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Leo Frank Trial: 1913

Prosecutors Emphasize Frank's Nervousness

Newt Lee, still in prison "under suspicion," was one of the first prosecution witnesses. Frank's telephone calls to Lee on the night of the murder came back to haunt him, because the prosecutors made it look as if Frank was checking to see if the body had been discovered that Saturday night. Lee Testified:

Mr. Frank phoned me [the first time] that night about an hour after he left, it was sometime after seven o'clock. He says, "How is everything?" and I says, "Everything is all right so far as I know," and he says, "Goodbye." No, he did not ask anything about Gantt. Yes, that is the first time he ever phoned to me on a Saturday night.

The prosecutors then turned Frank's nervous disposition to their advantage, and using the testimony of the police officers who had taken Frank to the scene of the crime on the morning of Sunday, April 27, to create suspicion in the mind of the jury. First, officer John N. Starnes testified:

I reached the factory between five and six o'clock on April 27th. I called up the superintendent, Leo Frank, and asked him to come right away. He said he hadn't had any breakfast. He asked where the night watchman was. I told him to come, and if he would come, I would send an automobile for him. I didn't tell him what had happened, and he didn't ask me.

When Frank arrived at the factory, a few minutes later, he appeared to be nervous, he was in a trembling condition. Lee was composed at the factory, he never tried to get away.

Another officer, one who had gone to pick up Frank at Frank's home, confirmed Starnes' testimony:

Mrs. Frank came to the door; she had on a bathrobe. I stated that I would like to see Mr. Frank and about that time Mr. Frank stepped out from behind a curtain. Frank's voice was hoarse and trembling and nervous and excited. He looked to me like he was pale. He seemed nervous in handling his collar; he could not get his tie tied, and talked very rapid in asking what had happened. He kept insisting on a cup of coffee.

When we got into the automobile, Mr. Frank wanted to know what had happened at the factory, and I asked him if he knew Mary Phagan, and told him she had been found dead in the basement. Mr. Frank said he did not know any girl by the name of Mary Phagan, that he knew very few of the employees.

The implication from this testimony was that Frank's nervousness was the result of a guilty conscience. Next, the prosecutors tried to prove that Frank had deliberately planned to get Mary Phagan to come to the factory that weekend. For example, a factory employee named Helen Ferguson testified that she had been Mary Phagan's friend and had in the past picked up Phagan's pay for her, but on the day before the murder, Frank suddenly refused to let Ferguson pick up Phagan's final pay:

[I went to] Mr. Frank Friday, April 25, about seven o'clock in the evening and asked for Mary Phagan's money. Mr. Frank said, "I can't let you have it," and before he said anything else I turned around and walked out. I had gotten Mary's money before.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1883 to 1917Leo Frank Trial: 1913 - Little Mary Phagan Murdered, Prosecutors Emphasize Frank's Nervousness, Prosecution Clinches Their Case, Frank Convicted, Commuted, And Lynched