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Not-so-good old days
Last week we focused on the Advertiser-Democrat's coverage of the preliminaries to the trial of Victor Niskanen. Without further ado, the story of the 1935 trial itself follows with some editing for length:
Victor Niskanen of West Sumner indicted for murder of Charles Maatta on September 14, was found guilty of manslaughter by the jury.
Attorney E. Walker Abbott opened the case for the state Wednesday afternoon of last week.
The state produced witnesses who testified to Niskanen and Maatta being seen together the evening of September 14, at a dance in the grange hall of West Sumner. There was evidence produced that indicated more or less beer or ale was consumed late that afternoon and during the evening. Several testified to bad feeling between the men and on occasion in the past Niskanen had repeatedly threatened physical violence.
Sergt. Leon P. Sheperd in charge of the Bureau of Identification for the State Police testified he examined the place and vicinity where the body was found. One spot was a gravel pit about one-eighth mile way where tracks made by a pair of shoes were found.
Sheriff W. O. Frothingham told how a pair of Niskanen's shoes fitted perfectly into the tracks at the gravel pit.
Dr. Delbert M. Stewart, medical examiner, of South Paris, described viewing the body of Maatta the morning of September 15, and the results of the autopsy which he performed. Death was due to a fracture of the skull. There were three wounds on the left side of the hand and two on the right, and there was a bruise on one finger of the left hand, another on the left eyelid and a large blood tumor on the left shoulder.
Cross examined by Harris Isaacson of the defense, Dr. Stewart said that he would say the wounds on the left side of the head were made by a different weapon than those on the right. Those of the right side were puncture wounds which did not go completely through the scalp. The others were made by some blunt instrument. An automobile or anything with a blunt or irregular shape could have made them.
The autopsy was not a complete one, said Dr. Stewart. From the examination made he was satisfied that no bones, other than the skull were fractured.
Katri Maatta, widow of the victim, gave her testimony through an interpreter, Frank W. Bjorkland, a Norway attorney. She had lived at West Sumner 20 years and had known Victor Niskanen for 26 years. She described the arrival home from Canton of her sons and the Niskanen brothers, but could tell nothing of what happened between 5 and 8 o'clock as she was away from home. When she got home, the men were in the kitchen and had two bottles partly filled with beer which they drank. All of them were a little bit intoxicated.
Mrs. Maatta said it we about 10:30, Saturday night, when her husband and Victor Niskanen left the house. All the beer had been drunk at that time. Victor she said, made trouble for her husband and struck his hand on the table in front of Charles and said, "I'm going to fix you tonight." This was just before they left.
Gordon B. Bennett of Auburn, who was at the dance told how he followed the car of Harold Record toward Buckfield. He saw a man in the road waving his arms, who proved to be Niskanen. Bennett testified he got out of his car and went back where he found the body of Maatta lying in the ditch. Soon after this Niskanen ran away from the scene. Harold Record and Bertrand A. Turner told what they observed at the dance and about finding the body.
The State rested late Friday afternoon and the defense lawyers Adrain Cote and Harris Isaacson, outlined briefly their case which was to rest on the assumption that Charles P. Maatta was killed in a hit-and-run automobile driver unknown to the counsel. Eight witnesses were sworn for the defense.
After the noon recess the surprise of the trial was sprung suddenly when the defense announced they rested without introducing any testimony. Attorney Isaacson filed a motion for the defense that the jury be instructed to return a verdict of not guilty and submit it without argument. Judge Worster denied the motion. A recess was taken until Saturday morning.
On Saturday the case was argued by the attorneys and Judge Worster used fifty minutes in the afternoon for the charges of instruction to the jury as to the meaning of malice expressed or implied of reasonable doubt and circumstantial evidence.
After an hour's deliberation the defendant was found guilty of manslaughter.
On resuming the business of court, Monday, a motion for a new trial on the ground that the jury's verdict being against the evidence in the case was made by Harris M. Isaacson, associate counsel. The motion was denied by Justice Worster and imposed a sentence of seven and one-half to fifteen years in prison.
Thus ended the trial. Do the readers think the case against Niskanen was proven and the verdict fair?
As is our custom, we try to exactly reproduce the grammar, spelling, punctuation and style of the original. Commas might appear where least expected and remain absent where we’d expect them if the item was written nowadays. On the other hand, consistency was not considered of utmost importance, so variations of a spelling might appear within one story. In addition, some words were abbreviated differently than today. Where brief explanations of terms are considered necessary, they are presented in brackets  within the quote. Otherwise, explanations appear at the beginning or at the conclusion, without quotes. Parenthesis () used in a quoted passage appeared in the original.