Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Lynching of Leo Frank

Summing Up

The defense rested.  The prosecution than presented rebuttal witnesses, most of whom swore that Frank had a reputation for lascivious behavior, although none of them were able to give eyewitness accounts of such behavior.  Finally, to rebut the issues raised by the defense with respect to the time that Mary Phagan had arrived at the factory, the prosecution called George Kendley, a trolley conductor, to the stand.  He remembered that he saw Mary Phagan walking toward the factory at noon.  The defense countered with witnesses discrediting Kendley.  One reported that Kendley had said, "Frank was nothing but an old Jew and they ought to take him out and hang him anyhow."  Another said that the conductor has said "... that Frank was guilty as a snake, and should be hung ..."  This was the first instance of anti-Semitism expressed in the actual trial proceedings.

The summations brought the anti-Semitism to the forefront.  Defense attorney Arnold said that "... if Frank hadn't been a Jew there would never have been any prosecution against him..."  Then Arnold stated what many had been thinking:  The Leo Frank Case was like the Dreyfus affair in France, where a man is tried simply because he is a Jew.

Hugh Dorsey, however, was beyond belief.  The defense, he said, introduced the issue of Frank's being a Jew.  "The word Jew never escaped our lips," he said.  After praising some prominent Jews, Dorsey reminded the jury of a number of Jewish criminals, and said that "... the Jews rise to heights sublime, but they also sink to the lowest depths of degradation!"  Despite his protestations, Dorsey was not above "playing the race card."

Evidence at the trial, Mary Phagan's clothes and the rope used to strangle her
Evidence at the trial, Mary Phagan's
clothes and the rope used to strangle her

Dorsey spent a considerable amount of time on the notes found next to the body.  They supported, he contended, that Conley was telling the truth, that the notes had indeed been dictated to him.  He pointed out that a semi-illiterate Negro, Jim Conley, would not have used the word "Negro," nor would he have used the word "did" for the more customary misuse of the word "done."  Rosser objected, pointing out that Conley had used the word "did" during his testimony.  The court stenographer confirmed this, but Dorsey waved away the objection, suggesting that the stenographer had made a mistake.  The stenographer corrected Dorsey, pointing out that the shorthand symbol for the two words were quite different.  Still, Dorsey kept to his contention.  "I leave it to the jury to decide," he said.

Dorsey moved the crowd with his summation.  Many were in tears, and Mary Phagan's mother cried out in pain as Dorsey described the horror of the young flower of womanhood being despoiled by the perverted Frank.  He left the courthouse each of the three days of his summation to vigorous applause by the crowd.

The temper of the crowd was very ugly.  The newspapers encouraged Judge Roan to postpone giving the case to the jury until Monday, since they feared that a Saturday deliberation would lead to a weekend of rioting and violence.  Judge Roan agreed, and, in the presence of the jury, conferred with the Chief of Police and the army commander of the local military barracks about their ability to quell an uprising.  The defense later pointed out that for all intents and purposes, the jury was led to believe that a verdict of not guilty would result in a riot.  Judge Roan adjourned the proceedings until Monday, when Dorsey could conclude his summation.

On Monday, Dorsey was greeted with a boisterous demonstration by those assembled in the courtroom, and Judge Roan empowered the sheriff to quell the disturbance.  The sheriff felt powerless, and the worried judge assembled the counsel for the defense before the bench.  It was decided that neither the defense counsel nor the accused should be present in the courtroom when the verdict was announced.  Frank's lawyers agreed, without seeking Frank's permission.

Three hours later, Dorsey concluded his summation with the words, "Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!"  A dramatic conclusion, indeed, as the church bells tolled the noon hour.

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