Documents of American History II

Post-WW1 & 1920s: Vanzetti's Final Statement to the Court, 1927

Vanzetti's Final Statement to the Court, 1927

Supreme Judicial Court Archives and Records Preservation, Boston, MA., the Sacco- Vanzetti Case, Vol. V, p. 4895-4905
Norfolk, ss. Nos. 5545 and 5546
Superior Criminal Court Thayer, J.

Winfield M. Wilbar, District Attorney Wm. P. Kelly, Ass't. District Attorney Dudley P. Ranney, Ass't District Attorney for the Commonwealth.
William G. Thompson, Esq., Herbert B. Ehrmann, Esq., for the Defendants.
Dedham, Massachusetts, Saturday, April 9, 1927. 10 a.m.
Mr. Wilbar. My it please the Court, the matter under consideration at this session is indictments Nos. 5545 and 5546, Commonwealth vs. Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti.
At this time I would like to move the Court to have an interpreter sworn.
[An interpreter is sworn by Clerk of Court Worthington.]
Mr. Wilbar. It appears by the record of this Court, if your Honor please, that on indictment No. 5545, Commonwealth vs. Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti that these defendants stand convicted of murder in the first degree. The records are clear at the present time, and I therefore move the Court for the imposition of sentence. The statute allows the Court some discretion as to the time within which this sentence may be imposed. Having that in mind, and at the request of the defendants' counsel, to which the Commonwealth readily assents, I would suggest that the sentence to be imposed shall be executed some time during the week beginning Sunday, July 10 next.
Clerk Worthington. Nicola Sacco, have you anything to say why sentence of death should not be passed upon you?

Statement by Nicola Sacco.
Yes, sir. I am not an orator. It is not very familiar with me the English language, and as I know, as my friend has told me, my comrade Vanzetti will speak more long, so I thought to give him the chance.
I never know, never heard, even read in history anything so cruel as this Court. After seven years prosecuting they still consider us guilty. And these gentle people here are arrayed with us in this court today.
I know the sentence will be between two class, the oppressed class and the rich class, and there will be always collision between one and the other. We fraternize the people with the books, with the literature. You persecute the people, tyrannize over them and kill them. We try the education of people always. You try to put a path between us and some other nationality that hates each other. That is why I am here today on this bench, for having been the oppressed class. Well, you are the oppressor.
You know it, Judge Thayer,—you know all my life, you know why I have been here, and after seven years that you have been persecuting me and my poor wife, and you still today sentence us to death. I would like to tell all my life, but what is the use? You know all about what I say before, and my friend—that is, my comrade—will be talking, because he is more familiar with the language, and I will give him a chance. My comrade, the man kind, the kind man to all the children, you sentence him two times, in the Bridgewater case and the Dedham case, connected with me, and you know he is innocent. You forget all the population that has been with us for seven years, to sympathize and give us all their energy and all their kindness. You do not care for them. Among that peoples and the comrades and the working class there is a big legion of intellectual people which have been with us for seven years, but to not commit the iniquitous sentence, but still the Court goes ahead. And I think I thank you all, you peoples, my comrades who have been with me for seven years, with the Sacco-Vanzetti case, and I will give my friend a chance.
I forget one thing which my comrade remember me. As I said before, Judge Thayer know all my life, and he know that I am never been guilty, never,—not yesterday nor today nor forever.
Clerk Worthington. Bartolomeo Vanzetti, have you anything to say why sentence of death should not be passed upon you?

Statement by Bartolomeo Vanzetti
Yes. What I say is that I am innocent, not only of the Braintree crime, but also of the Bridgewater crime. That I am not only innocent of these two crimes, but in all my life I have never stole and I have never killed and I have never spilled blood. That is what I want to say. And it is not all. Not only am I innocent of these two crimes, not only in all my life I have never stole, never killed, never spilled blood, but I have struggled all my life, since I began to reason, to eliminate crime from the earth.
Everybody that knows these two arms knows very well that I did not need to go in between the street and kill a man to take the money. I can live with my two arms and live well. But besides that, I can live even without work with my arm for other people. I have had plenty of chance to live independently and to live what the world conceives to be a higher life than not to gain our bread with the sweat of our brow.
My father in Italy is in a good condition. I could have come back in Italy and he would have welcomed me every time with open arms. Even if I come back there with not a cent in my pocket, my father could have give me a possession, not to work but to make business, or to oversee upon the land that he owns. He has wrote me many letters in that sense, and other well to do relatives have wrote me many letters in that sense that I can produce.
