30 Years Later: The No-Pardon Pardon of Leo Frank

frank_Atlanta_Journal_Apr_29_1913Today, March 11, 2016, is the 30th anniversary of the granting of a limited pardon to Leo Frank.

by John Pierson and Vanessa Neubauer

IN 1983 — 70 years after the conviction of sex killer and Atlanta B’nai B’rith president Leo Max Frank for the murder of Mary Phagan — lawyers associated with the Jewish Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the Atlanta Jewish Federation and the American Jewish Committee tried to obtain a pardon for Frank. (ILLUSTRATION: Leo Frank gives a big smile for the camera just two days after the murder of Mary Phagan. The snapshot was published the next day, April 29, 1913 on the cover of the Atlanta Journal. It was taken at a time when it was widely believed that a Black man, Newt Lee, would be charged with the crime.)

The ADL based their claims almost entirely on the 1982 affidavit of Frank’s office boy, Alonzo Mann, who took 69 years to reverse his trial testimony. Mann, elderly and with mounting medical bills, created a media sensation when he averred — contrary to what he had testified in 1913 — that he had seen another man (Frank’s janitor and accessory after the fact Jim Conley) carrying Mary Phagan’s body on the day of her murder.

Tremendous pressure was placed on the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles to exonerate Frank and issue him a pardon. But the Jewish groups’ efforts failed. The Board ruled that Alonzo Mann’s new affidavit added nothing of substance to the evidence and did not at all, despite Mann’s opinion to the contrary, prove that Frank was innocent. It only proved that Conley may have carried Mary’s body by a different route than the one to which he had admitted in 1913. (Even the prosecution stated — as did Conley himself — that Conley had moved the body.) The pardon request was rejected and Frank’s conviction was affirmed and upheld. Continue Reading →