On April 15th, 1920, a paymaster and his guard were held up, robbed and brutally murdered at South Braintree, Massachusetts. On May 5th, 1920, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were arrested; they were later tried and found guilty of the murder. The verdict was followed by seven motions for a new trial and two appeals to the Supreme Court for the Cornmonwealth, all of which were heard and later denied. Prior to the trial of the two men in this case, Vanzetti had been arrested, tried and convicted Of an attempted holdup on December 24, 1919, at Bridgewater, Massachusetts, and sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment.
The appeal to the Governor was presented by counsel for the accused on May 3rd of the present year. It was my first official connection with the case.
This appeal, presented to me in accordance with the provision in the Constitution of our Commonwealth, has been considered without intent on my part to sustain the courts if I became convinced that an error had been Committed or that the trial had been unfair to the accused.
I realized at the outset that there were many sober-minded and conscientious men and women who were genuinely troubled about the guilt or innocence of the accused and the fairness of their trial. It seemed to me I ought to attempt to set the minds of such people at rest, if it could be done, but I realized that with all I could do personally to find out the truth, some People might well in the end doubt the correctness of any conclusion that or in fact any other one man, might reach. I believed that I could best reassure these honest doubters by having a committee conduct an investigation entirely independent of my own, their report to be made to me and to be of help in reaching correct conclusions. I felt that if after such a cornmittee had conducted its investigation independently we were not in substantial agreement, then the course of Massachusetts justice did not flow in as clear a channel as I believed it should. The final decision and responsibil. ity was, of course, mine. For this committee I desired men who were not only well and favorably known for their achievements in their own lines, but men whose reputations for intelligence, open-mindedness, intellectual honesty and good judgment were above reproach. I asked to serve on that committee President Abbott Lawrence Lowell of Harvard University, former judge Robert Grant, and President Samuel W. Stratton of Massachusetts Institute of Technology. No one of them hesitated when asked to serve. They began work as soon as their other affairs could be arranged, labored continuously during much of June and through July, holding their sessions independently, and arrived unanimously at a conclusion which is wholly in accord with mine. The public owes these gentlemen its gratitude for their highminded, unselfish service on this disagreeable and extremely important problem.
The court proceedings in this case may be divided into two parts: first, the trial before the jury with Judge Thayer presiding; second, the hearings on the succession of motions for a new trial which were addressed to the judge and passed upon by him. All those proceedings have been attacked by some of the friends of the accused men and their counsel.
The attacks on the ury trial take two forms:-first, it is asserted that the men are innocent and that there was not sufficient evidence before the jury to justify a finding of guilty; second, it is asserted that the trial itself was unfair. The attacks on the proceedings and on the motions for a new trial are in substance that the judge was biased and unable to give the motions fair and impartial consideration.
The inquiry that I have conducted has had to do with the following questions:-
Was the jury trial fair?
Were the accused entitled to a new trial?
Are they guilty or not guilty?
As to the first question, complaint has been made that the defendants were prosecuted and convicted because they were anarchists. As a matter of fact, the issue of anarchy was brought in by them as an explanation of their suspicious conduct. Their counsel, against the advice of Judge Thayer, decided to attribute their actions and conduct to the fact that they were anarchists, suggesting that they were armed to protect themselves, that they were about to start out, at ten o'clock at night, to collect radical literature, and that the reason they lied was to save their friends.
I have consulted with every member of the jury now alive, eleven in number. They considered the judge fair; that he gave them no indication of his own opinion of the case. Affidavits have been presented claiming that the judge was prejudiced. I see no evidence of prejudice in his conduct of the trial. That he had an opinion as to the guilt or innocence of the accused after hearing the evidence, is natural and inevitable.
"The allegation has been made that conditions in the court room were prejudicial to the accused. After careful inquiry of the jury and others, I find no evidence to support this allegation. I find the jurors were thoroughly honest men and that they were reluctant to find these men guilty but were forced to do so by the evidence. I can see no warrant for the assertion that the jury trial was unfair.
The charge of the judge was satisfactory to the counsel for the accused and no exceptions were taken to it. The Supreme judicial Court for the Commonwealth has considered such of the more than 250 exceptions taken during the course of the trial as counsel for the accused chose to argue and -over-ruled them all, thus establishing that the proceedings were without legal flaw.
I have read the record and examined many witnesses and the jurymen to see from a layman's standpoint whether the trial was fairly conducted. I am convinced that it was.
The next question is whether newly discovered evidence was of sufflcient merit to warrant a new trial.
After the verdict against these men, their counsel filed and argued before Judge Thayer seven distinct supplementary motions for a new trial six of them on the ground of newly discovered evidence, all of which were denied. I have examined all of these motions and read the affidavits in support of them to see whether they presented any valid reason for granting the accused men a new trial. I am convinced that they do not and I am further convinced that the presiding judge gave no evidence of bias in denying them all and refusing a new trial. The Supreme Judicial Court for the Commonwealth, which had before it appeals on four of the motions and had the opportunity to read the same affidavits which were submitted to judge Thayer, declined to sustain the contentions of counsel for the accused. In my own investigations on the question of guilt, I have given these motions and their supporting affidavits and the witnesses every consideration.
