clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Chicago 8 go on trial today

This article was originally published in the Chicago Sun-Times on Sept. 24, 1969. It details the beginnings of the famed Chicago Seven trial.

Screenshot of ‘Chicago 8 go on trial today’ as it appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times on Sept. 24, 1969. Sun-Times file

The trial of eight political dissenters will begin at 10 a.m. Wednesday before U.S. District Court Judge Julius J. Hoffman, after the defendants’ final attempt to delay it failed.

They are charged with conspiring to incite a riot during the Democratic National Convention last year.

In a brief order issued in Washington Tuesday, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall denied the application of the defendants for a stay so they could appeal two rulings of the U.S. Court of Appeals. That court, late Monday, refused to grant a rehearing.

Thus the stage has been set for what Jay A. Miller, executive director of the Illinois division of the American Civil Liberties Union, has called “probably the most important political trial in the history of the United States.”

Call themselves ‘The Conspiracy’

The defendants, who facetiously call themselves “The Conspiracy,” are he first persons indicted under the controversial anti-riot provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1968.

The defendants are David T. Dellinger, 53; Tom Hayden, 29; Rennie Davis, 29; Jerry Rubin, 31; Abbie Hoffman, 31; John Froines, 30; Lee Weiner, 30; and Bobby Seale, 31. They represent a spectrum of contemporary dissent, from pacifist to Black Panther.

To dramatize the issues, the defendants have announced plans for demonstrations, including one starting Tuesday night and ending with a vigil at the Federal Building until the trial starts.

The Justice Department, represented by U.S. Atty. Thomas A. Foran and Asst. U.S. Atty. Richard G. Schulz, will be seeking to prove, among other things, tht the defendants agreed and planned to provoke the disorders during the convention.

City, U.S. blamed

The defendants will contend that they came to Chicago only to exercise their First Amendment rights and the violence that resulted was ignited by the city and the federal government in denying those rights.

The cruz of the case, therefore, will concern the intention of the defendants in coming here during the convention — a factual question to be decided by the jury.

The defendants have also been charged with individual violations of the anti-riot law, apart from the conspiracy. They each face a maximum penalty, if convicted, of 10 years in jail and a fine of $20,000.

In one pre-trial motion, the eight challenged the law as a violation of their First Amendment rights. They noted that, under the law, it is a crime simply to travel across state lines with evil intent — to incite a riot.

Both Hoffman and the Court of Appeals upheld that provision, however.

Five defendants have attacked the constitutionality of wiretapping operations conducted against them by the government. For the first time, the government has asserted the right to maintain electronic surveillance, free from judicial control, of members of domestic groups suspected of subversive activities. Hoffman deferred decision until after the trial.

Leonard I. Weinglass and William M. Kunstler, another trial attorney for the defendants, have said that they will seek Wednesday to have Hoffman disqualify himself and to have the trial moved to a larger facility. It is considered unlikely that they will be successful.

The primary business Wednesday will be selection of a jury. The usual procedure in federal courts here is for the judge to question prospective jurors. The defense attorneys moved that they be allowed to do so, contending that is the only way in which an impartial jury could be chosen.

Federal judges may permit such procedure, but Hoffman denied the motion. He said he would accept written suggestions from the defendants both before and after his interrogation. Weinglass estimates the jury will be chosen in a few hours; Kunstler believes it might take a couple of days.

The government is expected to seek older, more conservative persons as jurors — those with a hard-line, law-and-order orientation. The defendants are expected to look for intellectuals, blacks, students — generally those more likely to be opposed to the status quo.

It is estimated the trial will take two or three months.