Trials and Tribulations

Sensational Trials of the 1920s.

By Frances Steadman

The Sacco and Vanzettie

Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were both Italian-American laborers, Sacco was a shoemaker, Vanzetti sold fish. Both men were convicted of the murder of Parameter and Berardelli as well as a robbery. The trial started May 21, 1921 in Dedham, Norfolk County. Sacco and Vanzetti both spoke poor English so they rarely knew what was being questioned of them and if they did, were unable to answer effectively. The trial lasted seven weeks, and Sacco and Vanzetti were in the end convicted of murder in the first degree. Both men were executed via he electric chair in August 1927.

This trial was an example of the irony of America, a place that once shown hope now shined of injustice and inequality, once again. This trial set off worldwide protests and there were demonstrations nationwide. Bombs were set off in New York City and Philadelphia among other places. Peoples house were burned and destroyed.  It was a mark of the beginning of a sense of publicity for relatively pointless trials. Yet it was only the beginning.

Leopold and Loeb Trial

Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were two teenagers living in the wealthy district of Chicago. Both were aspiring lawyers and taken with the idea of a "perfect crime". On May 21, 1924, ironically exactly three years after the start of the Sacco and Vanzetti Trial, Leopold and Loeb killed a 14-year-old boy named Bobby Frank with a chisel and demanded a ransom of $10,000. They would have gotten away with it if it wasn't for Leopold's glasses being found. Both were charged of murder, but the best criminal attorney was hired, Clarence Darrow. The trial ran for 32 days, Loeb confessing first, followed by Leopold. With Darrow's intellect and skills, both men were found guilty but given life imprisonment instead of a death sentence. In jail, many life threats were made to the two men in order for money. One day Loeb was attacked with a shaving blade and killed. Leopold went on to write a novel about his time in jail.

This trial influenced the use of capital punishment in Illinois. Since the occasion, less death penalties have been declared nationwide. Also, the "plea of not guilty by reason of insanity" became a firm ground on which to stand. More subtly, yet equally prominent, this trial changed the view of wealthy people as always being "good" and "wise", a sense of "equality" was brought to light.

The Scopes "Monkey" Trial

John Thomas Scopes was a high school science teacher. He was accused of teaching evolution in violation of the Tennessee state law which stated that one cannot teach what denies Christian beliefs. Scopes conspired to be charged with this violation so as to be taken to court about it in the first place. Clarence Darrow agreed to join ACLU in the defense, while William Jennings Bryan stood as the assistant to the prosecuted. Eventually the trial had to be taken outside because there were so many people in attendance. Bryan, in attempt to discredit his literal interpretation of the the bible, had to make ignorant and contradictory statements that subjected him to ridicule. As a result, Darrow asked for Scopes to be found guilty so the case could be repealed. Coincidentally, Bryan died five days later. In the end, Scopes just had to pay a fine. In fact, the law wasn't found unconstitutional until 1968 based on the First Amendment.  

Hundred of spectators and reporters came to Dayton to watch the trial. It was a carnival-like atmosphere outside the courthouse, chimpanzees were present and bibles, hot dogs and lemonade were sold. This trial made Christianity and Judaism look anti-scientific and narrow minded. It also shaped the teaching and requirements of evolution and Darwinism to today. It marked as a turning point for the struggle between fundamentalists and scientifically-inclined urban dwellers.

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