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The Sacco and Vanzetti Case: The Trial of the Century

The year is 1927. Demonstrations and protests have been flaring across the country for years in support of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, two Italian-born anarchists residing in Boston who have been found guilty of murder and have been sentenced to death. Despite little conclusive evidence and the two men’s constant pleas of their innocence, they are to meet the electric chair.

But first, let us start at the beginning. The two men immigrated to the United States from Italy in 1908, where they struck up professions as shoemakers and fish peddlers. They were accused of the murder of a paymaster of a shoe company in South Braintree, Massachusetts who was shot alongside his guard on April 15, 1920. The murderers, described as two Italian men, escaped with more than $15,000, today worth over $228,000. 

Sacco and Vanzetti were arrested for the crime in May 1920 and were brought to trial on May 31, 1921. By July 14, they had been found guilty by the verdict of the jury. The trial was considered by many to be unsubstantial as authorities had failed to unearth any evidence related to the stolen money, and any evidence they did dredge up in court was later discredited. Nonetheless, the verdict of the two men guilty stood, resulting in protests across Massachusetts calling for their release that later spread like wildfire across the United States.

Then, in November of 1925, Celestino Madeiros, who was already facing a death sentence for a convicted murder, confessed that he had participated in the 1920 crime alongside the Joe Morelli gang. Despite this new damning piece of evidence, the State Supreme Court refused to overturn the verdict, and Sacco and Vanzetti were sentenced to death via electric chair in April 1927. In his last statement to the court, Vanzetti said, in part: “This is what I say: I would not wish to a dog or to a snake, to the lowest and misfortunate creature of the earth—I would not wish to any of them what I have had to suffer for things that I am not guilty of…I have suffered because I was an Italian, and indeed I am an Italian.”

On August 23, 1927, Vanzetti and Sacco were executed via electric chair just after midnight. In 1961, modern forensic techniques tested Sacco’s gun and allegedly proved that it was the weapon used to murder the guard. While Sacco is now widely seen as guilty of the crime, there is no evidence to uphold Vanzetti’s guilt. On the 50th anniversary of their executions in 1977, Michael S Dukakis, the governor of Massachusetts, issued a proclamation stating that the two men had been treated unjustly and that their names should be cleared of any stigma.

Asia London Palomba

Asia London Palomba is a trilingual freelance journalist from Rome, Italy. In the past, her work on culture, travel, and history has been published in The Boston Globe, Atlas Obscura, The Christian Science Monitor, and Grub Street, New York Magazine's food section. In her free time, Asia enjoys traveling home to Italy to spend time with family and friends, drinking Hugo Spritzes, and making her nonna's homemade cavatelli.