Another in our series of new transcriptions of contemporary articles on the Leo Frank case.
August 8th, 1913
By JAMES B. NEVIN.
As the defense in the Frank case gets under way, it is evident enough, as it has been from the beginning of this case, that there is but one big, tremendously compelling task before it—the annihilation of Conley’s ugly story!
The State climaxed its case thrillingly and with deadly effect in the negro.
He came through the fire of cross-examination, exhaustive and thorough, in remarkably good shape, all things considered. He unfolded a story even more horrible than was anticipated. Certainly, in every conceivable way, he has sought to damage the defendant—even going to the extent of lodging against him another crime than murder!
Through the cross-examination, however, there an an evident vein of deadly purpose upon the part of the defense. Conley was given full limit to go his length. He went it—no disputing that!
The question is, did he go TOO FAR?
Did he, in his last minute effort to get in EVERYTHING that possibly might work against the defendant, tell things, or say things, that eventually will rise to plague him to his utter undoing?
That is the defense’s task—THE UNDOING OF CONLEY.
Conley the State’s All.
Conley is the heart and soul of the State’s case—without Conley, the State is rendered helpless. He is the Alpha and the Omega of the charge against Leo Frank.
That great detective, William J. Burns, says “they always—criminals—leave something out of gear in the stories they tell.”
Burns declares there never was a lie told to shield a criminal that did not have in it SOMEWHERE a fatal weakness, that might be located if patiently sought for. The more elaborate the tale of the criminal relates, the mere chance there is, no matter how [1 word illegible] shrewd he may seem to be, that he will be discovered.
Today is the defense’s day in court—during its progress, which may be for a week or more, even as the State’s day lasted 240 hours, Leo Frank must break down the awful story of Jim Conley, and prove himself innocent, if he can, of all the various charges brought against him.
Can he do it?
Well, maybe he can, and maybe he can not—at least, in the name of justice and decency and all that is right, he must have full and free OPPORTUNITY.
One Side of the Case.
During the progress of the State’s case, the defense was led far into the gloom. People began to doubt Frank’s innocence—people of poise and fair minds, desirous of seeing the truth prevail though the heavens fall. Even these people found themselves staggering and groping as the hideous and sinister charges fell from the lips of the negro.
Could Leo Frank, of previous good reputation, of fair name and unblemished integrity, college bred and studious in habit, so far as the public knew or suspected, be the the monster responsible for little Mary Phagan’s death, and also—the other unspeakable thing?
In a rather remarkable interview Mrs. Leo Frank gave The Sunday American some few weeks ago, she said this of Frank and herself: “As sweethearts, we went hand in hand, and intruded ourselves upon no person; as man and wife we have gone hand in hand, and we have intruded ourselves upon no person.”
They still are going “hand in hand,” the man and the woman, the husband and the wife—the one holding up as best he can under the terrible charge of murder, the other there beside him—“for better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer”—until death, or worse than death, shall sever the tie that binds.
That is something steadying to think about!
It is the defendant’s day in court—and he is entitled to fair play and a fair chance!
To some it may seem that the burden has shifted, that it is up to the defense now, notwithstanding the more or less fictitious presumption of innocence that law jealously has established in his favor, to PROVE his innocence.
Be that as it may—even as the gloom has closed about him and all he holds most dear in this world—he still is a human being, in very dire distress, as yet unconvicted; and it is only right that the public should be patient, as he sets forth HIS side of this terrible affair.
And I give it as my opinion here and now, for whatever it is worth, that the case against Leo Frank yet may be far from conclusive—and it may never be made conclusive.
Conley’s Tale Impossible?
Suppose the defense is able to show, by a sequence of logical, orderly and honorably sustained witnesses, that the tale Jim Conley tells is utterly absurd—and IMPOSSIBLE?
Will you be prepared, if forced to a conviction against your will, if it be that way with you, to say to Frank: “All right, you came through the fire, at times seemingly sure to consume you, unhurt and unscorched, but you came through, and I am content.”
Conley’s story has not YET been broken down—no. But it MAY be broken down.
In an article a few days ago, I said this, and I feel like repeating it now:
In judging this Frank case, purely from the State’s own standpoint, there is [n]othing so important as the TIME ELEMENT in which the State uncompromisingly claims the crime was committed.
In another article a few days thereafter, I said this, and this I also feel like repeating now:
If the Conley story is a lie, if it has been TOO CLEVERLY “framed up”—if and a thousand other “ifs”—what matters that?
It matters this: If it be a lie, it MUST break down, somewhere, sometime; if it be the truth, it will stand against ALL the assaults made upon it!
State Tied by Conley.
Remember, unless Conley’s story holds together, the case against Frank goes to pieces. Everybody who has read the evidence and who still is capable of rendering just judgment will admit that.
Suppose it can be shown, and is shown, that the story Conley told CAN NOT be true?
The defense MUST show that, or Frank is lost!
Can the defense do that?
The State has pinned itself down to exact and definite propositions. Remember, the defense has hardly started its story yet—it may be able to make absurd those very propositions the State has set up.
The crime, according to the State’s witnesses, MUST have been committed thus and so, in exact order, and just as stated—or Conley’s story falls down.
The biggest element in the State’s case is the time element—mark that!
Upon it the State will stand or fall eventually.
If Mary Phagan was NOT killed before 12:05, then Leo Frank didn’t kill her. If she was not killed at that time, Conley’s story will not do.
Then is when the State says she was killed—THEN and not at any other time. Conley’s story ALL leads up to and away from that.
Remember, too, that the only witness who swears to knowledge or suspicion of any unspeakable conduct upon the part of Frank is—again—Conley.
Dalton a Tame Witness.
When it came to corroborating Conley, Dalton proved a tame corroboration. The ugly, nasty charge of perversion and degeneracy, glibly dropped from the lips of Conley, rests ENTIRELY AND ALTOGETHER on Conley’s word.
If Conley’s story of the murder is shown to be IMPOSSIBLE AND ABSURD, will you then reverse your other opinion concerning Frank—if you have accepted Conley’s word as to that—and agree that Conley, having lied to send Frank to the gallows, would have lied as readily to besmirch him with unmentionable scandal otherwise?
Shall not Frank have the right, unchallenged and fair, to clear himself of every charge lodged against him?
To-day is his day in court—will any living person begrudge him, sore pressed, one moment of it?
Will, in the end, he be able to read and take to himself, happily and serenely, Tennyson’s beautiful poem ending—
“And now it is daylight everywhere!”
We shall see.
At least, he is entitled to his day in court—and it is at hand!
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