1 minute read

Jack Henry Abbott Trial: 1982

Book Not Admissible, Just Like The Book

Defendant: Jack Henry Abbott
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyer: Ivan S. Fisher
Chief Prosecutor: James H. Fogel
Judge: Irving Lang
Place: New York, New York
Dates of Trial: January 4-21, 1982
Verdict: Guilty of first-degree manslaughter
Sentence: 15 years to life imprisonment

SIGNIFICANCE: The outrage that surrounded Jack Abbott's trial was deep and understandable. Public opinion took the view that, had it not been for influential but naive intellectuals, Abbott would have remained behind bars and one young life would have been saved.

While in jail, convicted killer Jack Abbott began a correspondence with author Norman Mailer. Mailer encouraged Abbott in his writing and helped to find a publisher for these letters which were released, to great critical acclaim, under the title In The Belly Of The Beast. Mailer petitioned Abbott's parole board, describing Abbott as "a powerful and important American writer." They promised to review Abbott's record.

Since age 12 (he was then 35) he had spent less than six months out of jail. Minor thefts had led to more serious bank robberies. In 1966 he received an extra 14-year jail term for stabbing a fellow prisoner to death. The board decided to parole Abbott to a halfway house in New York City. Six weeks later, on July 18, 1981, he and two female companions visited an all-night diner. Abbott got into an argument with waiter Richard Adan over use of the staff lavatory. The two took their quarrel outside, where Abbott stabbed Adan once in the heart, killing him almost instantly. Abbott fled. Police traced him to a Louisiana oil field and brought him back to New York to face trial.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1981 to 1988