Sacco and Vanzetti are being tried for highway robbery and murder, but the real charge is radicalism.
The trial before the court in Dedham, Massachusetts, for a capital offense of two Italians, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, raises issues of fundamental importance. The accused are men of excellent character and of unusual gifts. Sacco is a skilled shoe-worker who has been employed in one establishment seven years, earning sometimes as much as $26 in a single day. Vanzetti left industrial employment and bought a fish route in the Italian section of Plymouth for “love of independence.” Both are radicals and have taken an aggressive part in the industrial struggle; in other words, they belong to the unpopular class of “reds.”
The crimes for which Sacco and Vanzetti were arrested were an unsuccessful attempt to capture a pay roll at Bridgewater on December 24, 1919, and a hold-up at Braintree on April 15, 1920, in which the bandits got away with some $18,000 and the paymaster and one of the guards were killed. Both Sacco and Vanzetti were examined for both of these crimes, but only Vanzetti was put on trial for the first, that of Bridgewater His trial took place last July, when he was found guilty and sentenced to fifteen years in the State’s prison. It is for the second of the crimes, that of highway robbery and murder at Braintree, that both he and Sacco are now facing trial at Dedham.
The circumstances attending the arrest of the two men and still more developments at Vanzetti’s trial have aroused a widespread belief in a frame-up. Substantial basis for this belief is furnished by the transcript of the preliminary hearings and of Vanzetti’s trial. In these documents not a scintilla of evidence is produced showing why either Sacco or Vanzetti should have been charged with the Braintree crime (if further evidence exists, the accused were given no chance to meet it), while the only evidence which afforded ground for more than a surmise connecting Vanzetti with the Bridgewater crime was that of persons who had witnessed the holdup and who claimed to recognize one of the men who had done the shooting—a man, be it remembered, they had never seen before and of whom they got but a momentary glance upon an occasion of intense excitement. An interval of four months had elapsed between this occasion and the first attempt at identification; and between two or three months elapsed before the attempted identification at the trial. All but two of the witnesses, while they were fairly positive in their identification, admitted that there was room for doubt. “I think he is the man,” “I feel so but I may be mistaken.”
Two witnesses, to be sure, were positive in their identification. One of these, about fifteen minutes before the hold-up occurred, had noticed a covered motor with the windshield up some distance up the street, and she claimed to have particularly observed the man at the wheel who she was sure was Vanzetti. But this witness was equally sure that she had seen the shooting, had seen the fire from the gun. And this she certainly did not see, as cross examination developed the fact that a two-story building obstructed the line of vision between the scene of action and her point of observation from a window in the railroad station. Another witness, a schoolboy, who was equally positive that the man who fired the gun was the man before him in the dock admitted that he got but a “fleeting glance,” and the only description he could give of him was that “by the way he ran I could tell he was a foreigner.” Not one witness who described the gunman mentioned the unusually big mustache which is the striking feature of Vanzetti’s physiognomy. The mustache of the bandit is variously described as “short,” “croppy,” “trimmed,” “neither big nor small,” “not a Charlie Chaplin mustache,” “a mustache that had been cropped off at the end not long and flowing.” As I looked at Vanzetti in prison I could discern not one single point in his appearance which had been suggested by any one of the identifications.