1 minute read

Tom Mooney Trial: 1917

One Of "the Blasters', A Surprise Witness—and A Jitney, The Clock In The Photos

Defendant: Thomas J. Mooney
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyers: W. Bourke Cockran and Maxwell McNutt
Chief Prosecutors: Edward A. Cunha and Charles Fickert
Judge: Franklin A. Griffin
Place: San Francisco, California
Dates of Trial: January 3-February 9, 1917
Verdict: Guilty
Sentence: Death by hanging, later commuted, then pardoned

SIGNIFICANCE: Tom Mooney's case demonstrated how America's phobia about radicals from before World War I and through the 1920s and '30s corrupted its sense of justice and even its common sense. While the improper conviction of Mooney—based on perjury, suppression and fabrication of evidence, and subornation of perjury—was established within a year after the trial, political maneuvering kept him in prison until 1939. This failure of the legal system to acknowledge that a conviction based on perjured testimony justified a new trial is demonstrated that an unpopular defendant could be denied due process in the state of California.

Qn "Preparedness Day," July 22, 1916, a bomb killed 10 spectators and injured 40 others during a military parade in San Francisco. Opposition to the parade had been planned and announced by radical labor leaders and anarchists who thought the march promoted militarism, and who were against American entry into the World War then raging in Europe. The bombing looked like anarchists' work.

Within hours of the bombing, District Attorney Charles Fickert was visited by Martin Swanson, a private detective employed by the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E). Swanson suspected that the insurgent responsible for the parade bombing was 34-year-old Tom Mooney, a union organizer who had drifted through at least a dozen jobs across the country as an ironworker and had earned a reputation as "a corner" with officers of his union, the International Molders. Mooney had even drifted twice to Europe, where he was strongly attracted to socialism. Back in the United States, he had been an active orator and fund-raiser in the 1908 presidential campaign of Socialist Eugene V. Debs, who liked Mooney's forceful persistence and made him his "official party literature agent."

Additional topics

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