Well, it may be a boast. My father and my uncle can boast themselves and say things that people may not be compelled to believe. People may say they may be poor when I say that they are to consider to give me a position every time that I want to settle down and form a family and start a settled life. Well, but there are people maybe in this same court that could testify to what I have say and what my father and my uncle have say to me is not a lie, that really they have the means to give me position every time that I want.
Well, I want to reach a little point farther, and it is this.—that not only have I not been trying to steal in Bridgewater, not only have I not been in Braintree to steal and kill and have never steal or kill or spilt blood in all my life, not only have I struggled hard against crimes, but I have refused myself the commodity or glory of life, the pride of life of a good position, because in my consideration it is not right to exploit man. I have refused to go in business because I understand that business is a speculation on profit upon certain people that must depend upon the business man, and I do not consider that that is right and therefore I refuse to do that.
Now, I should say that I am not only innocent of all these things, not only have I never committed a real crime in my life—though some sins but not crimes—not only have I struggled all my life to eliminate crimes, the crimes that the official law and the official moral condemns, but also the crime that the official moral and the official law sanctions and sanctifies,—the exploitation and the oppression of the man by the man, and if there is a reason why I am here as a guilty man, if there is a reason why you in a few minutes can doom me, it is this reason and none else.
I beg your pardon. [Referring to paper.] There is the more good man I ever cast my eyes upon since I lived, a man that will last and will grow always more near and more dear to the people, as far as into the heart of the people, so long as admiration for goodness and for sacrifice will last. I mean Eugene Debs. I will say that even a dog that killed the chickens would not have found an American jury to convict it with the proof that the Commonwealth produced against us. That man was not with me in Plymouth or with Sacco where he was on the day of the crime. You can say that it is arbitrary, what we are saying, that he is good and he applied to the other his own goodness, that he is incapable of crime, and he believed that everybody is incapable of crime.
Well, it may be like that but it is not, it could be like that but it is not, and that man has a real experience of court, of prison and of jury. Just because he want the world a little better he was persecuted and slandered from his boyhood to his old age, and indeed he was murdered by the prison. He know, and not only he but every man of understanding in the world, not only in this country but also in the other countries, men that we have provided a certain amount of a record of the times, they all still stick with us, the flower of mankind of Europe, the better writers, the greatest thinkers of Europe, have pleaded in our favor. The scientists, the greatest scientists, the greatest statesmen of Europe, have pleaded in our favor. The people of foreign nations have pleaded in our favor.
Is it possible that only a few on the jury, only two or three men, who would condemn their mother for worldly honor and for earthly fortune; is it possible that they are right against what the world, the whole world has say it is wrong and that I know that it is wrong? If there is one that I should know it, if it is right or if it is wrong, it is I and this man. You see it is seven years that we are in jail. What we have suffered during these seven years no human tongue can say, and yet you see me before you, not trembling, you see me looking you in your eyes straight, not blushing, not changing color, not ashamed or in fear.
Eugene Debs say that not even a dog—something like that—not even a dog that kill the chickens would have been found guilty by American jury with the evidence that the Commonwealth have produced against us. I say that not even a leprous dog would have his appeal refused two times by the Supreme Court of Massachusetts—not even a leprous dog.
They have given a new trial to Madeiros for the reason that the Judge had either forgot or omitted to tell the jury that they should consider the man innocent until found guilty in the court, or something of that sort. That man has confessed. The man was tried and has confessed, and the court give him another trial. We have proved that there could not have been another Judge on the face of the earth more prejudiced and more cruel than you have been against us. We have proven that. Still they refuse the new trial. We know, and you know in your heart, that you have been against us from the very beginning, before you see us. Before you see us you already know that we were radicals, that we were underdogs, that we were the enemy of the institution that you can believe in good faith in their goodness—I don't want to condemn that—and that it was easy on the time of the first trial to get a verdict of guiltiness.
We know that you have spoke yourself and have spoke your hostility against us, and you despisement against us with friends of yours on the train, at the University Club of Boston, on the Golf Club of Worcester, Massachusetts. I am sure that if the people who know all what you say against us would have the civil courage to take the stand, maybe your Honor—I am sorry to say this because you are an old man, and I have an old father—but maybe you would be beside us in good justice at this time.
