Sacco-Vanzetti Trial: 1921
This is the story of two men, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo “Bart the Beard” Vanzetti, and how the State of Massachusetts indicted them with murder one and executed them only for being Anarchist Italian immigrants.
To understand why these men were discriminated against and made the scapegoats for a murder you must first understand what was going on in the North Eastern United States at the time. Italian people were immigrating to the United States in increasing numbers in the 1860s and70s to escape the frightful conditions in Southern Italy due to the fact that all of the Italian territories and kingdoms had united. Instead of being more prosperous as one large kingdom the conditions grew increasingly worse after the combining of the kingdoms. Northern Italy gained most of the political control of the new kingdom and rarely did this benefit the South. In Southern Italy the average income went down, but the cost of living nearly doubled which inspired many of the moves to America. The immigrants stereotypically had little money, were illiterate and easy targets for people to take advantage of. Since they often had no family in America they stayed in Italian neighborhoods (ghettos) in the East. They usually ended up staying in the East because of financial shortcomings and the fact that so few of them even spoke English, and without their Italian communities support would have died in the streets or been deported. Many of these Italian immigrants had family back in Italy who they saved up their meager wages to have brought over. Even after their families were reunited life was still appalling. The Italian families faced many grievances like not having enough food, not having adequate shelter, and being to poor to take proper care of life’s other necessities (doctors, education, clothing, etc.). Assimilation was a leisurely event for the Italian ghetto dwellers. For these people life had changed very little from that of life in Southern Italy. Poor Italian workers would often take any low-paying job they could find, and because of this were often used as strikebreakers by factories. For these reasons many Americans despised the Italian workers and did everything in their power to make life for them even worse than it already was by refusing to do business with them, denying them equal housing and employment opportunities, and blaming them for things they had little or no control over. (The People’s Almanac #2 121-122; Wallechinsky and Wallace 1978)
The ball was set into motion on April 15, 1920 in South Braintree where Federick Parmenter was robbed and killed for the $15,777 payroll he was transporting. His guard, Alessandro was also murdered by the men who sped off in “a car” and were later described by witnesses as being “Italian”, though that was all any two of the over fifty witnesses could agree upon. There was another attempt to hold up a different shoe company store for the payroll on December 24 and the police chief suspected a man by the name of Mike Boda. Mike Boda’s car was awaiting repairs at a garage. On May 5 Sacco and Vanzetti were arrested in connection with the robberies. It seems they were on their way to visit their friend Vittorio “Poppy” Papa in the same neighborhood that Mike Boda’s car garage was in and the police suspected they were coming to pick it up for him. (By Bullet, Bomb and Dagger; Richard Suskind: 1971 p. 138-140; Great American Trials; Knappman: 1994 p.289-290)
When arrested the two men had in their possession a .32-caliber pistol fully loaded with nine bullets, an additional 23 .32-caliber bullets, a fully loaded .38-caliber, four 12-gauge shotgun shells, and a flyer for an anarchist meeting where Vanzetti was going to speak. At the attempted robbery on December 24 a 12-gauge shotgun had been fired and the fact that the two men had shotgun shells was suspicious. The police took them to the station and locked them up for the night, waiting until morning to interrogate them. In the morning, June 22, 1920, the trial began and the district attorney for Norfolk county, named Gunn Knatzmann, questioned Sacco and Vazetti and learned that both men had fairly solid alibis. Nicola Sacco had a very solid alibi, since he was at work in the shoe factory when the attempted robbery was going on. Sacco was not, however, at work on the day of the murders at the first robbery and was charged with those murders. Vanzetti’s alibi was questionable, but believable. He was a fish peddler, and since it is an old Italian Christmas Eve tradition to eat eels that night he was out selling his fish. At the trial there were countless witnesses, who through interpreters, testified that they had purchased eels from Vanzetti on December 24. Also at the trial three witnesses identified Vanzetti as the man who had fired the shotgun and he was sentenced to 12 to 15 years in prison without even taking the stand to deny the charges. He did not take the stand because he had the right not to, and although the jury was instructed not to infer guilt from this, many people thought them to have been biased for this reason. Vanzetti did not have the time to sell eels to that many people and fire a shotgun in a robbery at the same time, yet that is what the jury decided happened. (By Bullet Bomb and Dagger, Richard Suskind: 1971 p.140-145, Sacco-Vanzetti: The Murder and Myth; Robert Mongomery, 1960 p. 4-15, Great American Trials; Knappman: 1994 p.289-291)
