Aug. 22, 1913 Hugh Dorsey begins making the final arguments for the prosecution. Dorsey’s peroration – which The Atlanta Georgian describes as “a white-hot philippic” – will take up nearly three full days of the trial and will last for a total of nine hours, a new record for a criminal trial in the South. The Atlanta Constitution calls Dorsey’s performance “the most remarkable speech which has ever been delivered in the Fulton county courthouse” and “one of the most wonderful efforts ever made at the Georgia bar.”
In his closing arguments, Dorsey concentrates on doing what he and his assistants have been doing throughout the trial – depicting 27-year old Jim Conley (whom Dorsey, using the racist cant then prevalent in Georgia’s Jim Crow system, persists in calling “Old Jim Conley” and “Old Jim”) as honest and reliable (“it’s a reasonable tale that old Jim tells you”), and defaming and smearing Frank by depicting him as a fiendish killer (“a lust murderer”) and comparing Frank at length to Theodore Durrant, nicknamed “the Demon of the Belfry,” an infamous bloodthirsty California multiple killer from two decades before who had been hanged for murdering two women inside San Francisco’s Emmanuel Baptist Church. Durrant, who taught a Sunday School class at the church, had left the mutilated corpse of one of the victims in the church library and hidden the other body in the church’s bell tower.
The murder notes, Dorsey tells the jury, incriminate Frank, not Conley (“you tell me that ever a negro lived on the face of the earth who, after having killed and robbed, or ravished and murdered a girl down in that dark basement, or down there in that area, would have taken up the time to have written these notes”). In addition to making what Oney calls “ugly insinuations” about Leo Frank, Dorsey addresses Frank personally and accuses him of being a sex monster who lusted after Mary Phagan, raped and strangled her, and denied responsibility “to save your reputation with… your kinfolks in Brooklyn … ”
Aug. 23, 1913 Hugh Dorsey continues his presentation. Concerned about the excited, boisterous crowds inside and outside the courtroom, Judge Roan, in the presence of the jury and while on the bench, confers with the Atlanta chief of police and the uniformed colonel of the Fifth Georgia Infantry Regiment (a unit of the state militia stationed in Atlanta), who are well known to the jury.
Also on this day, representatives from Atlanta newspapers, fearful of possible mob violence if the trial should continue today, request Judge Roan to adjourn proceedings until the following Monday.
Aug. 25, 1913 Today, a Monday, is the 25th and final day of the trial. Hugh Dorsey takes three hours, from 9 a.m. to noon, to complete his fiery closing argument, after which Judge Roan gives the jury its instructions and the jury retires to consider its verdict. After deliberating for only one hour and 45 minutes, the jury returns with a verdict of guilty. Neither Leo Frank nor his defense lawyers are present in the courtroom at the reception of the jury’s verdict. Why? Because Judge Roan, in a private conference with defense counsel held just before the jury was charged, has requested that both Frank and his counsel absent themselves when the jury returned its verdict, and counsel has agreed without consulting with or obtaining consent from Frank himself. Judge Roan appears to have made the request because he thought Frank and his counsel might be danger of violence in the courtroom in the event of an acquittal or a hung jury.
As Dorsey leaves the building after the verdict he is rapturously greeted by a huge cheering crowd of 5,000 – “a shrieking throng that wildly proclaimed its admiration,” tomorrow’s The Atlanta Constitution announces. Among these masses of people “the cry of guilty took winged flight from lip to lip. It traveled like the rattle of musketry. Then came a combined shout that rose to the sky. Hats went into the air. Women wept and shouted by turns. Few will live to see another such demonstration.”
In celebration of the guilty verdict, a large crowd gathers in front of the National Pencil Company Building and cakewalks for an hour. The rejoicing in Atlanta is described by a contemporary observer as “a Roman holiday.” The jury’s verdict is welcomed with expressions of great joy and grinning happiness not just by almost all the citizens of Atlanta, but also by almost all Georgians.
Upon receiving word in his cell of the verdict, Frank issues a one sentence official statement: “I am as innocent today as I was one year ago.” Tomorrow’s Constitution carries the headline “Frank Convicted, Asserts Innocence.”
In a statement to a Constitution reporter, Hugh Dorsey says: “I want to say that I am entirely satisfied with the manner in which the trial has been conducted and also with the verdict returned.”
