sacco and Vanzetti: Guilty or not?

What is the historical take on Sacco and Vanzetti? Were they probably guilty or not?

Probably not. Their verdict was heavily biased by their race, atheism, anarchism, and draft dodging. In fact, I don’t have a cite but I think I remember seeing on the History Channel that someone else was eventually caught for the murder.

This is probably the best source of information about the Sacco and Vanzetti trial on the web.

I personally think that they were innocent of the murder that they were convicted of. But then, I’m from the Great Socialist North, and even named my cats after Sacco and Vanzetti, so I would think that.

Look over the facts in evidence and decide for yourself.

It looks like Sacco was guilty but Vanzetti was not. In any case, they’d both be dead by now.

According to the link provided by Larry Mudd above, the current most likely is that Sacco was most likely guilty, Vanzetti was most likely not. Which jibes with the last information I can recall hearing.


I have a recollection of an article in American Heritage Magazine some twenty years ago(when A.H. was still hardback and before it was taken over by big business and had no advertising) that concluded, on the basis of forensic examination of shell casings found at the scene(?) and ammunition found at the house of one or the other of the defendants, that one or the other of them had done the deed. The fact remains that the trial was flawed.

Indeed, in my various jaunts through American Anarchist stories I have read that Sacco was guilty while Vanzetti was innocent. This, of course, was idle speculation by somehow who was well-connected with the case. Nevertheless, I can tell you upon further research that this seems to be a valid conclusion. I’d refer you to a book or two, but they’re all not at hand for me. I’m sure if you scour the section in your local public library on the case, you’ll be bound to find this opinion somewhere

Never forget the words of the sentencing judge, though:

“You should have seen what I did to those anarchist bastards…”

From the American Heritage article (that discusses a 1961 ballistics examination that conclusively linked Sacco’s gun to the murder), the author, Francis Russell, noted:

Interestingly, a review of the initial trial indicates that most of the errors were on the part of the defense. The prosecutor and judge probably had the general fear/loathing of anarchists common to the time, but the case was presented by the prosecutor according to the evidence. However, the defense attorney wanted a “political” trial so as to indict “America” and he made numerous errors (basic ones like not getting evidence as well as tactical ones like trying to avoid the issue of the robbery and murder while pleading the case for Anarchist beliefs).

Where Sacco and Vanzetti were railroaded was in the appeals process, where most of the denials were based solely on a desire to execute the anarchists without regard to justice.

As mentioned earlier, the best evidence indicates that Sacco was guilty, while Vanzetti was innocent.

If Vanzetti had had a lawyer who was interested in defending HIS rights, and looking out for HIS interests, he probably could and SHOULD have been acquitted. Instead, he chose to put the interests of “the cause” above his own, and stuck with a lawyer more interested in scoring rhetorical points than in helping his innocent client.

This was not the only case wherein a couple were indicted and both found guilty when one was innocent. Ethel Rosenberg was guilty of no more than being the hubby of a spy. She may have been an accessory, but she certainly did not leak any secrets to the Soviets. Even the prosecution knew that.

Off to Great Debates.


I guess they charged her in order to get a confession from her husband.

About forty years ago I did a paper based on an extract of the trial record, including large chunks of testimony. I don’t remember the details now, but my take on it at the time was that the “eyewitness” evidence against Sacco was shaky at best and purjured at worst. The witness whose testimony was most damning identified Sacco from a momentary glimpse of a man in a moving car more than fifty feet away.

Sacco and Vanzetti were convicted on a theory, introduced at that trial, called “consciousness of guilt.” When they were arrested they “acted guilty” and the judge (Thayer was his name) allowed the jury to consider that as evidence of their guilt. The fact that they thought they were being picked up for their “subversive” activities or as draft dodgers never entered into the court’s thinking. Thayer was openly antagonistic to the “anarchists,” and sided with the prosecution on almost all challenges.

Were they guilty? I don’t know. But in a modern day courtroom they probably wouldn’t have been convicted, given the weakness of the evidence against them. Today a judge who made the kind of public comments Thayer did would have to recuse himself because of media pressure, if for no other reason.

Then again, as late as the sixties there was a judge named Hoffman and seven guys in Chicago…

IMHO, the system still has a ways to go before the word “justice” can be appended to it without a snicker.

In the American Heritage article noted above, they re-examined the ballistic evidence. (The author had set out to demonstrate their innocence.) The bullet known as “Bullet III” had been identified as the one that caused the death. The hammer marks and barrel striations for Bullet III were identical to the marks from every bullet fired from Sacco’s gun in subsequent tests according to the analysis of every person who examined them.

The issue was raised of whether Bullet III could have been switched at some point. However, part of the autopsy report included the point that the bullet had been found lodged against a bone–and was flattened on that side. The odds against being able to fire a bullet from Sacco’s gun while reproducing the exact “bone flattening” phenomenon (particularly with 1920s technology) are astronomical.