After Vanzetti had already been found guilty of being a gunman on the December 24 charge, he and Sacco were tried together for the South Braintree murders of April 15. This trial was to last for only six weeks which would be considered to swift by today’s standards. Prosecution witnesses testified that Vanzetti had shot and murdered both people and had also been the getaway car driver. The defense attorneys did not cross-examine the witnesses and did not even point out the fact that VANZETTI DID NOT KNOW HOW TO DRIVE A CAR! A fund was taken up for Sacco and Vazetti’s defense by a group of anarchists led by Carlo Tresca in New England and abroad. The group hired a man by the name of Fred Moore to take charge of the Sacco and Vanzrtti defense. Moore was a young, but quite successful lawyer who wanted to do the case to help his career out and make it possible for his name to go down in the books as the man who had “saved two innocent, but now famous men”. Moore worked laboriously on the case, and worked even harder on making Sacco and Vanzetti household words. He hired three assistants to help him. Jis staff included: Thomas, John and Jeremiah McAnarney who all believed Sacco and Vanzetti to be innocent and who truly wanted to help them out. Tresca should have hired a different lawyer though. Moore was more concerned with image than he was with getting two innocent men off the easiest way possible, and could have done so if he was not such an arrogant person. Moore would have rather gotten two guilty men acquitted than save two innocent men; it would look better on his resume. In New England people were not ready for the strategy of Moore yet, they just wanted to lynch “the damned green hornes”, just as the judge, JudgeThayer said. Eventually Moore was asked, none too kindly, to leave the case to William Thompson. Both Sacco and Vanzetti trusted and believed in Thompson, and were relieved that Moore was able to do no more damage to their defense. Thompson appealed that the case be started over because Moore was an idiot and had ruined the chances of a fair trial, but it was not granted and was soon coming to a conclusion. (Sacco-Vanzetti; The Murder and the Myth; Robert Mongomery: 1960 P.210, 214, By Bullet, Bomb, and Dagger; Richard Suskind: 1971 p.148-149)
Sentencing was on April 9 in the Dedham courthouse. Sacco made no concluding speech, but Vanzetti spoke for forty-five minutes to a judge who had already decided the fate of the “wops”, as he called them. The sentence was death by electric chair and was to be carried out July 10, 1927.
Thompson appealed for clemency to Governor Alvan Fuller, a man who, despite his profession, despised politics. Fuller planned to run for the vice-presidential nomination in 1928, so he had to be careful dealing with the Sacco-Vanzetti case so as not to disappoint his voters. He appointed an advisory committee to help him make a decision. The members were Abbott Lowell of Harvard, a retired judge Robert Grant, and Sammuel Stratton of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After sixteen days, July 27, turned over its report to Governor Fuller and Sacco and Vanzetti were reallocated to a “death house” by August 2. It was not until the next night that anyone other than the Governor knew whether or not clemency had been granted. Clemency had not been granted because Fuller felt it would be in his best political interests, not because his advisory team had thought the two men guilty. After this became known to the public a bomb exploded at the house of Lewis McHardy who was a juror in the Dedham trial. No one was killed or seriously injured, but this along with of their all appeals now useless, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti prepared to die. (Tragedy In Dedham the Story of the Sacco-Vanzetti Case; Francis Russell: 1962 p.2, 5; By Bullet, Bomb, and Dagger; Richard Suskind: 1971 p.158-165)
August 23, at 12:11, Nicola Sacco was put into the electric chair. He cried out “Long live anarchy!” then, “Farewell my wife and child and all my friends.” At the very last moment of his life cried out “Mama!” and then ceased to breathe. Vanzetti was next to be put into the electric chair. His last words were, “I now wish to forgive some people for what they are doing to me” before he too ceased to exist. (Sacco-Vanzetti: The Murder and the Myth; Robert Mongomery: 1960 p.356)