THIS WEEK in our audio book series we present part 1 of the powerful, skillful closing arguments of Luther Z. Rosser (pictured) for the defense of Leo Frank in his trial for the murder of Mary Phagan, read by Vanessa Neubauer. Rosser was respected — and feared — as one of the best attorneys of his generation. He was the “go to” man for the wealthy and powerful in early 20th-century Georgia who found themselves in legal difficulty and needed their troubles “swept away.”
This series encompasses the American Mercury’s coverage of the 1913 trial and conviction of Jewish sex killer Leo Frank — a case which was one of the inspirations for the establishment of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). We will be presenting the extensive arguments, both for the defense and the prosecution, in order and in full — a monumental, book-length project. Today we present the arguments of Luther Z. Rosser for the defense.
Mr. Rosser states in his speech, about the factory girls who testified that Frank had a bad character for lasciviousness:
Well, gentlemen, the older I get the gentler I get and I wouldn’t think or say anything wrong about those misleading little girls who swore Frank was a bad man. I guess they thought they were telling the truth. Well, did Miss Maggie Griffin really think Frank was a vicious man and yet work there three years with him! Don’t you think she heard things against him after the crime was committed and that when she got up here and looked through the heated atmosphere of this trial, she did not see the real truth! And Miss Maggie Griffin, she was there two months. I wonder what she could know about Frank in that time. There was Mrs. Donegan and Miss Johnson and another girl there about two months, and Nellie Potts, who never worked there at all, and Mary Wallace, there three days, and Estelle Wallace, there a week and Carrie Smith, who like Miss Cato, worked there three years. These are the only ones in the hundreds who have worked there since 1908 who will say that Frank has a had character. Why, you could find more people to say that the Bishop of Atlanta, I believe, had a bad character, than have been brought against Frank.
Mr. Rosser also makes light of the claim by the prosecution that Frank’s nervousness on the day after the murder was an indication of guilt:
Now, what else have they put up against this man! They say he was nervous. We admit he was. Black says it, Darley says it, Sig. Montag says it — others say it! The handsome Mr. Darley was nervous and our friend Schiff was nervous. Why not hang them if you’re hanging men for nervousness! Isaac Haas — old man Isaac — openly admits he was nervous. The girls — why don’t you hang them, these sweet little girls in the factory — all of whom were so nervous they couldn’t work on the following day! If you had seen this little child, crushed, mangled, mutilated, with the sawdust crumbled in her eyes and her tongue protruding; staring up from that stinking, smelling basement, you’d have been nervous, too, every mother’s son of you. Gentlemen, I don’t profess to be chicken-hearted. I can see grown men hurt and suffering and I can stand a lot of things without growing hysterical, but I never walked along the street and heard the pitiful cry of a girl or woman without becoming nervous. God grant I will always be so. Frank looked at the mangled form and crushed virginity of Mary Phagan and his nerves fluttered. Hang him! Hang him!
Rosser made no mention, however, of Frank’s extreme nervousness the day before, after the murder had taken place but before the body had been discovered.
Click on the “play” button to listen to the audio book, read by Vanessa Neubauer.
Here is a description of the full series which will be posted as audio in future weeks; once all segments have been released, the Mercury will be offering for sale a complete, downloadable audio book of the full series.
2. WEEK 1
3. WEEK 2
4. WEEK 3
5. Leo Frank mounts the witness stand by Ann Hendon
6. Week 4
7. Closing arguments of Rosser, Arnold and Hooper
8. Closing arguments of Hugh Dorsey
Be sure to look for next week’s installment here at The American Mercury as we continue to follow the trial that changed the South — changed America — and changed the world.