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Selection of jury for ‘8’ begins

This article was originally published in the Chicago Sun-Times on Sept. 25, 1969. It details the jury selection process of the “Chicago 7,” then “Chicago 8” because Bobby Seale had not been given a separate trial yet.

Bobby Seal speaks at the First Black National Political Convention at West Side High School in Gary, Indiana, on March 11, 1972.
Bobby Seal speaks at the First Black National Political Convention at West Side High School in Gary, Indiana, on March 11, 1972. Seale was one of the original Chicago Seven.
From the Sun-Times archives

Hundreds of prospective jurors were examined Thursday for possible duty in the trial of eight political activists charged with conspiring to incite riot during last year’s Democratic National Convention.

U.S. District Judge Julius J. Hoffman personally handled the questioning of the prospective jurors, in accord with federal practice.

But defense attorneys for the “Conspiracy Eight” have submitted to Hoffman a long list of questions they want him to ask.

It was not considered likely that Hoffman would oblige them to any large extent.

But the questions submitted did illustrate how politically distant the defendants and their mostly young supporters consider themselves from middle-class American society and values.

One of the questions was, “Would you allow your son or daughter to marry a Yippie?”

Others were: Do you regularly read the Chicago Tribune? Do you know what the Jefferson Airplane is, or Country Joe and the Fish? Which of the following drugs do you use? And, Do your daughters regularly wear brassieres?

One of the defendants’ complaints is that they are entitled to a trial by a jury of their peers — and that the kind of people, chosen from voter registration lists, called for jury duty are not their kind of people.

“It’s like we’re living in two different nations,” defendant Abbie Hoffman told a rally in Grant Park Wednesday in describing prospective jurors.

“Most of them looked over 50 and real straight,” he said.

The trial — first test of a 1968 law designed to bar so-called outside agitators from crossing state lines to provoke disturbances — began Wednesday.

The other defendants are Rennie Davis, 29; John R. Froines, 30, Lee Weiner, 30; David Dellinger, 53; Jerry Rubin, 3; Book Seale, 32; and Tom Hayden, 29.

The first day was spent almost entirely in the defense arguing and Judge Hoffman denying the series of more than 10 defense motions.

One of the dismissed motions was that the defense legal team, headed by attorneys William M. Kunstler of New York and Leonard I. Weininglass of Newark, N.J., be permitted to question the prospective jurors.

The defense also had argued for a delay in the trial on grounds that its chief attorney Charles R. Garry of San Francisco, is ill and cannot be present.

In that connection, Judge Hoffman not only denied a delay but ordered bench warrants drawn up for the arrest of four other defense attorneys who were not present.

The defense argued that the four men had been engaged only for pre-trial work. They had tried to withdraw from the case by telegram.

Judge Hoffman ruled this unacceptable and ordered the four — Michael Kennedy, Michael Tigar and Dennis Roberts of California and Gerald Lefcourt of New York — show p as “expeditiously as possible.”

Hoffman also immediately and repeatedly made clear that he had no intention of damaging his reputation for running a “tight ship” in his courtroom.

He clashed frequently and acidly with Kunstler and Weininglass and at one point told Weininglass to sit down of “I will have the marshal escort you to your chair.”

When soft laughter broke out in the courtroom at one point, Judge Hoffman observed sharply, “Mr. Marshal, there are some people here who think this is a circus.” He then warned of the possibility of contempt citations.

He also rejected a defense argument that selection of the jurors from voting lists denied the defendants their right to be tried by a representative cross-section of the community.

The defense argument was that persons who do not register to vote are likely to be young, black, politically alienated — and otherwise closer to being “peers” of the defendants.