Another in our series of new transcriptions of contemporary articles on the Leo Frank case.
August 11th, 1913
By JAMES B. NEVIN.
The third week of the most remarkable murder trial ever known in Georgia opened to-day with no apparent lessening of the acute interest and grim appeal heretofore attaching to it.
The public has come to realize thoroughly and completely that the issue is a battle not only between the State and the defendant, Leo Frank, but between Leo Frank and the negro Jim Conley.
Presumably, the defense will take the entire week rounding out its case and perfecting its undermining of Conley’s story.
If it does get through within the week, it will have employed approximately the same amount of time in telling its story that the State employed in telling the other side.
The first powerful and bewildering shock of Conley’s tale, unanticipated in its full sinister detail, has passed away in a measure, it seems.
It is but the simple truth to say that the day of and the day following Conley’s awful charge, in addition to the one of murder, marked the climax of the State’s case and the zenith of feeling against Frank.
Then it was that the outlook for the defense seemed to be the most dismal, and then it was that even Frank’s most loyal friends and sympathizers began to grow apprehensive and sore afraid.
Doubt Begins to Grow.
Since the defense began its pleading, however, there has been something of a revulsion of feeling—or, at least, there appears to have been created a doubt in the minds of many people as to the complete and convincing probability of Conley’s revelations.
Not that the defense is out of the woods yet, by any means—as a matter of fact, the defense still is very deep in the woods, and while there may be those who think the defense likely sees daylight and sunshine somewhere through the darkness, it generally is admitted that the darkness still very much is there.
As the frightful charge of perversion was the most prejudicial thing injected by the State against Frank, so, as a natural consequence, is the seeming determination of the defense to put his character frankly in issue the thing seemingly most likely to remove that prejudice, if possible.
To put Frank’s character in issue, in the face of the fact that the defense alone has that right, despite the dramatically delivered and certainly impressive testimony of Conley against it, will seem in the mind of many to argue that the defense is in no way afraid to meet that issue fairly and squarely—and it is not at all illogical to conclude that the successfully tendering of his character as an issue will have the effect, in large measure anyway, of removing from the mind of the jury the horrible charge of the negro.
Depends on Conley’s Word.
As the matter stands now, the attack on Frank’s character rests entirely upon Conley’s word—Conley has been corroborated not at all on the direct charge, and he has been corroborated, even indirectly, in the most doubtful way.
It may be, on the other hand, that the State, once given the right to go after Frank’s character hammer and tongs, will be prepared to attack it with heavy artillery, and perhaps demolish it entirely. Certainly the necessity of doing this, in the circumstances then, will be apparent enough.
The Supreme Court of Georgia has held definitely that character may be tendered as evidence of a positive fact, and it asks significantly this question, through the late Chief Justice Warner:
“Of what use is good character, which a man may have been years in establishing, if it is to avail him nothing in his hour of peril?”
It is rather curious, in a way, that practically every vitally effective and controlling point in this case should reduce itself eventually to a question of truth between Frank and Conley.
Nothing Fidgety About Frank.
The Leo Frank of this week of his trial is not the Leo Frank of last week and week before last.
If spectators were inclined for a time to think the quiet, repressed, spectacled young man sitting over there beyond Luther Rosser and Reuben Arnold, the slight person immediately between the only two women in the entire courtroom, was in any wise indifferent to or unmindful of the progress of the trial—his own trial, and for a brutal murder, at that—they have changed their minds now.
They have changed their minds as completely as Leo Frank has changed his attitude.
If there is anything in external appearances and surface indications, I should say that Frank is, in practically an and all circumstances, a man of very marked patience. I doubt that he ordinarily hurries, or frets unduly, or grows especially restless, any way.
He is brisk enough in his movements, getting up now and then, with a quickness of action easily enough to be seen, either to say a word to one of his lawyers or to leave the courtroom for a moment—but there is nothing the least “fidgety” about the man.
While the State was making out its case—even when Conley was on the stand, hurling his charge of immorality against Frank—the defendant sat apparently unmoved.
Save for an occasional momentary gripping of the arms of his chair, a tightening of the lips, or a slight wrinkling of the brows, the defendant gave no sign, either of the indignation he must have felt if innocent or the apprehension he must have felt if guilty.
Apparent Stoic Under Fire.
While the State was making out its case, Frank seemed the personification of patience—or whatever it is one should call it, according to the state of mind in respect of the defendant.
He sat there—just sat there—to some an apparent stoic, to others a—what?
Immediately the defense got well under way directly, however, the Leo Frank theretofore known to the public became another person—absolutely and entirely another person.
He seems to have realized that now, at last, has come his day to speak.
No longer must he, restrained by wise and far-seeing counsel, hold back in word of mouth or effort at defense. At last, after all the long days of waiting, of studying the charge lodged against him, of repressing his emotions and standing aloof from a critical and possibly hostile outside world, Frank is saying the necessary word to clear his good name, if it be sufficient to the undertaking.
Where once he sat unmoved and calm, he now takes a noticeably directing part in his defense. Time and again, he arises, or leans over, as the case may be, and whispers words into his attorney’s ears.
On several occasions his whisperings have been responded to immediately by approving nods from his counsel, and at once thereafter has followed, particularly on the direct examination, a line of questioning evidently enough set in motion by the defendant himself, and by other persons.
Seems Sure of Himself.
Frank, I think, is rather sure of himself—guilty or innocent, he is there to do battle to the bitter end, to meet his enemies in the gate, and to vanquish them, if he find himself powerful enough.
He is a very small man physically, but I think he has the courage requisite to the undertaking he has in hand. Whether it is the courage of righteousness and a sense of his innocence, or the courage of desperation and guilt, it is not, perhaps, for me to say.
It only seems that he is eager for the fight, and confident of his strength to win.
No spectator there can hope to read his heart or read his mind. Great reams of newspaper space and reportorial effort might be save henceforth if only one might do either of those two things.
And whether all the rest of the world be against him, it appears a sure thing to say that, at least, his wife there beside him and his mother constantly in attendance upon him, believe him utterly and altogether innocent.
I suspect there is no question, moreover, that both Luther Z. Rosser and Reuben Arnold believe in the innocence of Frank.
Beyond these four and the jury and the judge, however, I doubt if Frank concerns himself extensively nowadays—unless, of course, he thinks often of that stout-hearted and unafraid bald-headed man, Simon Marks, and a band of friends who never yet have forsaken him, no matter how dark the gloom that has seemed to close around him.
Picked Up State’s Gauntlet.
It may be that Frank in his defense of himself will disappoint these expectant ones, it may be that he never will come through the fire unscorched, it may be that and it may be a lot of things, but it will not be denied, when this case is over, that Frank picked up, full and free, the gauntlet the State threw at his feet.
The State’s case was the State’s business. Frank stood off and let it go its limit. Of course, he hardly could have kept it from going its limit—but the point is, he didn’t try particularly.
The defense, however—the defense is Frank’s business, strictly!
And he is right there, on the job, as he would be, I take it, had this frightful murder never been committed, and were it with him merely a question of catching up with a smashing and record-breaking order for the product of the factory over on Forsyth street, where a few weeks ago he was the universally respected superintendent.
Frank will make no half-way defense of himself—that much may be anticipated confidently, I suspect. He will meet every issue tendered—even including the attack other than the charge of murder.
How will he fare eventually? Well, that is, another question and it is, not yet, has been approximately answered.
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