When you sentenced me at the Plymouth trial you say, to the best of my memory, of my good faith, that crimes were in accordance with my principle,—something of that sort,—and you take off one charge, if I remember it exactly, from the jury. The jury was so violent against me that they found me guilty of both charges, because there were only two. But they would have found me guilty of a dozen of charges against your Honor's instructions. Of course I remember that you told them that there was no reason to believe that if I were the bandit I have intention to kill somebody, so that they will take off the indictment of attempt to murder. Well, they found me guilty of what? And if I am right, you take out that and sentence me only for attempt to rob with arms,—something like that. But, Judge Thayer, may give more to me for that attempt of robbery than all the 448 men that were in Charlestown, all of those that attempted to rob, all those that have robbed, they have not such a sentence as you gave me for an attempt at robbery.
I am willing that everybody that does believe me that they can make commission, they can go over there, and I am very willing that the people should go over there and see whether it is true or not. There are people in Charlestown who are professional robbers, who have been in half the prisons of the United States, that they are steal, or hurt the man, shoot him. By chance he got better, he did not die. Well, the most of them guilty without trial, by self-confession, and by asking the aid of their own partner, and they got 8 to 10, 8 to 12, 10 to 15. None of them has 12 to 15, as you gave me for an attempt at robbery. And besides that, you know that I was not guilty. You know that my life, my private and public life in Plymouth, and wherever I have been, was so exemplary that one of the worst fears of our prosecutor Katzmann was to introduce proof of our life and of our conduct. He has taken if off with all his might and he has succeeded.
You know if we would have Mr. Thompson, or even the brother McAnarney, in the first trial in Plymouth, you know that no jury would have found me guilty. My first lawyer has been a partner of Mr. Katzmann, as he is still now. My first lawyer of the defense, Mr. Vahey, has not defended me, has sold me for thirty golden money like Judas sold Jesus Christ. If that man has not told to you or to Mr. Katzmann that he know that I was guilty, it is because he know that I was not guilty. That man has done everything indirectly to hurt us. He has made long speech with the jury about things that do matter nothing, and on the point of essence to the trail he has passed over with few words or with complete silence. This was a premeditation in order to give to the jury the impression that my own defender has nothing good to say, has nothing good to urge in defense of myself, and therefore go around the bush on little things that amount to nothing and let pass the essential points either in silence or with a very weakly resistance.
We were tried during a time that has now passed into history. I mean by that, a time when there was a hysteria of resentment and hate against the people of our principles, against the foreigner, against slackers, and it seems to me—rather, I am positive of it, that both you and Mr. Katzmann has done all what it were in your power in order to work out, in order to agitate still more the passion of the juror, the prejudice of the juror, against us.
I remember that Mr. Katzmann has introduced a witness against us, a certain Ricci. Well, I have heard that witness. It seems that he has nothing to say. It seemed that it was foolishness to produce a witness that has nothing to say. And it seemed if he were called by the Commonwealth to tell to the jury that he was the foremen of that laborer that was near the scene of the crime and who claimed, and it was testified in our behalf, that we were not the men and that this man, the witness Ricci, was his foreman, and he has tried to keep the man on the job instead of going to see what has happening so as to give the impression that it was not true that the man went towards the street to see what happened. But that was not very important. The real importance is that that man say that it was not true. That a certain witness that was the water boy of the gang of the laborers testified that he take a pail and go to a certain spring, a water spring, to take water for the gang—it was not true that he go to that spring, and therefore it was not true that he see the bandit, and therefore it was not true that he can tell that neither I nor Sacco were the men. But it was introduced to show that it was not true that that man go to that spring, because they know that the Germans has poisoned the water in that spring. That is what he say on that stand over there. Now, in the world chronicle of the time there is not a single happening of that nature. Nobody in American—we have read plenty things bad that the Germans have done in Europe during the war, but nobody can prove and nobody will say that the Germans are bad enough to poison the spring water in this country during the war.
Now, this, it seems, has nothing to do with us directly. It seems to be a thing by incident on the stand between the other thing that is the essence here. But the jury were hating us because we were against the war, and the jury don't know that it makes any difference between a man that is against the war because he believes that the war is unjust, because he hate no country, because he is a cosmopolitan, and a man that is against the war because he is in favor of the other country that fights against the country in which he is, and therefore a spy, and he commits any crime in the country in which he is in behalf of the other country in order to serve the other country. We are not men of that kind. Katzmann know very well that. Katzmann know that we were against the war because we did not believe in the purpose for which they say that the war was done. We believe it that the war is wrong, and we believe this more now after ten years that we understood it day by day,—the consequences and the result of the after war. We believe more now than ever that the war was wrong, and we are against war more now than ever, and I am glad to be on the doomed scaffold if I can say to mankind, ''Look out; you are in a catacomb of the flower of mankind. For what? All that they say to you, all that they have promised to you—it was a lie, it was an illusion, it was a cheat, it was a fraud, it was a crime. They promised you liberty. Where is liberty? They promised you prosperity. Where is prosperity? They have promised you elevation. Where is the elevation?
