Burton Abbott Trial: 1955
Emotion Over Evidence, Amused Defendant
Defendant: Burton W. Abbott
Crimes Charged: Murder and kidnapping
Chief Defense Lawyer: Stanley D. Whitney
Chief Prosecutors: Frank Coakley and Folger Emerson
Judge: Wade Snook
Place: Oakland, California
Dates of Trial: November 7, 1955-January 25, 1956
SIGNIFICANCE: Shrewd advocacy and the marshaling of highly charged emotions overcame evidential limitations in one of California's most sensational murder trials.
On April 28, 1955, 14-year-old Stephanie Bryan failed to return home after school in Oakland, California. Apart from finding a school textbook, the police had little to go on. A statewide search proved fruitless until July 15, when Georgia Abbott reported that she had found some of Stephanie's personal effects—a purse and ID card—in the basement of her Alameda home. When police searched the basement more thoroughly the next day, they dug up yet more books belonging to Stephanie, also her spectacles and a brassiere. Neither Georgia Abbott nor her 27-year-old husband, Burton, an accounting student, could explain how the effects came to be there. Burton Abbott told police that at the time Stephanie disappeared, he was en route to the family's vacation cabin, 285 miles away in the Trinity County mountains. On July 20, the battered body of Stephanie Bryan was found lying in a shallow grave, just 335 feet from Abbott's cabin. Soon afterwards he was charged with murder and rape.
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