Another in our series of new transcriptions of contemporary articles on the Leo Frank case.
Atlanta Georgian (Hearst’s Sunday American)
July 27th, 1913
Old Police Reporter Sees No Cause for Delay
Either Side Asking Postponement Will Reveal Weakness, as Time Has Been Given for Preparation. Conley Is Center of Interest.
Defense Must Break Story of Negro or Face Difficult Situation. State Will Base Case on Chain of Circumstantial Evidence.
By AN OLD POLICE REPORTER.
The defense in the case of Leo Frank would have made a mistake, if current street comment counts for anything, had it decided to move for a continuance of the case to-morrow.
Indeed, the fact that the defense even was suspected of an intent to move for a continuance—righteously or otherwise—has not had a happy effect upon the public, even if it has not, on the other hand, served particularly to prejudice the case.
The people want the Frank case tried. I think there is no mistake about that.
And when it was rumored that it might be postponed, with the consent of the defense, even if not of its own motion, more than one person in Atlanta, even those inclined to be friendly to Frank, began, more or less impatiently, to ask themselves, WHY?
If the State is sure of itself, why delay? If the defense is sure of itself, why delay?
If either is not sure of itself, why, then, it must be because the one not sure of itself has a weak case. Thus reasons the public.
Leo Frank is guilty or he is not guilty.
The case against him can be thrashed out NOW as well as later along. Frank is reported eager for trial. The State professes to be altogether ready.
Hesitancy upon the part of either now is not apt to win favor to the hesitating.
Public Not Muddled.
While much has been said of Jim Conley of late, and an effort was made to have him indicted in advance of Frank’s trial, the public has not permitted itself to be muddled.
It realizes that Conley occupies a somewhat dual position, to be sure, and that the finger of suspicion points to him as a possible principal to the killing of Mary Phagan, no less than as a confessed accessory after the fact.
The public has its eye very much on Conley—YES. But the public has not YET been convinced—and may never become convinced—that Leo Frank is innocent of the crime for which he has been indicted.
And he has been indicted, by “twelve good men and true,” as the law requires—one must NOT forget that!
Frank is admitted to have been in the pencil factory when the crime MIGHT have been committed. The evidence that he actually committed the deed is, to be sure, entirely circumstantial.
Even the affidavit of the negro Conley, if it withstands the blistering attacks Attorneys Rosser and Arnold unquestionably will make upon it, still will not be direct evidence that Frank committed the crime.
It is rather difficult for the layman to comprehend fully the exact difference between circumstantial and direct evidence, and to keep his mind quite clear when passing through the twilight zone dividing the one from the other, but there IS a dividing line, and Frank stands well within the circumstantial limits.
Law Recognizes Circumstances.
While, however, the law holds the State to a sterner accounting in the matter of establishing guilt through circumstances rather than by direct evidence, it nevertheless permits circumstances to convict SWEEPINGLY AND COMPLETELY. If properly sequenced and sustained!
Here, then, is the case against Leo Frank, from the state’s point of view, as given to the newspapers and not otherwise:
Frank was in the factory at the time Mary Phagan might have been slain. He had the OPPORTUNITY to consummate the deed. He had been in prior communication with the girl, when they two were practically alone in the pencil factory, save for the then unsuspected presence of the negro Conley. There is some evidence that Frank had been, at times, rather familiar with factory employees—particularly with two or three young girls.
Frank, contrary to his usual custom, permitted Newt Lee to go away from the factory during the afternoon of April 26—Saturday. This extraordinary procedure has not been accounted for to the State’s satisfaction.
Frank, contrary again to his usual custom, phoned to the factory after he arrived at his home Saturday evening, and this fact also never has been explained to the State’s satisfaction.
A negro, Jim Conley, a sweeper in the factory, has signed an affidavit to the effect that Frank, nervous and seemingly much agitated, called him to the second floor of the factory—the negro admitting that he had been dozing in a drunken stupor on the floor below—along about 1 o’clock in the afternoon of the killing and that Frank thereafter hired him to remove the dead body of Mary Phagan from the second floor to the basement below, hide it, and, at Frank’s dictation, write and place the notes beside the dead girl, found next morning.
Frank also is accused—whether the State will rely upon this evidence in any particular is not altogether clear, however—with phoning persistently a notorious woman between 7 and 10 in the evening of April 26, asking that he be permitted to bring to her house a girl, unnamed, “upon a matter of life and death.”
Conley Center of Case.
Now, if the State can sustain itself thoroughly upon these allegations, it must be admitted that the case against Frank will be very serious, indeed!
Of course, Conley will be the most damaging witness against him, for upon Conley’s evidence will depend the hurtfulness or the utter worthlessness of the other circumstances set up against the defendant.
In other words, if Conley is BROKEN DOWN, the remaining allegations against Frank doubtless will be quickly and easily disposed of.
If Conley is NOT broken down, however, then the other circumstances become links in a chain against Frank that likely can be made to hold together.
It is just as well to look things squarely in the face, as the Frank trial comes on to-morrow!
Can the defense break Conley down?
That, of course, I do not know—I can not know.
The only thing I know of experience in cases of this kind is that the defense MUST break Conley down or Leo Frank will face a very, very dangerous situation!
It must be borne in mind, moreover, that it will be the defense’s burden to break Conley down, rather than the State’s burden to establish his credibility.
Unless successfully assailed, Conley’s affidavit will stand before the jury unprejudiced for exactly what it may be worth.
The defense claims to be prepared perfectly for the annihilation of Conley’s statement. Maybe it is—the defense should have read its own hand pretty well by now.
The defense, however, may be in the situation “Br’er Rabbit” found himself once when he “clum a tree” because he just naturally was “obleeged to,” and NOT because anybody ever had heard of a rabbit climbing a tree before in all natural history. And I do not write this flippantly, but to illustrate the point. Whether the defense can break down Conley or not, the DEFENSE MUST BREAK DOWN CONLEY or face a perilous alternative!
Refused Conley Indictment.
All the circumstances and recitals concerning Conley, tending to show that he and not Frank more likely was the principal in the killing of Mary Phagan, is beside the IMMEDIATE QUESTION. The trial to [be] called to-morrow is the trial of LEO FRANK and not James Conley.
In addition to that, a Grand Jury but recently has definitely and directly REFUSED to indict James Conley for the murder, pending the disposition of the Frank case.
These are stubborn facts the defense is called upon to face—and it will not do, I take it, to face them either hesitatingly or otherwise than frankly and candidly.
The defense may be loaded with ammunition sufficient to shoot the State’s case to pieces, just as it claims to be. There are many people who believe it is—but there also are quite as many people, perhaps, who believe it isn’t.
Looking back over the progress of events in this puzzling, elusive and continuously interesting Phagan case—to my mind by far the most bizarre and grimly engaging mystery in all the catalogue of crime in Georgia—I am moved to no great surprise that the public yet is largely of open and fair mind in respect of it.