineux was convicted but appealed the verdict. The New York State Court of Appeals, eventually granted him a new trial. At the original trial, the prosecution had entered evidence to suggest that Molineux had been responsible for an earlier murder, that of a Henry C Barnett, with the aim of showing that he had a propensity to murder. However, Molineux had never been convicted for the murder of Barnett. The Appeals Court ruled that using 'evidence' of an unproven previous act of murder against the defendant in a subsequent unrelated trial violated the basic tenet of presumption of innocence, and, therefore, such evidence was inadmissible. The decision was notable in its impact on the rules of admissibility of evidence. Molineux was acquitted at his subsequent retrial. A few months after his release, he was divorced by his wife on the grounds of mental cruelty. In his later years, he developed syphilitic dementia, and died in 1917.
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