The Chicago Seven Trial (9-24-1969)

Another of those historic Chicago trials opened today.  This one highlighted the culture divide in America during the late 1960s.

In August 1968 the Democratic National Convention was held in Chicago.  The event attracted thousands of protesters, most of them angry about the Vietnam War.  Rioting broke out in the city streets.  The Chicago police put down the disorder.  Depending on your politics, either the protesters or the cops were to blame for the trouble.

The "Chicago Seven" defendants

The “Chicago Seven” defendants

Seven months later, eight activists were indicted on charges stemming from the riots.  Put simply, they were supposed to have engaged in a conspiracy to incite violence and impede lawful authority.  Since they had crossed state lines on their way to Chicago, these were federal offenses.

The trial began with Judge Julius Hoffman presiding.  The lead prosecutor was U.S. Attorney Thomas Foran.  The defense team was led by William Kunstler.

Wait a minute–if there were eight defendants, why is this called the Chicago Seven Trial?

One of the defendants, Bobby Seale, wanted the trial delayed so he could get a different lawyer.  When Judge Hoffman refused, Seale became vocal–really vocal.  The judge then had Seale gagged and shackled to his chair in court.  Seale’s case was later separated from the others, so now they had seven.

Judge Hoffman

Judge Hoffman

The Seale interlude set the tone of the trial.  Julius Hoffman was a by-the-book, no-nonsense judge who ran a tight ship.  The defendants saw the trial as an opportunity to publicize their beliefs.  And they knew just how to push the judge’s buttons.

One of the defendants was Abbie Hoffman.  He was no relation to Julius Hoffman, but he delighted in calling the judge “Julie.”  On one occasion, Abbie entered the courtroom wearing his own judicial robes.  Julie made Abbie take them off.

The trial went on, degenerating into farce.  Meanwhile, a new generation of protesters gathered outside daily, protesting the trial of the original protesters.

It ended on February 18, 1970.  The defendants were found guilty on some counts, not guilty on others.  At the same time, Judge Hoffman sentenced all seven defendants and two of their lawyers to jail terms for contempt of court.

All the charges and sentences were later overturned in higher courts.  The government finally dropped the matter.  But in the years since, the Chicago Seven Trial has become a favorite subject for playwrights and filmmakers.





2 Responses to “The Chicago Seven Trial (9-24-1969)”

  1. 1 Hammer January 26, 2015 at 8:08 pm

    why did they wait seven month to indict?

    • 2 J.R. Schmidt January 26, 2015 at 9:03 pm

      I’m not sure. Perhaps the outgoing Johnson administration (Democrat) was kicking it down the road to the incoming Nixon administration (Republican).

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