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Sacco & Vanzetti: The evidence

The prosecution presented the following categories of evidence: Eyewitness testimony, ballistics evidence, a cap found near the victims, and the "consciousness of guilt" Sacco and Vanzetti displayed when arrested.

Table of Contents

Eyewitness testimony

Fifty-nine witnesses testified for the Commonwealth, and ninety-nine for the defendants.

There was extensive contradictory testimony from eyewitnesses.  Subsequently, Judge Thayer ruled that "these verdicts did not rest, in my judgment, upon the testimony of the eyewitnesses. . . ."

Ballistics evidence

Bullet allegedly from Sacco's pistol

Vanzetti's Revolver

The prosecution claimed that the revolver found on Vanzetti the night of his arrest had been taken from the dying Berardelli at the crime scene. Despite inconclusive evidence, the prosecution argued to the jury:

"We say in plain English that on the evidence we have proven to you beyond any reasonable doubt . . . that the .38 Harrington & Richardson revolver that was found upon the defendant Vanzetti was the .38 Harrington & Richardson revolver that poor Berardelli tried to draw from his pocket to defend himself. . ."

Vanzetti's revolver

Sacco's Pistol

The prosecution maintained that the fatal bullet (known as Bullet No. III) fired at Berardelli came from Sacco's Colt pistol.

At trial, State Police Captain William H. Proctor testified that, in his opinion, Bullet No. III was "consistent with being fired" from Sacco's gun.

Two years later, Captain Proctor signed an affidavit stating he did not believe Sacco's pistol fired bullet No. III, and that he had shared his doubts with Katzmann prior to testifying. 

Sacco's pistol

The cap

The cap that was thought to belong to Sacco

The day after the robbery and murders a grey cloth cap with a torn lining was found near where Berardelli's body had fallen. The prosecution claimed that it resembled one owned by Sacco. Testimony indicated that Sacco hung his cap on a nail while at work. Prosecutors claimed that the nail tore the lining. This cap was not the same size as other caps found at Sacco's home. The prosecution asked Sacco to try on the cap. Sacco said it was too small; the prosecution maintained that it fit.

In 1927, prior to the executions, Jeremiah Gallivan, chief of police in Braintree from 1905 to 1926, stated that he had torn the cap's lining to see if he could find inside any marks of identification.

Political cartoon depicting Sacco in court

Alibi evidence

Sacco and his family

Sacco and Vanzetti each offered evidence of an alibi. Sacco testified that on April 15, 1920, he had taken the day off from work and traveled to Boston to request a passport from the Italian consulate. Several witnesses testified that they saw Sacco en route to Boston or in Boston. Sacco also offered the photo that he attempted to use to obtain the passport. An official from the consulate testified that he rejected the photo because of its large size; that its size made it memorable; and that while discussing the photo with other members of the consulate, he clearly observed the date on a large calendar.

Vanzetti testified that he was peddling fish in Plymouth on April 15, 1920. Several witnesses corroborated Vanzetti's testimony.

Consciousness of guilt

When arrested, Sacco and Vanzetti lied to the police. For instance, they denied associating with anarchist Buda and denied visiting the garage.

The prosecution claimed that Sacco and Vanzetti lied to deny involvement in the robbery and murders, and that these lies indicated their "consciousness of guilt."

The defendants, who were not told they were arrested for murder and robbery, stated that they lied to protect themselves and their friends from punishment because they were aliens and radicals. Fellow anarchist Andrea Salsedo had died the day before their arrest while in police custody. Sacco and Vanzetti feared that Salsedo had divulged the names of fellow anarchists.

Sacco and Vanzetti explain their untruthful responses

Redirect examination of Vanzetti:

Question: Did either Chief Stewart at the Brockton police station or Mr. Katzmann tell you that you were suspected of robberies and murder?

Vanzetti: No.

Question: What did you understand, in view of the questions asked of you, what did you understand you were being detained for at the Brockton police station?

Vanzetti: I understand they arrested me for a political matter . . . [b]ecause I was asked if I am a Socialist, if I am I.W.W. [Industrial Workers of the World], if I am a Communist, if I am a Radical.

Direct Examination of Sacco:

Question: As a result of questions that were asked of you by Chief [Stewart], did you form any opinion as to why you were apprehended the night of May 5th?

Answer: No, sir.

Question: You were not informed as to what the charge was?

Answer: I thought it was a Radical charge.

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