Aug. 26, 1913 In a closed and hurried court session, Judge Roan sentences Frank to death by hanging and fixes Oct. 10, 1913 as the date for carrying out the sentence. Before imposition of sentence Frank is allowed to address the judge, and says: “I say now, as I have always said, that I am innocent. Further than that, my case is in the hands of my lawyers.” Shortly after the sentencing Frank’s attorneys file a motion for a new trial, which is later amended several times.
Also on this day Leo Frank’s defense lawyers issue the following public statement:
“The trial which has just occurred and which has resulted in Mr. Frank’s conviction was a farce and not in any way a trial. In saying this we do make the least criticism of Judge Roan, who presided. Judge Roan is one of the best men in Georgia and is an able and conscientious judge. The temper of the public mind was such that it invaded the courtroom and pervaded the streets and made itself manifest at every turn the jury made; and it was just as impossible for this jury to escape the effects of the public feeling as if they had been turned loose and allowed to mingle with the people. In doing this we are making no criticism of the jury. They were men and unconsciously this prejudice rendered any other verdict impossible. It would have required a jury of Stoics, a jury of Spartans to have withstood this situation. The time ought to come when this man will get a fair trial, and we profoundly believe that it will. The final judgment of the American people is a fair one. It is sometimes delayed in coming, but it comes. We entered this case with a profound conviction of Mr. Frank’s innocence. The result has not changed our opinion. Every step of the trial has intensified and fortified our profound conviction of his innocence.”
Oct. 31, 1913 Judge Roan denies Frank’s amended motion for a new trial. However, before announcing his decision, he surprisingly states in open court and for the record: “I have thought about this case more than any other I have ever tried. I am not certain of this man’s guilt. With all the thought I have put on this case, I am not thoroughly convinced that Frank is guilty or innocent.”
Feb. 14, 1914 The Atlanta Journal breaks the story that prosecutor Hugh Dorsey has suppressed the fact that the doctor who performed Mary Phagan’s autopsy, Dr. Henry F. Harris, Secretary of the Georgia Board of Health, had microscopically examined head hair found in the metal room of the National Pencil Company Building and discovered that it did not come from Phagan (thus undermining the prosecution claim that Leo Frank killed Phagan in the metal room).
Feb. 17, 1914 On direct appeal, the Georgia Supreme Court affirms Leo Frank’s murder conviction and death sentence by a 4-2 vote. Frank v. State, 141 Ga. 243, 80 S. E. 1016 (1914). The majority opinion is by Justice Samuel C. Atkinson. The two dissenting judges are Chief Justice William H. Fish and Justice Marcus W. Beck. The dissenters maintain that Jim Conley’s testimony concerning Frank’s supposed lascivious behavior with other women or his supposed sexual abnormality was “calculated to prejudice the defendant in the minds of the jurors, and thereby deprive him of a fair trial.”
Feb. 24, 1914 Jim Conley is tried and convicted of being an accessory after the fact to the murder of Mary Phagan and sentenced to one year on the chain gang. Hugh Dorsey prosecutes the case for the state; Conley is represented by his criminal defense attorney, William M. Smith. After serving 10 months of his sentence, Conley is released on Dec. 9, 1914 – the very day when, for the third time, the trial court fixes a date for Leo Frank’s execution.
Mar. 7, 1914 A hearing is held in the trial court to fix a date for executing Leo Frank. This is the second such hearing for Frank. (The first was when Frank was originally sentenced.) Judge Roan having resigned from the Superior Court and joined the Georgia Court of Appeals, this and all subsequent proceedings in the trial court are presided over by a new superior court judge, Benjamin H. Hill. Hill has just resigned from the Georgia Court of Appeals after serving there as its first chief judge from 1907 to 1913. (Hill was the author of that court’s great opinion in the famous Underwood v. State decision seven months ago.) Judge Hill fixes Apr. 17, 1914 – Leo Frank’s 30th birthday – as the date for putting Frank to death.
At the hearing, addressing Judge Hill, Frank proclaims:
“In your Honor’s presence, representing human law, and in the presence of the Supreme Judge who at this very moment is casting the light of His omnipotent and omnipresent eye upon me from His throne on high, I assert I am innocent of little Mary Phagan’s death and have no knowledge of how it occurred.
“Your Honor, an astounding and outrageous state of affairs obtained previous to and during my trial. On the streets rumor and gossip carried vile, vicious and damning stories concerning me and my life. These stories were absolutely false, and they did me great harm, as they beclouded and obsessed the public mind and outraged it against me. From a public in this state of mind the jury that tried me was chosen. Not only were these stories circulated in the street, but to the shame of our community be it said that these vile insinuations crept into my very trial in the courtroom, creeping in insidiously, like a thief in the night. The virus of these damning insinuations entered the minds of the twelve men and stole away their judicial frame of mind and their moral courage. The issues at bar were lost. The poison of unspeakable things took their place…
“But I am innocent of this crime. And the future will prove it.”
