You Be the Judge The Leo Frank Court Case Part 2

About the Leo Frank case of murder, history of the trial. Read the facts and decide for yourself.


The Leo Frank Case (1913)

The Prosecution's Points: At Frank's trial, Solicitor General Hugh M. Dorsey directed the prosecution. Having lost some recent cases, Dorsey needed a conviction to restore his reputation, and he went all out to convict Leo Frank. Judge Leonard S. Roan, although presiding impartially, had to struggle to maintain order in the court because of the many unruly anti-Frank spectators. The key prosecution witness was Jim Conley, a black sweeper at the factory. Conley testified under oath that on the day of the murder he had seen Mary Phagan go upstairs and later had heard a scream. After an interval, Frank had summoned him with a whistle and had shown him the girl's dead body. Frank then ordered Conley to help transport the body to the basement in the elevator, and got him to scribble the notes intended to incriminate Newt Lee. Frank had suggested that Conley burn the body in the basement furnace, but Conley refused to do this because Frank would not help him. Conley told the court that he had couched his refusal thus: "Mr. Frank, you are a white man and you done it, and I am not going down there and burn that myself." As a result, the corpse of Mary Phagan remained where the night watchman later found it.

The Defense's Points: The attorney directing Frank's defense was Luther Z. Rosser, an experienced trial lawyer who was generally considered the most astute member of the Georgia bar at cross-examining a witness. Rosser countered charges of the defendant's immorality by calling witnesses who testified to Frank's good character. The lawyer also tried to establish an alibi for his client. Acquaintances verified that Frank was under observation constantly except for a gap of some 20 minutes, scarcely enough time, Rosser told the jury, for him to complete the deed. Most of all, the defense attorney impugned Jim Conley's damaging testimony. For three days Rosser and his assistant put the factory sweeper through a stringent point-by-point cross-examination in an effort to get him to contradict himself. They failed to expose more than minor discrepancies in his story, but they argued that this merely proved that he had memorized it. Taking the stand himself, Frank labeled Conley's accusation "a tissue of lies."

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