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Leon Czolgosz Trial: 1901

Czolgosz's Trial Is Swift

Defendant: Leon F. Czolgosz
Crime Charged: Assassinating President William McKinley
Chief Defense Lawyers: Loran L. Lewis and Robert C. Titus
Chief Prosecutor: Thomas Penny
Judge: Truman C. White
Place: Buffalo, New York
Dates of Trial: September 23-24, 1901
Verdict: Guilty
Sentence: Death by electrocution

SIGNIFICANCE: Leon Czolgosz, an avowed anarchist, was tried and sentenced to death for his sensational assassination of President McKinley. The trial was remarkably short. Because the court said that the law presumed Czolgosz was sane, despite important evidence to the contrary, the jury may well have convicted Czolgosz for his extremely unpopular political beliefs.

Leon Czolgosz was one of eight children in a poor Michigan family. Czolgosz worked in various menial jobs from childhood, and he eventually moved to Cleveland and worked in a factory. In his late 20s, Czolgosz became fascinated with anarchism. At the time, anarchism had a certain popularity amongst radical working-class circles, but most Americans viewed it with an abhorrence.

After an Italian anarchist killed the King of Italy, Czolgosz became obsessed with assassinating President William McKinley to strike a blow for the cause. In August 1901, he went to Buffalo, New York for the Pan-American Exposition, which McKinley was planning to attend. Because McKinley was very popular, there were large crowds at the Exposition to see the President. On September 6, Czolgosz made his way through the crowds to where McKinley was greeting the public and shaking hands. Czolgosz successfully made his way past the President's security men, and pulled out a concealed pistol. He shot McKinley twice before the stunned spectators could subdue him.

One shot gave McKinley only a flesh wound, but the other pierced his midsection and tore through his stomach. Despite the best efforts of his doctors, McKinley developed complications and died September 14, 1901.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1883 to 1917