Mar. 8, 1914 Henry A. Alexander, a lawyer newly hired to represent Leo Frank, meets with newspaper reporters to announce the results of his study of the murder notes, a study which (along with facsimile photographs of the notes and of a specimen of Conley’s handwriting) has recently been published as an eight-page pamphlet, “Some Facts About the Murder Notes in the Phagan Case.” Alexander is an 1893 graduate of the UGA law school, and a former college roommate of Hugh M. Dorsey.
In his pamphlet Alexander persuasively argues the probable purpose of the clause “i wright while play with me” on the carbon copy order sheet: “Realizing dimly that the question would arise how the girl mortally injured or dead could have done any writing, or how he, the murderer, standing over her and watching every movement, came to permit her to write notes incriminating himself, this was intended as an explanation. In other words, the reader of the notes was expected to believe that she wrote them without the murderer seeing her do it while he was ‘playing’ with her.” That Leo Frank, a college educated engineer, would have intended to offer such an explanation – or, indeed, would have ever have conjured up in the first place the wacko notion of manufacturing notes supposedly written by the victim, and then having the notes, which blame a particular black male, handwritten by another black male – is preposterous on its face.
According to Alexander’s pamphlet, the term “night witch” appearing in the other note is not a misspelling for “night watch.” “While the writer of the notes made repeated errors in his spelling, he made none in correctly reproducing the sound of words, and it is extremely unlikely that he intended to say ‘night watchman’ when he wrote ‘night witch.'” Instead, Alexander maintains, “night witch” refers to a hobgoblin figure then well known in Southern black culture but entirely unknown to a Northern white person such as Frank. (In the superstitious beliefs of black people in the South back then, history scholars tell us, the night witch was said to be a ghoulish apparition who could kill children crying out in their sleep at night.) Jim Conley had testified, of course, that Frank had composed the notes (and therefore had been the one who had selected the term “night witch”).
Alexander also points out that the carbon copy order sheet on which one of the notes was written almost certainly had come from the basement, not Frank’s office. The dateline on the sheet was “190_” and thus outdated, and the order sheets in use at the time of the murder were datelined “191_;” it was thus unlikely that the sheet came from a pad in Frank’s office. Furthermore, the scratch pad from which the sheet was torn had been found by police in the basement, not far from the note itself. This tended to exculpate Frank and to inculpate Conley. The defense theory at trial had been that Conley wrote the notes in the basement, whereas the prosecution had maintained, and Conley had testified, that the notes had been procured from and written in Frank’s second floor office.
Mar. 10, 1914 The Atlanta Journal publishes a searing editorial, “Frank Should Have a New Trial.” The shocking murder of Mary Phagan, “a young girl just budding into womanhood,” had, the editorial stated, “unhinged” the community and produced a “degree of frenzy almost inconceivable.”
The editorial continues:
“The Journal cares absolutely nothing for Frank, or for those who were engaged in his defense or prosecution. If Frank is found guilty after a fair trial, he ought to be hanged and his case should be a horrible example to those who would destroy human life, for generations to come…
“Leo Frank has not had a fair trial. He has not been fairly convicted and his death without a fair trial and legal conviction will amount to judicial murder.
“We say this with a full understanding of the import of our words and the responsibility that rests upon us in making this appeal. We do so, not in disrespect for the court or the lawyers or the jury. They did the best they could with the lights before them. We honor them for faithfully performing a most unpleasant duty as they saw it.
“But we do say this without qualification: it was not within the power of human judges and human lawyers and human jurymen to decide impartially and without fear the guilt or innocence of an accused man under the circumstances that surrounded this trial.
“The very atmosphere of the courtroom was charged with an electric current of indignation which flashed and scintillated before the very eyes of the jury. The courtroom and streets were filled with an angry, determined crowd, ready to seize the defendant if the jury had found him not guilty. (When the jury returned the guilty verdict, Frank was not in the courtroom. He was at the Fulton Tower.) Cheers for the prosecuting counsel were irrepressible in the courtroom throughout the trial and on the streets unseemly demonstrations in condemnation of Frank were heard by the judge and jury. The judge was powerless to prevent these outbursts in the courtroom and the police were unable to control the crowd outside.
