Saturday, 23 August 2014

Sacco and Vanzetti: A Case of Judicial Murder?

On 5 May, 1920, two Italian anarchists, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti , were apprehended on a tram following their escape from a police stakeout. Both were suspected of being involved in the murder of two unarmed men during a payroll robbery in Braintree, Massachusetts, the previous month.

Both Sacco and Vanzetti were committed revolutionaries, both had fled the police, both had been armed at the time of their arrest, both lied in their initial statements, and coming as it did at the height of the First Red Scare in America (the second was the McCarthyite anti-Communist Witch hunt of 1947-52) it seemed an open and shut case.

But when it came to Court the case against the men began to unravel - the Judge was openly hostile, the ballistics reports inconclusive, police testimony uncertain and contradictory, whilst some witnesses recanted their statements only to then recant their recantations.

Regardless of the many anomalies in the case against them the Jury took less than three hours to find both men guilty of murder and the sentence of death duly followed.

Sacco and Vanzetti were soon to become a cause celebre as such eminent people as H.G Wells, George Bernard Shaw, and Dorothy Parker rallied to their support. The Labour Unions held street collections to pay for their defence, the American justice system was condemned in parliaments, and there were demonstrations held across the world.

But despite a re-trial and numerous appeals the sentence remained unchanged.

In 1925, the gangster Celestino Madeiros confessed to being one of those who had committed the Braintree robbery and stated that neither Saccco nor Vanzetti had been present. The Judge in charge of the case however refused the demand for a further retrial based on the evidence of a convicted murderer.

On 23 August, 1927, following the rejection of a last minute appeal to the Governor of Massachusetts for clemency Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were executed by electric chair in Charleston State Prison.

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