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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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100 years ago in Spokane: Midwife convicted of manslaughter in abortion case

UPDATED: Thu., May 10, 2018

A Spokane midwife, belived to have performed an illegal abortion resulting in the death of a young woman, was convicted of manslaughter. (Spokesman-Review archives)
A Spokane midwife, belived to have performed an illegal abortion resulting in the death of a young woman, was convicted of manslaughter. (Spokesman-Review archives)

A Spokane jury convicted Mary Swartz, a Spokane midwife, of manslaughter in the death of Fay Hamilton, 17.

Upon hearing the verdict, Swartz “became so hysterical that she was hastily removed to an anteroom.”

“What will become of me?” cried the distraught Swartz.

The key piece of evidence in the trial was a deathbed statement by Fay Hamilton in which she implied Swartz had performed an illegal operation (abortion) on her, which was the cause of her death. There was a great deal of contradictory evidence, and the defense vigorously disputed the veracity of Hamilton’s statement. Swartz denied categorically that she performed an illegal operation on her – or on anyone.

Perhaps because of the disputed evidence, the judge in the case modified the charge from second-degree murder to manslaughter.

Manslaughter was still a serious charge – it carried a 20-year maximum sentence. However, the minimum sentence was only one year. Sentencing was still pending.

Swartz was heard to “weep bitterly” in the anteroom, and proclaim her innocence. Her attorney immediately made a motion for a new trial.

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