Angelina Napolitano - Reaction and Aftermath

Reaction and Aftermath

Once the story hit the newspapers, however, a media frenzy began – not just in Sault Ste. Marie, but especially in the United States and even Europe. Though some of the coverage was negative, arguing from racist stereotypes that Angelina, as an Italian, was a “hot-blooded foreigner” and deserved to pay the penalty for her crime, most of it revolved around those sympathetic to the abuse she had suffered, and agitating for her sentence to be commuted to jail time or even a pardon. The federal minister of justice, Sir Allen Bristol Aylesworth, received many letters from individuals (including McFadden), as well as petitions organized by groups in Sault Ste Marie, Toronto, New York, Chicago, England, Austria, and Poland. A doctor in Ohio, Dr. Alexander Aalto, even offered to be hanged in Angelina’s stead, saying: “It would only be fair to Mrs. Napolitano for a man to give his life for her, inasmuch as her life is in peril on account of a man's persecution of her, and because men condemned her.”

Dr. Aalto’s remarks reflect a theme among Angelina’s supporters, who included women in the fledgling feminist movement. These early feminists argued that Pietro’s beatings meant the murder was in self-defence, and that Britton was being sexist when he threw out the evidence of abuse. The British suffragette journal "Common Cause" excoriated not only the law that had condemned Angelina, but also the justice system that upheld it as “both bad, for they are exclusively masculine.”

Other arguments presented in the letters included the idea (put forward by the area’s MP, Arthur Cyril Boyce) that Angelina must be not guilty because her pregnancy made her temporarily insane, the idea that Angelina should be praised for taking the life of a sexually immoral man, and the argument that Angelina’s fear of her impending doom would adversely affect her unborn baby, therefore she should be pardoned. This last was a common psychological view at the time.

Whether any of these arguments had an impact, the federal cabinet eventually did commute Angelina’s sentence to life imprisonment on July 14, 1911.

Angelina’s later life is not well known. She did give birth, but the baby died within a few weeks. Her older children were placed in foster homes. She was granted parole on December 30, 1922, after serving 11 years at Kingston Penitentiary. Angelina reportedly died on September 4, 1932 at the Hotel Dieu Hospital in Frontenac County, Ontario.

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