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The Sacco-Vanzetti Case and the Grim Forces Behind It


and sentenced to 15 years in Charlestown penitentiary.

That conviction was obtained on evidence never introduced in open court.

Three shotgun shells found in Vanzetti's pockets when he was arrested, were introduced as exhibits by District Attorney Frederick G. Katzmann. These shells were ordinary 12-gauge shotgun shells, according to testimony by the commonwealth's gun expert, Captain William H. Proctor, head of the Massachusetts state police.

Page 290 of the trial transcript shows the following questions and answers during the examination of Proctor:

Q. Is the 12-gaude ordinary hunting gun used more than any other gun?

A. Yes.

Q. In hunting birds and that sort of thing?

A. Yes.

It is to be noted that Captain Proctor claims to be an expert on firearms. On the

Metal base of each shotgun shell the manufacturer makes a practice of stamping the gauge of the gun in which it is to be used. There is nothing on the base to indicate the contents of the shell.

These contents, however, are stamped on the pasteboard wad that is forced into the other end of the shell. No shell leaves the factory without bearing such a stamp -- showing whether the contents are birdshot, buckshot, or any of the size-variations. It is notable that Proctor was not examined concerning the stamp on this pasteboard wad.


After the jury had retired to deliberate, some of the jurors became curious about the contents of the shells -- "because Proctor didn't show us what was inside" -- and one man suggested that they be opened. By common consent that suggestion was carried out. And the shells were found to contain not birdshot, but buckshot.

There is large doubt as to the killing properties of birdshot, when fired at human beings. It is a question that involves distance, point of contact, physical condition of the person shot, and other elements. But buckshot almost invariably kills.

Were Shells Tampered With?

So the jury found Vanzetti guilty. It did not occur to the deliberators then that the shells might have been tampered with; they did not consider that the buckshot had never been introduced in the open court and that the defense had never had a chance to meet that evidence, a right which the law rigidly provides. They found Vanzetti guilty on two counts -- assault with intent to rob and assault with intent to murder.

When they handed in their verdict they said nothing about the buckshot. But next day one of the jurors happened

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