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Chicago Seven Trial: 1969

Star-studded Witnesses Appear

To combat allegations of malicious intent, defense attorney William Kunstler had assembled a prodigious list of eminent character witnesses. The roll call included Norman Mailer, Reverend Jesse Jackson, Allen Ginsburg, William Styron, Arlo Guthrie, Country Joe McDonald, Judy Collins, Phil Ochs, Mark Lane, Timothy Leary, even a British Member of Parliament, Anne Kerr.

Apart from their eloquence and name value, there was little that these witnesses could offer the court in the way of direct evidence. Neither did the defendants help themselves. All seemed more interested in advancing their political agenda. Abbie Hoffman's opening remarks set the tone. Asked to identify himself for the record, he said, "My name is Abbie. I am an orphan of America.… I live in Woodstock Nation." When defense counsel Leonard Weinglass requested clarification, Hoffman eagerly seized his opportunity. "It is a nation of alienated young people. We carry it around with us as a state of mind." Weinglass concluded his direct examination with a simple question:

"Prior to coming to Chicago, from April 1968 on to the week of the Convention, did you enter into an agreement with [the other defendants] to come to the city of Chicago for the purpose of encouraging and promoting violence during the Convention week?"

"An agreement?"

"Yes."

"We couldn't agree on lunch!"

Cross-examination by prosecutor Richard Schultz was less conciliatory but equally frivolous, as Hoffman and his fellow defendants refused to recognize the court's legitimacy. Their crude, often childish antics exacted a heavy toll from Judge Hoffman, whose exasperation found ventilation in a litany of unfortunate remarks directed toward the defendants and their counsel.

After months of confusion and much rambling testimony, closing arguments began on February 10, 1970. The final word was left with prosecutor Thomas Foran. Describing the defendants, he said, "They are not kids. Davis, the youngest one, took the witness stand. He is twenty-nine. These are highly sophisticated, educated men and they are evil men." Uproarious laughter greeted this remark. In trying to paint a picture of latent villainy, Foran succeeded only in generating humor.

All things considered, Judge Hoffman's final charge to the jurors was remarkably subdued, and on February 14 they retired to consider their verdict.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1963 to 1972Chicago Seven Trial: 1969 - Seale Bound And Gagged, Star-studded Witnesses Appear, Guilty Verdicts Multiply, Suggestions For Further Reading