Another in our series of new transcriptions of contemporary articles on the Leo Frank case.
August 16th, 1913
By JAMES B. NEVIN.
The defense is nearing its end in the Frank case.
A few more character witnesses—there seems to have been no difficulty whatever in securing character witnesses by the score to testify in behalf of the defendant—the statement of Frank, and the defense will rest.
The State will soon introduce its witnesses in rebuttal of the defense’s character witnesses, and along other lines. Not improbably, the State will undertake to rebut in a measure the defendant’s personal statement.
The entire case should go to the jury Monday or Tuesday—meaning by that that the argument should begin then.
The State has been all along much more sensational and spectacular than the defense. That generally is the way these cases go, and in respect of that, therefore, the Frank case has not been particularly remarkable.
In the length of time required to develop fully both sides, however, the case is in a class by itself, so far as Georgia is concerned.
The Frank case has been noticeable, too, because of the fact that women have been excluded from the courtroom practically from the beginning of the trial—and yet in the main there hasn’t been a great deal said in the courtroom that might be called particularly offensive, as those things go.
Innuendo Plays Large Part.
Aside from Conley’s direct statement, as to unspeakable depravity upon the part of Frank, the most that has been said by way of the very offense has been said largely through suggestion and innuendo.
Unless the State comes forward in rebuttal with some direct allegations to bolster up Conley, the chances are that there will be no further ultra-sensational testimony introduced.
The constant dread has been present in the mind of the court, however, that in this case there always is the chance that something highly offensive to sensitive ears may “break,” and at any moment.
The court has had no way of knowing what either direct or cross-examination might develop in a witness, and for that reason the presiding judge has kept the courtroom clear of women and children as the case proceeded.
This circumstance has served to emphasize the presence of the defendant’s wife and mother, and to make them at all times conspicuous among the spectators—as they must have been in a large degree, in any event.
Both of these women have faced the long and trying ordeal with remarkable fortitude and patience, all things considered, and it probably is true that at no stage of the trial has anything less than genuine sympathy gone out to them from the crowds constantly on hand to witness the proceedings.
The elder Mrs. Frank was on Friday a most interesting witness. A day or so before she had—for the first and only time—lost control of her feelings in the courtroom and permitted herself to say things to the Solicitor that she herself no doubt almost instantly regretted.
Mother a Dignified Figure.
On Friday, however, when reading the somewhat remarkable and significant letter of her son to his uncle, she was a most impressive and dignified figure. I have no doubt whatever that her testimony had a fine effect upon the jury. She is the defendant’s mother—it is her son about whom all those horrible things have been said—and her deep concern and interest in the case could not be mistaken.
Her heart is involved necessarily as the heart of no other one person possibly can be—no human being would expect less of her than that—but her calmness and deliberation on the stand Friday showed that she appreciated the material value of the evidence she was then giving, and that it was necessary then that her best and most discriminating intelligence be given fully play, no less than heretofore her heart had been.
I think the public now is looking forward to the defendant’s statement with far more interest than anything else—unless it be to the forthcoming evidence of the more or less mysterious witnesses the State still has in reserve.
Frank never has told his own story. He has maintained a reserved silence ever since he was arrested, and it will be particularly interesting to hear what the main actor in the drama has to say in his own behalf, after all else has been said on that side.
It is by no means too much to say that Frank’s statement may make or mar his case—it may clear him entirely, for that thing has happened, and many more times than once—or it may but the other way. It certainly will be a dramatic utterance—whether the thrill of it be pronounced or repressed.
It looks as if the defendant has said about the last word that can be said in establishing his good character. Good character can be proved only in the way he has gone about it.
If the State relies upon the defendant’s lack of character to hold together its other story—and that seems to be the way the State is fighting its way along—it must break down the defendant’s exhibits completely, or the defendant’s showing is bound to figure tremendously in shaping the verdict.
Can the State do it?
That is a question Atlantans and Georgians have asked themselves continually for the past week or ten days. It is the question they still are asking themselves—and it is the question they will ask themselves until it is answered.
Upon the rebuttal of the Frank character witnesses much depends—and it has been promised, inferentially, at least, that this rebuttal will be complete and final. It must be, if the State hopes to win out.
There is nothing now that goes so directly to the very core of the issue between Leo Frank and the State of Georgia as the question of the defendant’s possession or lack of character.
When the attorneys pro and con come to sum up the case, for the benefit and theoretical enlightenment of the jury, it will be found, I think, that both the State and the defense have made out cases remarkable in point of strength for and against the defendant.
In other words, I mean it will be found that the State has made the very best of the material it had on hand by way of outlining and establishing the charge against Frank, the while the defense has been every bit as circumspect and astute in providing for the refutation of the charges.
Trial a Fair Fight.
Certainly the trial has been such a trial as men call fair. The case was not called until both sides had had ample time to prepare for it, and until both sides announced ready.
The State and the defense each is supplied with as able and intelligent counsel as might be secured, there has been no limit whatever upon the time taken up, court officials have left nothing undone to have the witnesses both ways on hand at the moments wanted, and the witnesses under the rule while the case has proceeded, have been handled as they should be.
Judge Roan, occupying not only a most responsible position, but certainly a most trying one, has borne himself with a degree of official dignity and fair-mindedness that must command him very highly to the public.
The jury has been taken care of like real human beings—nothing has been left undone for its comfort.
Consideration has been shown the defendant, the members of his family, and the warm friends constantly in attendance upon him.
The spectators have been orderly, even the hours observed by the court have been adjusted to the accommodation of the lawyers, the defendant, and the jury.
So far as human ingenuity and law can make it so, therefore, the trial of Leo Frank has been fair, I think—as fair as could be asked. And when I say that I mean fair to both the defense and the State.
The presiding judge let in one big, significant line of evidence supposedly unfavorable to the defense. It so happens, however, that later he left in another line supposedly as unfavorable to the State.
An Even Break.
There was no possible connection, really, between these two things, of course, for the judge did exactly the thing he though was right in both instances. It merely is a fact that his two biggest rulings cut evenly between the State and the accused—and to that extent is noticeable, in that it makes an even break.
I make the foregoing observation now because looking at the case from the present point of view, in advance of the verdict, I feel that [t]he observation is true—and whatever the outcome of the trial, I for one shall not feel that the case has been unfairly tried.
Judicial error may have crept in—it certainly is not for laymen to say as to that. It perhaps is not right and proper even to speculate upon such a thing.
Whatever judicial error has crept in, however, if any has, it maybe corrected upon review before a court higher up. Either that or the error will redound to the defendant’s benefit—for once acquitted, he never can be tried again for the murder of Mary Phagan.
There is on advantage that has come of the long drawn out battle perhaps, and that is in the time it has given the public to weigh carefully and discriminatingly every bit of evidence as it has fallen from the line of witnesses.
There is no reason why any person able to read the English language should be unfamiliar with any detail of the trial.
The newspapers certainly have done their part in spreading the story, as told by each side, before the public from day to day.
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Atlanta Georgian, August 16th 1913, “Statement by Frank Will Be the Climactic Feature of the Trial,” Leo Frank case newspaper article series (Original PDF)