Such was 1692, when 19 people in Salem Village were hanged as witches, four died in jail, and one unfortunate was pressed to death with stones. I recently finished A Delusion of Satan: The Full Story of the Salem Witch Trials (orig. pub. Doubleday, 1995) by Frances Hill, a British journalist and writer. This isn't a sensationalized account, however, but a carefully detailed narrative that scores most of its points through understatement and excerpts from extant letters and transcripts. I think every Mormon should read a good book on the Salem witch trials. Why?
First, because history has a way of repeating itself. The McCarthy hearings of the 1950s are often likened to witch hunts, as are the child-abuse trials of the 1990s (as discussed by Karen Armstrong in the book's preface). People of a strongly religious mindset are predisposed to see active and malevolent evil of a supernatural sort at work in the world through human agents, so reading a good account of how witch accusations or similar charges are abused is good preventative medicine.
Second, because it reminds us that the road to hell really can be paved with good intentions. Good intentions don't cure false knowledge. The magistrates who conducted the witch trials were apparently good and honest men who simply let their bias and zeal to stamp out witchery override their common sense, prudence, and skepticism. The plain and honest demeanor of most of the accused and the lack of any reasonable motive for them to torment the seemingly victimized teenage girls should have given the magistrates pause. There were even witnesses who recanted, admitting to giving false testimony when threatened, such as 16-year-old Margaret Jacobs: "What I said, was altogether false against my grandfather, and Mr. Burroughs, which I did to save my life and to have my liberty" (p. 137). Yet the magistrates moved forward.
Third, because it is instructive to see an unfair proceeding in an unfamiliar context. There was simply no way for these innocent defendants to make any headway with magistrates who already assumed they were guilty of the charges and evaluated evidence in light of their assumed conclusions. Neither those who boldly contested the accusations nor those who gently objected were given any credence, as the supposedly afflicted teenage girls writhed, contorted, and screamed in open court as the examination progressed. The fact that only exceedingly stupid witches would afflict victims during their actual examination doesn't seem to have deterred the magistrates from accepting the girls' performances at face value. In fact, the only testimony by the accused that was given any credence by the magistrates were false confessions!
Fourth, because it is important to see how due process really works. The key development in ending the witch hunts was the entry into the proceedings in October 1692 of a properly established General Court of the colony of Massachusetts. Prior to that time the magistrates in Salem Village were proceeding as a special Court of Oyer and Terminer, due to the legal confusion hanging over the colony in the wake of the Glorious Revolution of 1688. When a new charter arrived from England in late 1692, the reconvened General Court was not inclined to give credence to the "spectral evidence" that had so impressed the magistrates in Salem Village. Moreover, following the application of the new charter, the jury pool was expanded to include all men, not just male church members. As noted by the author, "Non-church members were far more likely to be skeptical about witches" (p. 202). No doubt more than a few of the accused silently thanked God for a few freethinkers on the jury.
"Mormon feminists" or sympathizers might enjoy a different book on Salem that I read a couple of years ago, The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England (WW Norton, 1998). Either book is a real eye-opener.