I give no weight to the Madeiros confession. It is popularly supposed he confessed to committing this crime. In his testimony to me he could not recall the details or describe the neighborhood. He furthermore stated that the Government had doublecrossed him and he proposes to doublecross the Government. He feels that the District Attorney's office has treated him unfairly because his two confederates who were associated with him in the commission. of the murder for which he was convicted were given life sentences, whereas he was sentenced to death. He confessed the crime for which he was convicted. I am not impressed with his knowledge of the South Braintree murders.
It has been a difficult task to look back six years through other people's eyes. Many of the witnesses told me their story in a way I felt was more a matter of repetition than the product of their memory. Some witnesses 'replied that during the six years they had forgotten; they could not remember; that it was a disagreeable experience.and they had tried to forget it. I could not hope to put myself in the position of a juryman and have the advantage of seeing the witness on the stand and listening to the evicience and judging the spoken word. The motions for a new trial, however, were all made from affidavits and therefore they could be reviewed under the same circumstances as prevailed when the judge heard them.
The next question, and the most vital question of all, is that of the guilt or innocence of the accused. In this connection I reviewed the Bridgewater attempted holdup for which Vanzetti had previously been tried before another jury and found guilty. At this trial Vanzetti did not take the witness stand in his own defense. He waived the privilege of telling his own story to the jury, and did not subject himself to cross examination. Investigating this case, I talked to the counsel for Vanzetti at the Plymouth trial, the jurymen, the trial witnesses, new witnesses, present counsel and Vanzetti. I have talked with the government witnesses who saw the Bridgewater holdup and who identified Vanzetti, and I believe their testimony to be substantially correct. I believe with the jury that Vanzetti was guilty and that his trial was fair. I found nothing unusual about this case except, as noted above, that Vanzetti did not testify.
In the Bridgewater case, practically everyone who witnessed the attempted holdup and who could have identified the bandits identified Vanzetti.
The South Braintree crime was particularly brutal. The murder of the paymaster (Parmenter) and the guard (Berardelli) was not necessary to the robbery. The murders were accomplished first, the robbery afterward. The first shot laid Berardelli low in the roadway, and after Parmenter was shot, he dropped the money box in the road and ran across the street..The money could then have been taken but the murderers pursued Parmenter across the road and shot him again, and then returned and fired three more shots into. Berardelli, four in all, leaving his lifeless form in the roadway. The plan was evidently to kill the witnesses and terrorize the bystanders. The murderers escaped in an automobile driven by one of their confederates, the automobile being afterward located in the woods at Bridgewater, 18 miles distant.
Vanzetti when arrested on May 5th had in his hip pocket a fully loaded revolver. Sacco had a loaded pistol tucked into the front of his trousers and 20 loose cartridges which fitted this pistol. Upon being questioned by the police, both men told what they afterward admitted was a tissue of lies. Sacco claimed to have been working at Kelly's shoe factory on April 15th, the date of the South Braintree crime. Upon investigation, it was proven that he was not at work on that day. He then claimed to have been at the Italian Consulate in Boston on that date but the only confirmation of this claim is the memory of a former employee I of the Consulate who made a deposition in Italy that Sacco among forty others was in the office that day. This employee had no memorandum to assist his memory.
As the result of my study of the record and my personal investigation of the case, including my interviews with a large number of witnesses, I believe, with the jury, that Sacco and Vanzetti were guilty and that the trial was fair.
This crime was committed seven years ago. For six years, through diiatory methods, one appeal after another, every possibility for delay has been utilized, all of which lends itself to attempts to frighten and coerce witnesses, to influence changes in testimony, to multiply by the very years of time elapsed the possibilities of error and confusion.
It might be said that by undertaking this investigation I have contributed to the elaborate consideration accorded these men. My answer is that there was a feeling on the part of some people that the various delays that had dragged this case through the courts for six years were evidence that a doubt existed as to the guilt of these two men. The feeling was not justified. The persistent, determined efforts of an attorney of extraordinary versatility and industry, the judge's illness, the election efforts of three District Attorneys, and dilatoriness on the part of most of those concerned are the principal causes of delay. The delays that have dragged this case out for six years are inexcusable.
This task of review has been a laborious one and I am proud to be associated in this public service with clear eyed witnesses, unafraid to tell the truth, and with jurors who discharged their obligations in accordance with their convictions and their oaths.
As a result of my investigation I find no sufficient justification for executive intervention.
I believe with the jury, that these men, Sacco and Vanzetti, were guilty, and that they had a fair trial. I furthermore believe that there was no justifiable reason for giving them a new trial.
Sacco & Vanzetti Trial Page