From the day that I went in Charlestown, the misfortune, the population of Charlestown has doubled in number. Where is the moral good that the War has given to the world? Where is the spiritual progress that we have achieved from the War? Where are the security of life, the security of the things that we possess for our necessity? Where are the respect for human life? Where are the respect and the admiration for the good characteristics and the good of the human nature? Never as now before the war there have been so many crimes, so many corruption's, so many degeneration as there is now.
In the best of my recollection and of my good faith, during the trial Katzmann has told to the jury that a certain Coacci has brought in Italy the money that, according to the State theory, I and Sacco have stole in Braintree. We never steal that money. But Katzmann, when he told that to the jury, he know already that that was not true. He know already that that man was deported in Italy with the Federal policeman after our arrest. I remember well that the Federal policeman with him in their possession—that the Federal policeman has taken away the trunks from the very boarding where he was, and bring the trunks over here and look them over and found not a single money.
Now, I call that murder, to tell to the jury that a friend or comrade or a relative or acquaintance of the charged man, of the indicted man, has carried the money to Italy, when he knows it is not true. I can call that nothing else but a murder, a plain murder.
But Katzmann has told something else also against us that was not true. If I understand well, there have been agreement of counsel during the trial in which the counsel of defense shall not produce any evidence of my good conduct in Plymouth and the counsel of the prosecution would not have let the jury know that I was tried and convicted another time before in Plymouth. Well, I call that a one-sided agreement. In fact, even the telephone poles knew at the time of this trial at Dedham that I was tried and convicted in Plymouth; the jurymen knew that even when they slept. On the other side the jury have never seen I or Sacco and I think they have the right to incline to believe that the jury have never approached before the trial anyone that was sufficiently intimate with me and Sacco to be able to give them a description of our personal conduct. The jury don't know nothing about us. They have never seen us. The only thing that they know is the bad things that the newspaper have say when we were arrested and the bad story that the newspaper have say on the Plymouth trial.
I don't know why the defense counsel have made such an agreement, but I know very well why Katzmann has made such agreement, because he know that half of the population of Plymouth would have been willing to come over here and say that in seven years that I was living amongst them that I was never seen drunk, that I was known as the most strong and steadfast worker of the community. As a matter of fact I was called a mule and the people that know a little better the condition of my father and that I was a single man, much wondered at me and say, ''Why you work like a mad man in that way when you have no children and no wife to care about?''
Well, Katzmann should have been satisfied on that agreement. He could have thanked his God and estimate himself a lucky man. But he was not satisfied with that. He broke his word and he tell to the jury that I was tried before in this very court. I don't know if that is right in the record, if that was take off or not, but I hear with my ear. When two or three women from Plymouth come to take the stand, the woman reach that point where this gentleman sit down over there, the jury were sit down in their place, and Katzmann asked this woman if they have not testified before for Vanzetti, and they say, yes, and he tell to them, ''You cannot testify.'' They left the room. After that they testified just the same. But in the meanwhile he tell to the jury that I have been tried before. That I think is not to make justice to the man who is looking after the true, and it is a frame-up with which he has split my life and doomed me.
It was also said that the defense has put every obstacle to the handling of this case in order to delay the case. That sound weak for us, and I think it is injurious because it is not true. If we consider that the prosecution, the State, has employed one entire year to prosecute us, that is, one of the five years that the case has last was taken by the prosecution to begin our trial, our first trial. Then the defense make an appeal to you and you waited, or I think that you were resolute, that you had the resolute in your heart when the trial finished that you will refuse every appeal that we will put up to you. You waited a month or a month and a half and just lay down your decision on the eve of Christmas—just on the evening of Christmas. We do not believe in the fable of the evening of Christmas, neither in the historical way nor in the church way. You know some of our folks still believe in that, and because we do not believe in that, it don't mean that we are not human. We are human, and Christmas is sweet to the heart of every man. I think that you have done that, to hand down your decision on the evening of Christmas, to poison the heart of our family and of our beloved. I am sorry to be compelled to say this, but everything that was said on your side has confirmed my suspicion until that suspicion has changed to certitude. So that you see that one year it has taken before trying us.
