THIS WEEK WE present the second part of the closing arguments of Solicitor Hugh Dorsey (pictured in a contemporary newspaper illustration), the prosecutor in the 1913 murder trial of Leo Frank for the slaying of his sweatshop employee Mary Phagan. This prosecution has been presented in the major media as a case of “anti-Semitism” — but a reading of the evidence and Dorsey’s closing arguments casts that allegation into the realm of the ridiculous. The Frank case was a major factor in the establishment of the Jewish “anti-hate” group, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), over 100 years ago.
This new audio book series encompasses the American Mercury’s extensive coverage of the 1913 Frank trial. We are presenting the extensive arguments, both for the defense and the prosecution, in order and in full — a monumental, book-length project. Today’s presentation is the second section (of six) of Hugh Dorsey’s final statement.
Mr. Dorsey discusses the investigative and interrogation techniques of the police in his argument:
. . . I say arrested, according to Frank’s own statement himself, they got him and just detained him, and even then, red-handed murderer as he was, his standing and influence, and the standing and influence of his attorney, somehow or other — and that’s the only thing to the discredit of the police department throughout the whole thing, say what you may — they were intimidated and afraid because of the influence that was back of him, to consign him to a cell like they did Lee and Conley, and it took them a little time to arrive at the point where they had the nerve and courage to face the situation and put him where he ought to be.
. . . [I]f [Detective] Black had been given an opportunity to go after this man, Leo M. Frank, like he went after that poor defenseless negro, Newt Lee, towards whom you would have directed suspicion, this trial might have been obviated, and a confession might have been obtained. You [Dorsey is here speaking to Leo Frank] didn’t get your lawyer to sustain you and support you a moment too soon. You called for Darley, and you called for Haas, and you called for Rosser, and you called for Arnold, and it took the combined efforts of all of them to keep up your nerve.
And I don’t want to misquote and I won’t misquote, but I want to drive it home with all the power that I possibly can or that I possess. The only thing in this case that can be said to the discredit of the police department of the City of Atlanta is that you treated this man, who snuffed out that little girl’s life on the second floor of that pencil factory, with too much consideration, and you let able counsel and the glamour that surrounds wealth and influence, deter you. I honor — but I honor the way they went after Minola McKnight [a Black servant girl at the Frank household who provided evidence against Frank but after receiving money from the Franks claimed that the police had intimidated her — Ed.] — I don’t know whether they want me to apologize for them or not, but if you think that finding the red-handed murderer of a little girl like this is a ladies’ tea party, and that the detectives should have the manners of a dancing master and apologize and palaver, you don’t know anything about the business.
Mr. Dorsey also heaps scorn on the idea that Jim Conley would have come up with the idea of hiding Mary Phagan’s body in the factory basement or writing the death notes (which he here refers to as “letters”):
Now, gentlemen, I want to discuss briefly right here these letters, and if these letters weren’t “the order of an all-ruling Providence I should agree with my friends that they are the silliest pieces of stuff ever practiced; but these letters have intrinsic marks of a knowledge of this transaction,” these pads, that pad,—things usually found in his office,—this man Frank, by the language of these notes, in attempting to fasten the crime upon another, “has indelibly fixed it upon himself.” I repeat it, these notes, which were intended to fix the crime upon another, “have indelibly fixed it upon this defendant,” Leo M. Frank. The pad, the paper, the fact that he wanted a note,—you tell me that ever a negro lived on the face of the earth who, after having killed and robbed, or ravished and murdered a girl down in that dark basement, or down there in that area, would have taken up the time to have written these notes, and written them on a scratch pad which is a thing that usually stays in the office, or written them on paper like this, found right outside of the office of Frank, as shown on that diagram, which is introduced in evidence and which you will have out with you?
You tell me that that man, Jim Conley, sober, as Tillander and Graham tell you, when they went there, would have ravished this girl with a knowledge of the fact that Frank was in that house? I tell you no. Do you tell me that this man, Jim Conley, “drunk as a fiddler’s bitch,” if you want it that way, would, or could have taken time to have written these notes to put beside the body of that dead girl? I tell you no, and you don’t need me to tell you, you know it The fact, gentlemen of the jury, that these notes were written—ah, but you say that it’s foolish. You say it’s foolish. It’s ridiculous. It was a silly piece of business, it was a great folly; but murder will out, and Providence directs things in a mysterious way, and not only that, as Judge Bleckley says, “Crime, whenever committed, is a mistake in itself; and what kind of logic is it that will say that a man committed a crime, which is a great big mistake and then in an effort to cover it up, won’t make a smaller mistake!” There’s no logic in that position.
The man who commits a crime makes a mistake, and the man who seeks to cover it up nearly always makes also a little mistake. And this man here, by these notes, purporting to have been written by little Mary Phagan, by the verbiage and the language and the context, in trying to fasten it on another, as sure as you are sitting in this jury box “has indelibly fastened it on himself.”
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.