Lessons in Neuroscience From the 1834 Trial of a 9-Year-Old

In the 1830s, phrenology was just beginning to garner the veneer of legitimacy. Image by Slate, illustration via Library of Congress In November 1834, a 9-year-old boy named Major Mitchell was tried in Maine on one charge of maiming and one charge of felonious assault with intent to maim. He had lured an 8-year-old classmate into a field, beaten him with sticks, attempted to drown him in a stream, and castrated him with a piece of tin. Yet what makes this case so remarkable is neither the age of the defendant nor the violence of his crime, but the nature of his trial. Mitchell’s case marks the first time in U.S. history that a defendant’s attorney sought leniency from a jury on account of there being something wrong with the…


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