Trial at the End of the Summer of ’69

By | Sep 24, 2009

It was on September 24, 1969 in the courtroom of Judge Julius Hoffman that the trial of the Chicago 8 began. On March 20, 1969 Rennie Davis, David Dellinger, John Froines, Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Bobby Seale, and Lee Weiner wer indicted on Federal charges of conspiring to cross state lines “with the intent to incite, organize, promote, encourage, participate in, and carry out a riot.” at the Democratic Convention in 1968.

While the Democratic Party were meeting to select their candidate for the Presidential election of 1968 thousands of people came to protest against the Vietnam War. Tensions arose and by the end of the convention clashes between protesters and the police escalated to a Police Riot.

Black Panther activist Bobby Seale had repeatedly asserted his right to an attorney of his own choosing or to defend himself loudly during the first days of the trial. Judge Hoffman sentenced him to four years of imprisonment for contempt because of his outbursts, and on November 5th ordered Seale severed from the case. The Chicago 8 become the Chicago 7.

The jury reached their verdict on February 18, 1970 and the Chicago 7 were acquitted on the conspiracy charges. While Froines and Weiner were acquitted on all charges, Davis, Dellinger, Hayden, Hoffman, and Rubin were each convicted of individually crossing state lines with the intent of inciting a riot. Each are sentenced to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Seale trial was held in 1970 with the jury unable to reach a verdict and a mistrial was granted. Later all charges were dropped.

On November 21, 1972, these convictions were reversed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit on the basis that the judge was biased. The Justice Department decided not to retry the case. Also all of the contempt charges were overturned.

Graham Nash of Crosby Stills Nash and Young would write the song Chicago about both the trial and the convention. The first line of the song, “So your brother’s bound and gagged, and they’ve chained him to a chair” refers to Bobby Seale who was bound and gagged before being removed.


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