Then the defense, in presenting the new appeal, has not taken more time that you have taken in answer to that. Then there came the second appeal, and now I am not sure whether it is the second appeal or the third appeal where you wait eleven months or one year without an answer to us, and I am sure that you have decide to refuse us a new trial before the hearing for the new appeal began. You take one year to answer it, or eleven months,—something like that. So that you see that out of the five years, two were taken by the State from the day of our arrest to the trial, and then one year to wait for your answer on the second or the third appeal.
Then on another occasion that I don't remember exactly now, Mr. Williams was sick and the things were delayed not for fault of the defense but on account of the fault of the prosecution. So that I am positive that if a man take a pencil in his hand and compute the time taken by the prosecution in prosecuting the case, and the time that was taken by the defense to defend this case, the prosecution has taken more time than the defense, and there is a great consideration that must be taken in this point, and it is that my first lawyer betrayed us,—the whole American population were against us. We have the misfortune to take a man from California, and he came here, and he was ostracized by you and by every authority, even by the jury, and is so much so that no part of Massachusetts is immune from what I would call the prejudice,—that is, to believe that each people in each place of the world, they believe to be the better of the world, and they believe that all the other are not so good as they. So of course the man that came from California into Massachusetts to defend two of us, he must be licked if it is possible, and he was licked all right. And we have our part too.
What I want to say is this: Everybody ought to understand that the first of the defense has been terrible. My first lawyer did not stick to defend us. He has made no work to collect witnesses and evidence in our favor. The record in the Plymouth Court is a pity. I am told that they are almost one-half lost. So the defense had a tremendous work to do in order to collect some evidence, to collect some testimony to offset and to learn what the testimony of the State has done. And in this consideration it must be said that even if the defense take double time of the State without delay, double time that they delay the case it would have been reasonable, whereas it took less than the State.
Well, I have already say that I not only am not guilty of these two crimes, but I never commit a crime in my life,—I have never steal and I have never kill and I have never spilt blood, and I have fought against the crime, and I have fought and I have sacrificed myself even to eliminate the crimes that the law and the church legitimate and sanctify.
This is what I say: I would not wish to a dog or to a snake, to the most low and misfortunate creature of the earth—I would not wish to any of them what I have had to suffer for things that I am not guilty of. But my conviction is that I have suffered for things that I am guilty of. I am suffering because I am a radical and indeed I am a radical; I have suffered because I was an Italian, and indeed I am an Italian; I have suffered more for my family and for my beloved than for myself; but I am so convinced to be right that if you could execute me two times, and if I could be reborn two other times, I would live again to do what I have done already.
I have finished. Thank you.
The Court. Under the law of Massachusetts the jury says whether a defendant is guilty or innocent. The Court has absolutely nothing to do with that question. The law of Massachusetts provides that a Judge cannot deal in any way with the facts. As far as he can go under our law is to state the evidence.
During the trial many exceptions were taken. Those exceptions were taken to the Supreme Judicial Court. That Court, after examining the entire record, after examining all the exceptions,—that Court in its final words said, ''The verdicts of the jury should stand; exceptions overruled.'' That being true, there is only one thing that this Court can do. It is not a matter of discretion. It is a matter of statutory requirement, and that being true there is only one duty that now devolves upon this Court, and that is to pronounce the sentences.
First the Court pronounces sentence upon Nicola Sacco. It is considered and ordered by the Court that you, Nicola Sacco, suffer the punishment of death by the passage of a current of electricity through your body within the week beginning on Sunday, the tenth day of July, in the year of our Lord, one thousand, nine hundred and twenty-seven. This is the sentence of the law.
It is considered and ordered by the Court that you, Bartolomeo Vanzetti—
Mr. Vanzetti. Wait a minute, please, your Honor. May I speak for a minute with my lawyer, Mr. Thompson?
Mr. Thompson. I do not know what he wants to say.
The Court. I think I should pronounce the sentence. —Bartolomeo Vanzetti, suffer the punishment of death—
Mr. Sacco. You know I am innocent. That is the same words I pronounced seven years ago. You condemn two innocent men.
The Court.—by the passage of a current of electricity through your body within the week beginning on Sunday, the tenth day of July, in the year of our Lord, one thousand nine hundred and twenty-seven.
This is the sentence of the law.
We will now take a recess.
[At 11.00 A.M., the Court adjourned without day.]

Last update: March 18th, 2002.