Sensational Trials of the 1920s

Sacco & Vanzetti Trial

April 15, 1920 in Braintree, Massachusetts Italian anarchists, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, were convicted of murdering Fred Parmenter and Alessandro Berardelli during an armed robbery of a shoe factory. The jury found Sacco and Vanzetti guilty of first-degree murder July 14, 1921 and then were sentenced to death. The trial was based on testimony and conflicting ballistics evidence. The gun was the only piece of physical evidence connected to the men. A man named Mike Boda was also suspected to be involved but he fled to Italy before authorities found him.

Sacco and Vanzetti had celebrated writers and artists pleading for their pardon or for a new trial. They argued for their innocence. This drew attention from the United States popular culture. Many critics believe that the two men were convicted because of anti-Italian prejudice and their anarchists political beliefs. This was the first nationally know trial because of inconsistent evidence and the belief that prejudice ideas were used against them.

In October of 1961 and March of 1983 the trial was reopened to better investigate the ballistics. In 1977 the Massachusetts Governor issued a proclamation stating that they had been unfairly tried, but he did not proclaim them innocent.

Leopold and Loeb

Nathan Freudenthal Leopold and Albert Loeb were wealthy students who attend the University of Chicago. On May 21, 1924 they kidnapped and murdered 14 year old Robert Franks in Chicago. This was considered the "crime of the century" Leopold and Loeb did this to demonstrate their supposed intellectual superiority. This "perfect crime" took months in the planning. They were driven by the "thrill of the kill" the aspiration to commit a perfect crime.

The Franks murder has been an inspiration for sever works in film, theatre, and fiction. For example Rope by Patrick Hamilton and movies like Compulsion and Swoon were based upon this crime.

Clarence Darrow, the defense attorney for Leopold and Loeb, said in his closing argument "Nature made them do it, evolution made them do it, Nietzsche made them do it. So they should not be sentenced to death for it." He admitted that his clients were guilty, however he argued the forces that controlled their actions.

The Scopes "Monkey" Trial

AKA The State of Tennessee vs. John Thomas Scopes

An American legal case in 1925 involving a substitute high school teacher who was accused of violating Tennessee's Butler Act, which made it unlawful to teach human evolution in state funded schools. John Thomas Scopes purposely incriminated himself because he was unsure if he actually taught evolution. He was found guilty and fined $100.

The trial drew intense national publicity. National reporters flocked to Daytona to cover the trial. It was also a trial to test whether modern science should teach evolution in schools. Clarence Darrow, the same defense attorney who fought for Lopold and Loeb also fought for Scopes. This added to the popularity of this trial. It symbolized the conflict between science and theology, faith and reason, individual liberty and majority rule. The town got major attention nationwide because of this trial. It opened the eyes of how society should respect academic freedom.

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