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Burton Abbott Trial: 1955

Emotion Over Evidence

When Abbott's trial got under way November 7, 1955, his guilt seemed a foregone conclusion. Certainly the Bay Area newspapers thought so, judging from the virulent campaign they had waged against the defendant all summer long, but it was soon clear that the case against Abbott was purely circumstantial: not one direct piece of evidence existed to link him to the death of Stephanie Bryan.

Fully aware of the shortcomings in the state's case, yet determined to secure a death verdict, District Attorney Frank Coakley opted for emotion over evidence. He ran into immediate opposition. Prosecution efforts to introduce a particularly gory photograph of the victim brought defense counsel Stanley D. Whitney to his feet, protesting that it was presented "for no other reason than to inflame the jury and raise prejudice against the defendant." Judge Wade Snook sided with Whitney on this point but did allow Coakley to show clothes taken from the dead girl's body. The stench from these unwashed clothes, which had been kept in a closed box, was so bad that several spectators hurriedly vacated the courtroom. The jury, denied any such opportunity, was forced to endure the ordeal, but the effect on them was palpable.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1954 to 1962Burton Abbott Trial: 1955 - Emotion Over Evidence, Amused Defendant