“So great was the danger that the Fifth Regiment of the National Guard was kept under arms through a great part of the night, ready to rush on a moment’s warning to the protection of the defendant. The press of the city united in an earnest request to the presiding judge not to permit the verdict of the jury to be received on Saturday as it was known that a verdict of acquittal would cause a riot such as would shock the country and cause Atlanta’s streets to run with innocent blood. Under such indescribable conditions as these, Frank was tried and convicted. Was a fair trial, under these circumstances, possible?
“The evidence on which he was convicted is not clear (the evidence was circumstantial, but on the strong side). Suppose he is hanged and it should develop that the man was innocent as he claims? The people of this state would stand before the world convicted of murdering an innocent man by refusing to give him an impartial trial. Such a horrible thing is unthinkable. And yet it is possible; yea, an absolute certainty, that we are going to do that very thing unless the courts interfere.
“Ought Frank to have a new trial? The question carries its own answer: Let Justice be done, though the Heavens fall.
“In the name of Justice and in the name of the good people of the State of Georgia, who believe in fair play, who stand for the enforcement of law and the punishment of crime, after legal conviction, let this man be fairly tried. If he is guilty, he will be convicted.”
Other Georgia newspapers editorializing in favor of a new trial for Leo Frank include The Albany Herald, The Dalton Citizen, and The Thomasville Times-Enterprise.
Mar. 19, 1914 Frenziedly reacting to The Atlanta Journal’s plea for a retrial of Leo Frank, Tom Watson publishes his first attack on Frank and Frank’s defenders in his weekly newspaper The Jeffersonian. Over the next 18 months Watson will publish hundreds of pages of articles and items calumniating Frank and his supporters and heaping vituperative scorn on any suggestion that Frank does not deserve to hang. Many of these writings fester with the purulence of anti-Semitism. In today’s article, “The Frank Case: When and Where Shall Rich Criminals be Tried?,” Watson vitriolically asks: “Does a Jew expect extraordinary favors and immunities because of his race?”
Due to Watson’s incendiary writings, a contemporary Georgian soon observes: “No one has yet dared publicly to express his belief in Frank’s innocence without being accused of having been bought with Jewish money.”
Apr. 16, 1914 Leo Frank files two postsentence motions in the trial court: an extraordinary motion for a new trial, and a motion to set aside verdict. The first motion raises the claim that there is newly discovered evidence of Frank’s innocence. The second motion raises the claim that Frank’s involuntary absence from the courtroom when the verdict was returned violated due process.
Apr. 24, 1914 At a hearing on its extraordinary new trial motion, the defense introduces an affidavit of Annie Maude Carter, Jim Conley’s girlfriend, in which she swears that in a conversation with Conley while both she and Conley were in jail Conley had confessed to murdering Mary Phagan:
“During Christmas week  I was talking with Conley in his cell and he said he would tell the whole truth about it. I asked him why he waited so long and he said, ‘If I tell you, will you marry me?’ and I told him, ‘Yes.’ He then told me that he really did the murder of Mary Phagan, but that it was so plainly shown on Mr. Frank that he let it go that way. He begged me never to say anything about this.
“He said he was sitting on a box in the factory when the girl came down; that he told her someone had called her; that she turned back and he then struck her with his fist, knocking her down; that he dropped her through the hole; that he then took her around by the furnace, starting to burn her, but his conscience wouldn’t let him; that he put her down there to make people believe Newt Lee did it; that afterward he found a piece of blank paper, tears it in two, picks up a pencil, and puts the paper on the cellar door and writes the notes; that he first took the notes and put them in her bosom, then he took them out and laid them by her side; that he then took a thing they opened boxes with and pulled the staple out of the back door and went out.
“He told me that he kept the money he found in her purse… “
In the affidavit Carter also confirms that the Annie Maude Carter correspondence – a bundle of letters written to her between December 1913 and February 1914 – had been written by Jim Conley. (This correspondence had been located by private detectives working for the defense in April 1914. Gov. John M. Slaton will later write: “These letters are the most obscene and lecherous I have ever read.” In the letters Conley repeatedly says how much he enjoys having anal intercourse with women. The letters are unquestionably in Conley’s handwriting. Conley at first denies authorship of the letters, but in 1915 admits he wrote them. In their syntax and phraseology – for example, their frequent use of monosyllabic words and compound adjectives – the letters are quite similar to the murder notes.)
The Annie Maude Carter affidavit and the letters to her from Jim Conley constitute strong evidence that it was Jim Conley, not Leo Frank, who murdered Mary Phagan and composed the murder notes.
