Another in our series of new transcriptions of contemporary articles on the Leo Frank case.
The Atlanta Georgian
Sunday, June 22, 1913
Writer Declares He Has Only Worked for Fair Trial and Fair Play—Race Question Is No Issue in Phagan Case—Rosser Not Writer.
By AN OLD POLICE REPORTER.
There were few developments in the Phagan case last week that to my mind were worth considering seriously or that threw new light upon the mystery.
Perhaps it was because of this that a good many people wrote letters to “The Old Police Reporter”—some commending my articles, others condemning them; but in every case indicating clearly that the interest has not lessened.
I observe that some of the State newspapers are publishing foolish little paragraphs, bearing the Atlanta date line, to the effect that the Hearst newspapers have been “bought to defend Frank.” This is too foolish to notice.
Still other newspapers are taking advantage of the silly season to point out various phases of the case that to my mind are neither vital nor interesting.
Let me say again, as positively as I can, that these articles written by an old police reporter, are not for the purpose of either making a case for or against any other individual.
Newspapers Will Not Render Verdict.
My aim is to set down in a fair, truthful way my own opinion of the case. I do not know whether the editor of the Hearst newspapers indorses [sic] my views or not.
I am of the opinion that the editor of The Sunday American and The Georgian believes that it is not within his province to try Frank or Conley, but that it is his duty to give all the facts in the case that are obtainable and to let the law and the jury decide WHO is guilty.
I am not a believer in trials by newspapers. I believe in the courts, in our judges, and in our juries.
I know nothing about the Phagan case that has not been published in the newspapers. I do know that Frank has been indicted. I do know, as does everyone else, that there is a chain of circumstantial evidence which, held together in court, will make the case against Frank very serious.
My own opinion is that there are several links in the chain that are so weak that when one is broken, the chain will fall apart. I can not be sure whether I am right or wrong, however, until the Solicitor General presents his evidence. In the meantime, I still believe that the community is anxious to give all concerned a square deal; and that the average man is fair-minded and is willing to have the case tried in the courts and not in the newspapers.
Hardly Price For Rosser.
In one of the letters sent to me, it was stated that the author of the articles signed by an old police reporter is Luther Z. Rosser. I take that as a compliment, for Rosser is a very able man, and they tell me he earns $100,000 a year. I sometime have doubts about my own ability, but I have no doubt at all about my earning capacity. I do not make $100,000 a year! Rosser is not the author of these articles, has no hand in them, and I hasten to lift THAT responsibility from his broad shoulders as quickly as possible.
Also I have received a long letter from a woman defending the Jews as a race. It was a very interesting letter, but wholly outside of the case. I do not consider race, creed or color a matter to be discussed in attempting to solve the Phagan mystery.
I have great admiration and respect for the Jews as a race, as every other fair-thinking man and woman must have. But even if Frank is condemned, I can not see how that would be any reflection upon the race any more than if an Irishman, German, Swede or Japanese were found guilty of the crime. Surely a whole race should not have to carry the burden of one man’s crime!
Race Question Not Considered.
I refuse, therefore, in these articles to consider the race question seriously. It is not the issue.
The sole question to come before the court is, WHO killed Mary Phagan? And whether he be Jew or Gentile, white or black, yellow or green, if the evidence is CONVINCING, and the jury convicts or acquits, the court and the jury will have done their DUTY.
The Jewish race needs no defense from anybody. In fact, my experience with representative […] believe that this often persecuted, but undying, race will go on, as it has for centuries, in its own splendid way, making history and doing good in the world, without regard to obstacles, real or imaginary, that may be placed in its pathway of progress.
Sole Aim Is To Get at Truth.
Now, again, may I make it CLEAR that what I am writing represents only my OWN views—the views of an old police reporter, who has had a great deal of experience, and whose SOLE aim is to get at the truth, and keep an open and fair mind.
It is quite amusing to read in the newspapers what this, that and the other detective now and then says about the case and about the witnesses.
When a detective’s mind is closed, and he declares emphatic-Jews the world over, leads me to ally that he KNOWS Frank is guilty, or Conley is guilty, I lose interest in that detective, because I believe if he should stumble across a piece of new and important evidence, he could not, and would not, see it.
The successful detective is the man whose mind is always OPEN; who is always willing to break out of an iron-bound circle and develop new leads, and to keep his mouth closed absolutely about the guilt or the innocence of the indicted person until he gives his evidence in court. Even detectives, with CLOSED eyes, see nothing.
It may be that our detectives are correct in declaring that Frank is guilty, or that Conley is guilty, but, personally, I shall wait until I hear all the evidence in court. That would seem to me to be the fair way, and the legal way, to go about the business of reaching a final verdict.
Extremists On Both Sides.
There are extremists on both sides of this Phagan case. There are people, who, convinced against their wills, are going to remain for their lives of the same opinion still.
In the aggregate these people are inconsequential, however.
The average Atlantan and Georgian is standing to-day with impartial and open mind, I think. He wants the TRUTH established—that’s all. He is neither for nor against Frank—he is, to employ an expressive slang phrase, “from Missouri,” strictly!
And it is just here, with the gentle reader’s permission, that I shall hand a small and modest bouquet to the Hearst newspapers in Atlanta. The Georgian and The American FIRST called for calm and patience, when all about us a storm of protest, misinformation, non-information, passion, prejudice and reckless indignation was running riot in the community!
The big sheet anchor they threw to the windward was the SUPREMACY OF THE LAW!
Alert and vigilant ever, the brave and courageous Governor of this State instantly promulgated his unqualified approval of that course—and since that time, poise has been restored, reason re-enthroned, and the unruffled and quiet dignity of the blindfolded Goddess of Justice reassured to the people.
