On August 4th 1892 Andrew and Abby Borden were stabbed to death with a hatchet in their Fall River Massachusetts home. Almost immediately the police focused on Andrew's younger daughter, 33 year old Lizzie. Her dubious alibi of being outside in a stifling hot barn was almost as suspicious as the burning of her dress shortly after the murders. Inconsistencies in her narrative and the lack of another possible perpetrator compelled the police to draw up charges. The media ate up the story of Lizzie Borden, reporting her every move, outfit, and gesture in the courtroom. The trial lasted for 15 days and the jury deliberated 90 minutes.
WHY WAS SHE ACQUITTED?
1. Socioeconomic status.
The prevailing belief in 1893 was that danger happened by dangerous people. The poor, the different, the outside. Lizzie Borden was not only raised amongst the court-goers in a small tight-knit community, she was a member of an influential and highly respected family. Though arguably disliked, her wealthy father commanded respect. So did Lizzie. It was simply unheard of for the rich and respectable to be involved in low down viciousness. That was the work of the lower class.
2. Female delicacy
Many argue the verdict would have come down differently if Lizzie were a man. Fainting in the courtroom at the sight of her father's and stepmother's skulls certainly earned her some "weaker sex" points. She sat in court every day wearing frilly, conservative, church-appropriate garb at a time when gender biases were literally part of our religion. The lens through which we view men and women are still dual-toned. Would she have been convicted if she were a man? Maybe not, but it's a safe bet the jury would have deliberated for longer than 90 minutes.
3. Burden of proof
The case against Lizzie was formed primarily by the fact no one else could have done it, and secondarily that she acted suspiciously in the crime's aftermath. However, there is a legitimate argument that such evidence does not meet the burden of proof for a murder conviction. Some still believe in the intruder theory, and burning a dress should objectively not be considered unassailable proof of guilt. As much as it pains the contemporary world (in which her guilt is predominantly accepted), when it comes to the rules of law and reasonable doubt - maybe the jury got this one right.