By Adam B. Vary
March 28, 2005 at 05:00 AM EST

Midnight Assassin

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For those sick of high-profile celebrity trials, there’s a strange satisfaction to be found in the story of Margaret Hossack. In December 1900, her husband John, a difficult, sometimes violent Iowa farmer, was killed in his sleep by an ax blow to the head. Authorities zeroed in on Margaret as the culprit. The subsequent press-drenched trial turned as much on the community’s opinion of Margaret, and her unwomanly appearance in court (”Her face is. . .rendered sinister by a pair of small, steely blue eyes”), as it did on the circumstantial evidence. Patricia L. Bryan, a law professor, and Thomas Wolf, a writer, pedantically root into virtually every divergent detail of the case, but the unshakable feeling remains that American justice hasn’t changed so much as gone into overkill.

Midnight Assassin

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