Sacco and Vanzetti Overview.doc - SACCO-VANZETTI CASE At...

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SACCO-VANZETTI CASE.At 3:00 P.M. on April 15,1920, a paymaster and his guard were carrying a factory payroll of $15,776 through the main street of South Braintree, Massachusetts, a small industrial town south of Boston. Two men standing by a fence suddenly pulled out guns and fired on them. The gunmen snatched up the cash boxes dropped by the mortally wounded pair and jumped into a waiting automobile. The bandit gang, numbering four or five in all, sped away, eluding their pursuers. At first this brutal murder and robbery, not uncommon in post-World War I America, aroused only local interest. Three weeks later, on the evening of May 5, 1920, two Italians, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, fell into a police trap that had been set for a suspect in the Braintree crime. Although originally not under suspicion, both men were carryingguns at the time of their arrest andwhen questioned by the authoritiesthey lied. As a result they were heldand eventually indicted for the SouthBraintree crimes. Vanzetti was alsocharged with an earlier holdupattempt that had taken place onDecember 24, 1919, in the nearby town of Bridgewater. These events were to mark the beginning of twentieth-century America's most notorious political trial. Contrary to the usual practice of Massachusetts courts, Vanzetti was tried first in the summer of 1920 on the lesser of the two charges, the failed Bridgewater robbery. Despite a strong alibi supported by many wit nesses, Vanzetti was found guilty. Most of Vanzetti's witnesses were Italians who spoke English poorly, and Sacco & Vanzetti
their trial testimony, given largely in translation, failed to convince the American jury. Vanzetti's case had also been seriously damagedwhen he, for fear of revealing his radical activities, did not take thestand in his own defense. For a first criminal offense in which no one was hurt, Vanzetti received a sentence that was much harsher than usual, ten to fifteenyears. This signaled to the two men and their supporters a hostile bias on the part of the authorities that was political in nature and pointed to the need for a new defense strategy in the Braintree trial.The arrest of Sacco and Vanzetti had coincided with the periodof the most intense political repression in American history, the"Red Scare" 1919-20. The police trap they had fallen into had been set for a comrade of theirs, suspected primarily because he was a foreign-born radical.While neither Sacco nor Vanzetti had any previous criminal record, they were long recognized by the authorities and their communities as anarchist militants who had been extensively involved in labor strikes, political agitation, and antiwar propaganda and who had had several serious confrontations with the lawIn 1920, as the Italian anarchist movement was trying to regroup, Andrea Salsedo, a comrade of Sacco and Vanzetti, was detained and, while in custody of the Department of Justice, hurled to his death. On the night of their arrest, authorities found in Sacco's pocket a draft of a handbill for an anarchist meeting that featured

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