May 6, 1914 The trial court denies Leo Frank’s extraordinary motion for a new trial.
June 6, 1914 The trial court denies Leo Frank’s motion to set aside the verdict.
Oct. 2, 1914 In an interview with a reporter for The Atlanta Constitution, William M. Smith, Jim Conley’s attorney, now sure of Leo Frank’s innocence and feeling partly responsible for Frank’s erroneous conviction, describes Conley’s testimony as “a cunning fabrication” and expresses the view that Conley is the murderer of Mary Phagan. He adds: “I have come to the conclusion – or at least this is my personal judgment – that Leo M. Frank is innocent.” Smith’s words are published the next day under the headline: “Frank Not Guilty, Believes Conley’s Lawyer.” The Atlanta Georgian repeats the story the same day under the banner “Conley is Guilty Says His Lawyer.” The following day The New York Times follows suit under the banner “Conley, Not Frank Called Slayer; Attorney Smith Now Convinced His Negro Client Killed Mary Phagan.”
Oct. 14, 1914 Without assessing the merits of the newly discovered evidence adduced below by Leo Frank, the Georgia Supreme Court affirms the trial court’s denial of Frank’s extraordinary motion for a new trial, on the ground the trial judge did not abuse his discretion in denying the motion. Frank v. State, 142 Ga. 617, 83 S. E. 233 (1914).
Nov. 14, 1914 The Georgia Supreme Court affirms the trial court’s denial of Leo Frank’s motion to set aside the verdict, on the ground the issue of the Frank’s involuntary absence from the courtroom when the jury returned its verdict should have been raised by Frank’s attorneys in the original motion for a new trial, filed in 1913. Frank v. State, 142 Ga. 741, 83 S. E. 645 (1914). Due to attorney error, Frank cannot prevail in court on his very substantial claim that he was unconstitutionally denied the right to be present in court when the jury returned its verdict.
Nov. 29, 1914 Judge Roan, who presided over Leo Frank’s trial and is now dying of cancer in a Massachusetts hospital, dictates a letter recommending that Frank’s sentence be commuted to life imprisonment, saying:
“I wish to say that at the proper time I shall ask the prison commission to recommend and the governor to commute Frank’s sentence to life imprisonment…
“It is possible that I showed undue deference to the opinion of the jury in this case, when I allowed their verdict to stand. They said by their verdict that they had found the truth. I was still in a state of uncertainty and so expressed myself…
After many months of continued deliberation I am still uncertain of Frank’s guilt. This state of uncertainty is largely due to the character of the Negro Conley’s testimony, by which the verdict was evidently reached. The execution of any person whose guilt has not been satisfactorily proven to the constituted authorities, is too horrible to contemplate. I do not believe that a person should meet with the extreme penalty of the law until the Court, Jury, and Governor shall all have been satisfied of that person’s guilt.”
Dec. 7, 1914 The U.S. Supreme Court denies Frank’s request for appellate review of the Georgia Supreme Court’s Nov. 14 decision upholding the denial of the motion to set aside the verdict. Ex parte Frank, 235 U. S. 694 (1914).
Dec. 9, 1914 For the third time, the trial court fixes a date for executing Leo Frank’s death sentence – Jan. 22, 1915. In open court Frank again protests his innocence.
Also on this day Jim Conley completes his sentence for being an accessory after the fact to Mary Phagan’s murder, and is released from custody.
Dec. 17, 1914 Leo Frank files a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, claiming that his trial violated due process requirements because it was mob-dominated and because of his involuntary absence from the courtroom at the time the jury returned its verdict.
Dec. 19, 1914 The federal district court dismisses Frank’s habeas corpus petition.
Dec. 28, 1914 U.S. Supreme Court Justice Joseph R. Lamar (a Georgian), grants Frank permission to appeal the dismissal of his habeas corpus petition to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Feb. 25 and 26, 1915 The U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments on Frank’s appeal from the dismissal of his habeas corpus petition.
Apr. 19, 1915 Taking a narrow view of due process protections (a view it repudiates beginning in the 1930’s and 1940’s), the U.S. Supreme Court by a 7-2 vote affirms the dismissal of Frank’s federal habeas corpus petition. Frank v. Mangum, 237 U. S. 309 (1915). The majority opinion is by Justice Mahlon Pitney. The two dissenting justices are Oliver Wendell Holmes and Charles Evan Hughes. They believe that Frank should be given an opportunity in the district court to prove the claims raised in the habeas corpus petition. They write: “[Due process] embraces the fundamental conception of a fair trial with opportunity to be heard. Mob law does not become due process of law by securing the assent of a terrorized jury.” Two days later, a California newspaper asserts: “The opinion of the country will be with the dissenting justices.”
