Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Lynching of Leo Frank


After Conley's testimony, the prosecution called a few more unimportant witnesses and rested their case.  While the public seemed satisfied that Frank had been shown to be guilty, some doubted Conley.  It did not escape the notice of the editor of Atlanta's Frost's Magazine that Conley did not remember details of matters that were favorable to Frank's innocence, but that he was letter-perfect when recounting items that he had previously testified to, as if he had been carefully rehearsed.  The editor observed that Solicitor Dorsey "... sought self-aggrandizement in his ruthless effort to make out a case where he knew beforehand he had no case."

The first defense witnesses were called to show that the time element, contrary to Conley's testimony, could not possibly have allowed Frank to commit the murder.  First, it was established that Mary Phagan left the trolley car at 12:10 p.m., and that it was a two to four minute walk to the factory from the trolley stop.  Two employees that had stopped by to pick up their pay envelopes had arrived at the factory at 11:45 a.m., and not after 1:00 p.m., as Conley had testified.  Frank had claimed that he had left the factory at 1:00 p.m., to go home for lunch.  Witnesses testified that they had seen Frank between 1:00 and 1:30 p.m., on his way home.  Albert McKnight, the cook's husband and the Frank's handyman, said Frank had been home at 1:30 p.m.  This was in direct contradiction to Conley, who said that they had been together at the factory at 1:30 p.m.

Next, Leo Frank testified in his own defense.  For four hours, he recounted his upbringing, his life in Atlanta, and refuted Conley's "tissue of lies."  He denied involvement in the crime.  The newspapers, even those that were predisposed to find him guilty, found his testimony convincing.

The defense brought some 200 witnesses, about 100 of whom testified to Frank's good character.  All were white, and most were from the North.  Twenty witnesses testified on Conley's reputation as a notorious liar.

Dorsey's cross-examination of the defense witnesses centered on Frank's alleged lascivious behavior, and, no matter how they responded, Dorsey was able to remind the jury of Conley's vivid testimony.  At one point, Dorsey implied that Frank was a homosexual, and asked another witness whether it was true if he had seen Frank fondle a young girl's nipples.  While the witness denied ever having seen such an act, Dorsey's implication stood.

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