Sacco and Vanzetti: Perfect Suspects, Unfair Trials?

During my first weeks at WGBH working on the Local News Project, I have found many interesting pieces of information that only hint at larger stories. One of these referred to the Sacco/Vanzetti Memorial. I love history, but I was unaware of this particular story. I am glad that I found it.

From the WCVB’s assignment sheets: Item: Sacco/Vanzetti Memorial Description: The gov. announces a memorial and also acknowledges, on behalf of the state, for the first time, that s & v may not have gotten the fairest shake in the trial.

On May 5th, 1920, Ferdinando Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were arrested for murder and robbery. Two men transporting company payroll were murdered in Braintree, MA on April 15, 1920, and Sacco and Vanzetti looked like perfect suspects. They were Italian immigrants and radical militant anarchists, and feelings were charged in the community toward these groups.

[caption id="attachment_583" align="alignleft" width="300"]Ferdinando Nicola Sacco
and Bartolomeo Vanzetti Ferdinando Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)[/caption]


There were two trials, the first for Vanzetti for robbery. The defending attorney did not do everything he could have to help his client, and Vanzetti was convicted. A few years after the trial the defending attorney joined the law firm of the prosecuting attorney.

At the second trial Sacco and Vanzetti were tried for the two murders. “Solid” evidence against them actually did not single them out as the murderers, but was considered to. Witness testimony was ignored. They were found guilty even though another man, Celestino Maderios confessed to the murders.

Sacco and Vanzetti received the death penalty and were executed by electric chair, August 23, 1927.

In 1977, Governor Michael Dukakis declared August 23, 1977, the 50th anniversary of their execution to be Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti Memorial Day.  He had requested a study of the original trial and the evidence that had come to light since then. He saw a lack of due process in their trials, and wanted to right that wrong.

Sacco and Vanzetti continue to be remembered in rallies, commemorations and memorials. Do you think that they were guilty or innocent? Have you seen or participated in any events commemorating them?

More sources: Digital History: Sacco and Vanzetti “Governor Dukakis Discusses Impending Exoneration of Sacco and Vanzetti” NBC Transcript. SACCO-VANZETTI CASE The Sacco-Vanzetti Case: An Account