Apr. 22, 1915 Having been reluctantly persuaded by his attorneys that it would be counterproductive to request a pardon, Leo Frank signs an application for gubernatorial commutation of sentence. It concludes:
“I am absolutely innocent of the crime of which I was convicted. I have no personal knowledge of the crime other than the facts related by me in my statement made at the trial. Beyond these facts, I know no more than any other person who was present in the courtroom and heard the evidence.”
May 10, 1915 At a hearing the trial court fixes June 22, 1915 as the new date for Leo Frank to be executed. This is the fourth time Frank has heard the trial court set a date for him to be put to death. Before the date is announced, Frank is permitted to address the trial judge and says:
“Again, I can but reiterate that I am innocent of the murder of Mary Phagan. I have absolutely no knowledge of that tragic occurrence. My execution will not avenge Mary Phagan’s death. A life will have been taken for a life, but the real culprit will not have paid the penalty. I will suffer for another’s crime. My trust is in God, who knows that my protestations of innocence are the truth. At some future date the whole mortal world will realize it.”
May 31, 1915 In Atlanta, the Georgia Prison Commission, a three member body that supervises the prison system and acts as a sort of pardons and parole board, opens a public hearing on Leo Frank’s application for commutation. The Commission does not have power to grant or deny the application, but is responsible for making a recommendation to the governor, who alone may grant a pardon, commutation, or other executive clemency to convicted persons. Frank’s attorneys appear before the Commission in support of commutation. Hugh Dorsey does not appear before the Commission, but does send a letter opposing commutation. Popular sentiment in Georgia is overwhelmingly against commutation.
Also on this day a crowd of 1,000 assembles in the Cobb County Courthouse in Marietta to protest any commutation of Frank’s sentence. The first speaker, state legislator John Tucker Dorsey (soon to be one of Frank’s lynchers), shouts, “Let him hang!,” producing extended applause from the crowd.
June 1, 1915 A group of 14 prominent citizens from Cobb County attends the commutation hearing to oppose commutation. Many of these citizens will later be involved in the lynching of Leo Frank, including former governor Joseph M. Brown, prosecutor Eugene Herbert Clay, John Tucker Dorsey, former Cobb County Sheriff William J. Frey, Marietta Mayor E. P. Dobbs, Fred Morris, and Bolan Glover Brumby. Clay hyperbolically tells the Prison Commission: “[I]f you commute this sentence, capital punishment might as well be abolished.”
June 6, 1915 A crowd of 2,500 assembles at the state capitol building in Atlanta to protest any grant of commutation to Frank.
June 8, 1915 By a 2-1 vote the Prison Commission recommends that Frank’s application for commutation be denied. The majority gives no written reasons for its decision. However, Thomas Patterson, the valiant Commission member who favors granting the application, releases a lengthy statement setting forth his reasons. Jim Conley, Patterson notes, “had the highest motive for placing responsibility for the crime on Frank – that of self-protection.” Patterson strongly objects to executing a person convicted of murder “on the testimony of an accomplice, when the circumstances of the crime tend to fix the guilt upon the accomplice.”
June 12, 1915 In Atlanta, Gov. John M. Slaton, who has exactly two weeks remaining in his gubernatorial term, opens a public hearing, over which he personally presides, on whether Leo Frank’s sentence should be commuted. Frank’s attorneys are present to argue in favor of commutation, and Hugh Dorsey is present in opposition. Also present to oppose commutation is a deputation from Cobb County, including Joseph M. Brown and Eugene Herbert Clay. Brown tells Slaton that “the word mercy is not in the Constitution of Georgia, and nowhere in the Bible is it used as having the right to defeat justice.” Brown sternly warns that commutation will “ensure lynch law in Georgia” and “hopelessly weaken trial by jury,” and shrilly claims that commutation will “strike… [a] dangerous blow at our institutions and our civilization… ” In making these remarks Brown is, as Oney observes, “tacitly endors[ing] a lynching.”
June 14, 1915 The commutation hearing continues. During a break Gov. Slaton visits the National Pencil Company Building, the scene of the crime.
June 16, 1915 The commutation hearing ends. (The transcript of the hearing, recently donated to the Emory University)
Like what you just read? Support Flagpole by making a donation today. Every dollar you give helps fund our ongoing mission to provide Athens with quality, independent journalism.