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The Sacco & Vanzetti Case: Not Guilty, Research Paper Example

Pages: 6

Words: 1520

Research Paper

Introduction

Over the last fifty years, a number of well-researched books have been published on the infamous case of Sacco and Vanzetti. The most prominent is Harvard Law School Professor Felix Frankfurter’s Sacco and Vanzetti: Guilty as Charged in which Frankfurter alleges that Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were guilty of cold-blooded murder. Following the publication of this book in 1962, an entire host of “revisionists” offered other evidence on the case. For example, in 1965, Robert H. Montgomery “launched the first of four challenges to Frankfurter’s book” in Sacco-Vanzetti: The Murder and the Myth in which Montgomery “justified the first guilty verdict in 1920 and the second guilty verdict in 1921” (Newby, “Judge Wyzanski Makes History: Sacco and Vanzetti Reconvicted”); in 1969, Herbert B. Ehrmann in The Case That Will Not Die also concluded that Sacco and Vanzetti were guilty as charged; and in 1985, William Young and David E. Kaiser in Postmortem: New Evidence in the Case of Sacco and Vanzetti agreed with the guilty verdict. However, since the 1980’s, new evidence has come to light about the case of Sacco and Vanzetti and after extensive research, it is now obvious that these two Italian immigrants were innocent of the murders of Frederick Parmenter and Alessandro Berardelli due to recently revealed evidence related to ballistics.

Background of the Case

From the beginning of their lives, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were die-hard radicals and non-conformists having matured in Italy before and during the “Great War” of 1914 to 1918. Thus, as left-wing radicals, Sacco and Vanzetti stood in opposition to America entering the war in 1917 and in order to avoid being drafted, they headed for Mexico, but when the war ended in April of 1918, Sacco and Vanzetti returned to the U.S. Two years later on May 20, 1920, both men were arrested and interrogated in Bridgewater, Massachusetts concerning the killings of Frederick Parmenter and Alessandro Berardelli who were transporting two boxes containing the payroll ($15,000) of a shoe factory (“The History of Sacco and Vanzetti”).

After the murders of Parmenter and Berardelli, a number of eyewitnesses came forward and told the police that the killers appeared to be Italian. This led to the questioning of numerous local Italian immigrants, but for some unclear reason, the police decided to charge Sacco and Vanzetti with the killings of Parmenter and Berardelli, both of whom were also Italian by birth. Despite the fact that Sacco and Vanzetti lacked criminal records, the police “argued that they had committed the robbery to acquire funds for their anarchist political campaign” (“The History of Sacco and Vanzetti”).

On May 21, 1921, Sacco and Vanzetti were put on trial and according to the prosecutor, both men were carrying guns when arrested by the police. Several eyewitnesses for the prosecution also identified Sacco and Vanzetti as the killers of Parmenter and Berardelli. However, Sacco and Vanzetti appeared to have rock-solid alibis with Vanzetti in the city of Plymouth selling fish at a marketplace, and Sacco “in Boston with his wife having his photograph taken.” Thus, if these alibis were true, then Sacco and Vanzetti were nowhere near the scene of the crime; however, the prosecution insisted that the alibis were unreliable because “all those that were called to provide evidence to support the alibis were Italian immigrants” (“The History of Sacco and Vanzetti”).

On July 14, 1921, Sacco and Vanzetti were found guilty by a jury of their peers (incidentally, none of the jurors were of Italian birth) and were duly sentenced to die in the electric chair. As immigrants, Sacco and Vanzetti “were disadvantaged by not having a full grasp of the English language” which made it difficult to express themselves clearly when questioned by both the prosecution and the defense (“The History of Sacco and Vanzetti”).

Two important areas that obviously led to a guilty verdict was Sacco and Vanzetti’s political beliefs as radicals and anarchists and the fact that they had left the U.S. during World War I which the prosecution viewed as unpatriotic behavior. As one unidentified newspaper reporter observed after the trial, the convictions of Sacco and Vanzetti “resulted from prejudice against them as Italian immigrants and because of their radical political beliefs” (“The History of Sacco and Vanzetti”).

Four years after the trial, Celestino Madeiros, an immigrant from Portugal, “confessed to being a member of the gang that killed Parmenter and Berardelli” and provided the names of four men “who had taken part in the robbery,” namely the Morelli brothers who were “well-known criminals who had carried out similar robberies” in and around Bridgewater, Massachusetts. But as might be expected, Madeiros’ confession was ignored by the state prosecutor who openly refused to investigate his claim History of Sacco and Vanzetti”). Thus, on August 23, 1927, Sacco and Vanzetti were executed for the killings of Parmenter and Berardelli. Fifty years later in 1977, former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis “issued a proclamation, effectively absolving the two men of the crime” (“The History of Sacco and Vanzetti”).

