14 Q.B.D. 273 (1884).

One-Sentence Takeaway: An English court found guilty of murder two shipwreck survivors who had killed a companion and eaten his flesh to survive while awaiting rescue, rejecting their necessity defense that it was better to sacrifice the life of their nearly dead companion rather than all three die.

Summary:  Thomas Dudley, Edwin Stephens, Richard Parker, and Ned Brooks were seamen who were cast away in a storm on the high seas, 1,600 miles from the Cape of Good Hope. They were able to survive for 20 days on a dinghy with no supply of water and no food except for two one-pound cans of turnips and a turtle which they caught.

On the twelfth day, they finished eating the turtle and had nothing to eat for the next eight days. On day 20, Dudley and Stephens suggested that someone should be sacrificed to save the rest. Dudley proposed that lots should be cast to determine which of them would be sacrificed, but Brooks refused to consent. Ultimately, Dudley and Stephens decided it would be best to kill 17-year-old Parker (youngest of the three) since he was the only one with no family and was already weak and sickened from drinking seawater.

Dudley, with Stephens’s help, killed Parker. Dudley, Stephens, and Brooks ate Parker’s remains for the next four days. Four days after Parker’s demise, the men were rescued by a passing ship.

The court found Dudley and Stephens guilty of murder.   The court rejected their defense of necessity; that it was better to sacrifice the life of their nearly dead companion rather than all three die.  That defense was ruled out as a matter of law.

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