Old Reporter Glad of Work.
If this Old Police Reporter, after his own manner and method of doing things, has had a hand in that work, he is very glad—his work has been abundantly and abidingly worth while.
We are coming very close to the trial of Leo Frank, duly indicted by a Grand Jury composed of “good men and true,” for the murder of Mary Phagan.
Much has been written of this crime that is worthless as evidence in a court of law. Hearsay, a mass of it, long ago discarded by the court officials as incompetent, has been printed for what it might be worth by way of news. The newspapers are agencies for the promulgation of news, not for the administration of justice—and within the broad scope of the word “news” always is to be found much that is totally irrelevant in legal procedure.
This fact, The Georgian, The American and the Old Police Reporter constantly have sought to impress upon the public—many, many news “stories,” legitimate and ethical, have been given out with the advice that they be taken with a grain of salt.
Correspondent Assails Rosser.
Leo Frank, James Conley, or whoever may be held accountable for the death of Mary Phagan, must and will be tried according to those rules of evidence the Anglo-Saxon race, through centuries of experiment, has found to be best suited to the establishment of justice and truth.
And here a thought occurs to me that is worth while commenting on, perhaps.
A correspondent—a very foolish and misguided correspondent—addressed me a communication early in the week, bitterly and with utter unreason assailing Luther Z. Rosser for undertaking the defense of Frank. Rarely have a I read a more unjust and unnecessary letter. It bristled with invective and vehement protest—it went so far as to say that Mr. Rosser is interested in the Frank case knowing Frank to be guilty, and that he is prepared to stop at nothing to free Frank of the law, regardless!
I shall not defend Mr. Rosser. He does not need it. The people of Atlanta know him. But does not this correspondent know that the law of Georgia, jealous of the rights and liberties of the people, not only confers upon a defendant at bar the presumption of innocence, but actually will not PERMIT him to go to trial, no matter how poor and humble he may be, WITHOUT COMPETENT COUNSEL?
Counsel Can Be Furnished Free.
Georgia, through the orderly and impersonal processes of her courts, furnishes the most depraved criminal the free benefit of counsel, and that lawyer who refused to undertake the defense of a defendant when ordered by the court would himself, no matter how satisfied HE might be as to the innocence or guilt of the accused, be in contempt of that court, and subject to the punishment its displeasure might prescribe.
I have never mentioned the Phagan case to Mr. Rosser but once, and then casually and without tangible result. Of my personal knowledge, I do not know what he thinks of it, really. I have been told by a brother attorney, however, who does know him well, and who has discussed this case with him, that Rosser unquestionably believes vehemently and thoroughly in Frank’s complete innocence. And this brother attorney is one of the leading members of the Atlanta bar.
I shall not enter to-day into a discussion of the facts, near-facts, gossip and rumor abroad with respect to the Phagan case. I have looked back over the files of the Sunday American, and I can find little, if anything, that I would change in what heretofore I have written.
Every word has been set down in an earnest and sincere desire to throw such light upon the great mystery as I could. In doing that, I have gone pretty far, perhaps, in many directions—I know that, because I have been both approved and disapproved so generously and so vehemently—but inasmuch as I have kept my own conscience clear, and as that is the only conscience these articles MUST satisfy, I am reasonably well satisfied with what I have done.
Question of Imagination.
There is one point of fact that I shall touch upon to-day, and that merely because I have been called to account in that direction by a correspondent, very courteously, however. This correspondent disagrees with my doubts as to the complete truthfulness of the final Conley affidavit, and gives it as his opinion Conley “could hardly have imagined or made up the tale concerning Frank he sets forth therein.”
Well, Conley is three times a confessed liar. That is admitted by all parties on all sides. A presumption of lack of veracity in Conley is not unwarranted, therefore, as to his fourth attempt to speak the truth.
Now, let’s SEE whether Conley could have imagined the wonderful tale he tells of Frank’s doing on the day Mary Phagan was killed, as ingenious, in parts, as that tale is.
A few days ago, Conley gave out an affidavit concerning a new phase of the Phagan case. He sets forth in detail how a certain man had undertaken to feed him sandwiches, which he declared he suspected of being POISONED, and which he, therefore, shudderingly REJECTED! Quite dramatic—even melodramatic!
The truth of the matter is, Conley (and this has been established beyond all doubt) RAVENOUSLY DEVOURED THE SIMPLE SANDWICHES THIS MAN, OUT OF MERE PASSING KINDNESS, GAVE HIM, AND PRONOUNCED THEM FINE!
If Conley afterward imagined all that poison stuff and nonsense, with its melodramatic turn, why could he not have imagined, after three weeks in jail, the other melodramatic thing involving Leo Frank, particularly in seeking to throw accumulating suspicion from himself?
Mind you, now, I have never said that Conley killed Mary Phagan—I merely have said that, to MY mind, there is more reason to SUSPECT that he did it than to SUSPECT that Leo Frank did it—and I stick to it, because it is the thing I believe! I may be altogether wrong.
Maybe neither did it; maybe both did it; maybe Frank did it and Conley was a mere accessory after fact. The truth of that is for the court to say.
And when, after this case against Frank has been tried and a verdict recorded, that verdict will be the truth of the proceedings, and the State or Leo Frank, however things shall fall out eventually, will be entitled to the full benefit of it—in law and in public opinion.
May we not, therefore, continue to possess our souls in patience, and await in confidence the final adjustment of responsibility for one of the most deplorable murders ever consummated in the Capital City of the Empire State of the South?
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The Atlanta Georgian, June 22nd 1913, “Jurors, Not Newspapers, To Return Frank Verdict, Declares Old Reporter,” Leo Frank case newspaper article series (Original PDF)