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August 23rd – Sacco/Vanzetti

PRESS RELEASE – Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011 will mark the 84th anniversary of the executions of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1927.  To commemorate the date and to build opposition to the restoration of the death penalty in Massachusetts, the Hampden County Chapter of the Massachusetts Citizens Against the Death Penalty, in association with The Springfield Diocese:  Catholic Charities Agency, will be sponsoring a memorial service in Springfield in memory of the wrongful executions of Sacco and Vanzetti.

The memorial service is scheduled for Tuesday, 23 August from 5:30 to 7:30 PM at the Bishop Marshall Center of St. Michael’s Cathedral at the corner of State and Elliott Streets in Springfield.

The event, which has been held annually since 1991, will also honor two individuals, who have worked for the abolition of the death penalty.

This year the main speaker will be Professor Michael C. White, of Fairfield University in Connecticut.  Michael White is a Professor of English and is also the Program Director of Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. He is a graduate of the University of Connecticut and received his Ph.D. from the
University of Denver. Michael White is the author of six novels, including The Garden of Martyrs. He has also published over 45 short stories in national magazines and journals.

The Ken Childs Award will be given this year to Attorney James P. Rooney, the President of Massachusetts Citizens Against the Death Penalty.  James Rooney is a graduate of Cornell University and the University of California at Berkeley Law School. He has served as an assistant district attorney in
Brooklyn, New York. He teaches at the New England School of Law and works in Boston as First Administrative Magistrate with the Division of Administrative Law Appeals. He has been an activist against the death penalty for all of his adult life. He does not remember how long he has been President of Massachusetts Citizens Against the Death Penalty.

Red Valley Fog will provide musical entertainment.

The Bishop Marshall Center at St. Michael’s Cathedral, is air conditioned and is located at the corner of State and Elliott Streets in Springfield, MA.  There will be free public parking available. The general public is invited. Refreshments will be served.

Brief Background for the Sacco and Vanzetti Executions Compiled by John J. Fitzgerald

Most students of this controversial case regard the executions of Sacco and Vanzetti as a classic example of the injustice inherent in the application of the death penalty.

The death penalty, unlike life imprisonment, does not allow for the correction of a mistaken conviction of an innocent person.

The executions of Sacco and Vanzetti, in the reactionary period of the “Red Scare” during the 1920’s, were based on their ethnic backgrounds, and their political beliefs, rather than on any decent definition of a just, legal proceeding.

Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were Italian immigrants. Sacco was a shoemaker and Vanzetti was a fish peddler. Both men were anarchists; they believed that government was an unnecessary evil that
should be abolished. This was a political philosophy, whose advocacy was (and is) protected by the First Amendment.

In April 1920, five armed men in a car robbed a shoe company in South Braintree, Massachusetts. The paymaster and his guard were murdered.

In May, the police arrested Sacco and Vanzetti.  They were carrying pistols when arrested; and made false statements to the police when they were interrogated. However, neither had a criminal record, and none of
the stolen money showed up in their possession.

The behavior of the trial judge and the prosecutor frequently evidenced bias and prejudice.

In 1921, Sacco and Vanzetti were both found guilty of murder and robbery and sentenced to death.

Mass demonstrations to prevent their executions were held by defense committees, civil liberties groups and sympathetic people throughout the United States, Europe and Latin America.

Despite appeals, the verdict of the lower court was upheld, and on August 23rd, 1927, Sacco and Vanzetti were executed by electrocution by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

The truth in the case is still being debated. Defenders of Sacco and Vanzetti charge that:  the trial was unfair; the evidence was flimsy, at best circumstantial; and that they were really convicted for their political views, not for robbery and murder.

To this day, many people still have a reasonable doubt as to their guilt.


Ehrmann, Herbert B.  The Case That Will Not Die – Commonwealth vs. Sacco and Vanzetti.  Boston:  Little, Brown and Company,    1969.

Frankfurter, Felix. The Case of Sacco and Vanzetti.  New York: Grosset & Dunlap (The Universal Library), 1977.

Joughin, Louis and Edmund M. Morgan. The Legacy of Sacco & Vanzetti.  Princeton, New Jersey:  Princeton University Press, 1978.

Murray, Robert K. Red Scare: A Study of National Hysteria, 1919-1920.  New York:  McGraw-Hill, 1964.

Young, William and David E. Kaiser.  Postmortem:  New Evidence in the Case of Sacco and Vanzetti.  Amherst, Massachusetts:        University of Massachusetts Press, 1985.

The Garden of Martyrs tells the story of two Irish Catholic immigrants, Dominic Daley and James Halligan, who were traveling west by foot on the Boston Post Road, headed for New York. A man named Marcus Lyon was robbed and killed along the same road. Though the two Irishmen denied any knowledge
of the crime, they were arrested and accused of the murder. They spent five months in jail. Only two days before their trial they were allowed to consult with a lawyer. The trial, a mockery of justice, lasted only one day. The two were sentenced to be hanged by the neck and, as the presiding judge said, “their bodies dissected and anatomized.”

Father Cheverus, an émigré priest from France and one of only two Roman Catholic priests in all of New England at the time, is asked by Daley’s wife and mother to go to the cell to comfort them, listen to their confessions, offer them communion. Father Cheverus, who escaped the Terror of the French Revolution, is a man plagued by his own past. Daley, a simple family man with a young son, and Halligan, a slick type with a checkered past and a lost love, face their deaths bravely, only to be exonerated in 1984.

Michael White has used his considerable talent to capture the political, social and cultural aspects of New England. In this heartbreaking story, he shows that the anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant sentiments of that period reflect ongoing prejudices evident today.

Contact: John J. Fitzgerald
95 Cedar Road
Longmeadow, MA 01106
(413) 567-6315

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