New Evidence That Exonerates Sacco and Vanzetti

Since the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti in 1927, numerous legal, political, and ethics scholars have debated their guilt and/or innocence, and today as noted by Robert D’Attilio, most authors and biographers “have focused their attention on the legal, social, and cultural dimensions of the Sacco-Vanzetti case,” especially related to the “fairness of the trial and the innocence or guilt of the two men” (“Sacco-Vanzetti Case”). As is usually the case with a famous murder trial that occurred more than ninety years ago, new evidence has come to light that fully exonerates Sacco and Vanzetti as the killers of Parmenter and Berardelli in 1920.

As mentioned in the introduction, Harvard Law School Professor Felix Frankfurter who went on to become a U.S. Supreme Court Justice alleges that the evidence against Sacco and Vanzetti was sufficiently strong enough to convict them of cold-blooded, first-degree murder; however, Frankfurter also admits that the “prosecutor and judge had played to the prejudices of the jury” in which none of the jurors were either immigrants nor of Italian birth. Also, there is the 1925 confession of Celestino Madeiros who declared that the “Morelli gang, and not Sacco and Vanzetti, were guilty of the crime” (“Sacco and Vanzetti: Were Two Innocent Men Executed?”). There is also the fact that since Sacco and Vanzetti were self-professed radicals and anarchists, the members of the jury were biased and prejudiced, due in part to Sacco and Vanzetti’s immigrant status and the mere passage of four years since the end of the First World War in 1918 when immigrants were viewed with much contempt and outright hatred.

The most recent hard evidence that exonerates Sacco and Vanzetti of the murders of Parmenter and Berardelli is related to ballistics, an area of forensic science investigation concerning bullet calibers and the distinctive markings that bullets leave behind in the gun barrel and on the bullets themselves. According to James Fisher, a former FBI agent and instructor in criminal investigation, criminal law, and forensic science at Edinboro University in Pennsylvania, the foundation of the prosecution’s case against Sacco and Vanzetti “had to do with the firearms experts who would testify that the fatal bullet number 3 had been fired from Sacco’s 32-caliber automatic handgun.” However, these “firearm experts” were amateurs and as Fisher notes of the four “experts” for the prosecution, only one, Charles Van Amburgh, “had any knowledge or experience with the microscope and microphotography.” Also, not a single one of these four “experts” possessed “considerable experience comparing known and questioned bullets to determine if they had been fired by the same weapon” (“Firearms Identification in the Sacco-Vanzetti Case: Part I: The Phony Experts”).

In addition, formerly confidential police files that were re-examined in 1977 by forensic ballistics experts from the FBI proved that the “gun in Vanzetti’s possession (a 38-caliber Harrington & Richardson revolver) could not have been taken from the victim (being Parmenter) because it was a different caliber and had a different serial number” (“Sacco and Vanzetti: Were Two Innocent Men Executed?”). As added proof, none of the three bullets that had killed Berardelli matched the rifling or grooves inside the barrel of Sacco’s 32-caliber Colt automatic handgun. Therefore, even though “experts” did conduct ballistics tests on both Sacco and Vanzetti’s guns during the trial and another “expert” in 1961 did allegedly “match the bullet found in Berardelli’s body to Sacco’s gun” (“Sacco and Vanzetti: Were Two Innocent Men Executed?”), it would be safe to conclude that Sacco and Vanzetti were innocent of the killings of Parmenter and Berardelli in May of 1920. But like similar sensational murder trials in which evidence is scanty, witnesses are unreliable, “experts” are amateurs, and all of the participants are long deceased, the actual truth about Sacco and Vanzetti will probably remain unknown.

Works Cited

D’Attilio, Robert. “Sacco-Vanzetti Case.” 2007. Web. 24 May 2013.

Fisher, James. “Firearms Identification in the Sacco-Vanzetti Case: Part I: Phony Experts.” 2008. Web. 25 May 2013.

Newby, Richard. “Judge Wyzanski Makes History: Sacco and Vanzetti Reconvicted.” Web. 24 May 2013.

“Sacco and Vanzetti: Were Two Innocent Men Executed?” 2007. Web. 25 May 2013.

“The History of Sacco and Vanzetti.” 2000. Web. 24 May 2013.

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