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Sacco-Vanzetli Trial: 1921

Trial For Murder, Nothing Else

Before the trial opened, Judge Webster Thayer had told counsel on both sides that he saw no reason to bring up the issue of radicalism. It was not mentioned during the prosecution's entire presentation. But on the 29th day, Vanzetti himself, under direct examination by his attorney Jeremiah J. Mc-Anarney, was explaining why the four men sought Boda's car: "We were going to take the automobile for to carry books and newspapers," he said. Why hadn't he told the police that when he was arrested? "Because there was the deportation and the reaction was more vivid than now and more mad than now." In a word, his defense was that he lied out of fear of deportation as a radical.

Under Massachusetts law, since the defense had brought it up, the door was now open for prosecutor Katzmann to cross-examine Vanzetti about all his radical activities. But the jury heard no such questions. "Neither is Radicalism being tried here," the prosecutor told them. "This is a charge of murder and it is nothing else."

Next, Sacco explained that he, too, lied when he was arrested because he feared deportation on a radical charge. And he explained another lie. Upon arrest, he had said that he was at work all day April 15. But now his boss testified that Sacco had taken that day off to see the Italian consul in Boston about a passport for a trip to Italy. The consular clerk testified that Sacco was in his office at about 2:00 P.M. April 15, but the alibi was weak: Sacco had been turned down immediately because the passport photo he offered was too large. While the jury was being told that Sacco spent an entire day in Boston (several witnesses for the defense testified to having seen him there in the morning, at lunch, and in the afternoon), his business at the consulate had consumed only 10 minutes. Then Sacco noticed a spectator in the courtroom whom he had seen on the late afternoon train home. Sworn as a witness, the man could not remember seeing Sacco but was confident he had been on the train Sacco described.

As with Vanzetti, prosecutor Katzmann refrained from any line of questioning that might have led the jury to consider Sacco a dangerous radical.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1918 to 1940Sacco-Vanzetli Trial: 1921 - A Car To Move Red Literature, Defense Committee Organized, Outdated Bullets And A Cap, Trial For Murder, Nothing Else