Famous Trials – Falwell v Flynt

Nowadays, there are many debates sparked regarding the First Amendment and the appropriate use of free speech. That people have the right to say what they want, however they want, regardless of the circumstances. Sometimes, however, the line between what can be regarded as free speech and what is considered slander or libel can be muddied and smeared to a point of near-indistinction. In the case of Jerry Falwell vs. Larry Flynt, this is exactly what happened.

Reverend Falwell was a well-known champion against the pornography industry, claiming that the content was poisoning the minds of young people and tarnishing the purity of marital relationships by encouraging sex out of wedlock. He was an activist who founded the Moral Majority organization, established to spread a religious agenda that promoted religious practices in schools and spoke out against acts such as abortion and the spread of pornography.

Contrarily, Larry Flynt was regarded as the ruler of the pornographic world. His famous magazine, Hustler, was well-known throughout the country, delving from written articles on public and private opinion regarding the pornography industry into the pin-up starlet display that many of us know it to be today. And it was inside one particular issue of Hustler, in November 1983, that Flynt had published what many would argue to be a libelous article defaming the Reverend Falwell, falsely claiming an interest in incestuous relations with his own mother chief among other acts. Not surprisingly, Reverend Falwell took these matters to heart and called upon his campaign to fund a legal pursuit for damages to his reputation as well as emotional distress suffered as a result of the matter, calling it a mission to champion against the pornographic industry.

During the process of the trial, some might recall the fantastic deposition given by Mr. Flynt as he lay handcuffed to a gurney, in a state of apparent discomfort that suffered due to an attack on his person in Georgia years earlier. He seemed to mock the legal process with comments of incredible association such as collaborative efforts toward the ad targeting Falwell that involved the likes of Yoko Ono, Billy Idol, and even President Jimmy Carter. Other comments involved his blatant distaste for the Bible and organized religion as a whole, comments that involved exceedingly colorful language. Eventually, the deposition devolved into a series of personal attacks on Falwell’s attorney, Norman Roy Grutman. The entire process went over so poorly that Flynt’s attorney, Alan Isaacman, had to claim mental incompetence on the part of Flynt due to manic-depressive syndrome brought on by Flynt’s physical state combined with medication he was taking while in jail.

In December of 1984, Falwell appeared in court in Virginia. He described in detail the relationship with his mother and his steps with religion that had transformed him into the man he was – the “second-most admired man behind the President.” He described his personal vendetta against the pornographic industry before and especially after Hustler’s personal attack on him, telling about how he was so angry that he might have reacted physically if Flynt had been anywhere near him.

When Larry Flynt arrived in court, he appeared to be a man changed. Instead of being strapped to a gurney in prison garb, Flynt wore a three-piece suit. His expression was much calmer and composed than it had been during his deposition. He spoke more clearly and concisely, and he cited his reasons for publishing such an article as a reactionary piece to Falwell’s campaigning against his magazine and the industry as a whole. Flynt claimed he didn’t expect his readers to take any of it seriously due to the simple fact that it was so incredible to think a man such as Jerry Falwell could realistically engage in such activities, and that he didn’t even harbor any personal vendetta against Falwell despite the ad. In the end, the court awarded Falwell for damages due to emotional distress as well as punitive damages, though denied him the award for libel due simply to how fantastic and unbelievable the ad was.

After this point, supporters of Flynt’s right to free speech spoke out, and eventually, Isaacman called for a certiorari (effectively a review of proceedings from a higher court) to the United States Supreme Court. The case became one that centered heavily around the interpretation of the First Amendment. Isaacman argued in front of the Supreme Court the parallel between Flynt’s ad and such demonstrations as political cartoons that are a clear-cut case of satire and not necessarily an intended defamation on a targeted person. He argued the distinction between unpopular speech as opposed to a treatise on standards of decency and morality. Isaacman emphasized Falwell’s personal quest to combat the pornographic industry as detrimental to Flynt’s profession and livelihood, and that Flynt was only reacting with a parody to meet the threat of Falwell’s campaign. And while Grutman attempted to argue a “deliberate, malicious character assassination,” the Supreme Court appeared to side with Isaacman. Counterpoints included Justice Scalia comparing the event with “politicians depicted as horrible looking beasts,” and Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote following a unanimous decision toward the tune of emphasizing the protected right of Flynt to write such an article even out of malice regarding public figures. The Supreme Court reversed the jury’s award to Falwell, cementing the near-absolutism of free speech without fear of reprisal protected by the First Amendment.

Famous Trials – George Zimmerman

On February 26, 2012, a confrontation between a young, black man and a neighborhood watch group leader sparked one of the largest social controversies the United States had experienced in many years. It was an event that rekindled issues such as racial profiling, civil rights, and ever-debated gun control laws. The altercation that was initially considered by police as an act of self-defense later brought on the activist star power of the likes of Jesse Jackson and Reverend Al Sharpton, and it even garnered attention from President Barack Obama. As widely known as the trial of O.J. Simpson in the mid-90’s, the trial of George Zimmerman in the case of Trayvon Martin’s death is sure to go down as one of the most infamous trials of the 21st century.

The general consensus of the story agrees that Trayvon Martin was walking down the street outside a resort community in Sanford when Mr. Zimmerman passed him by while driving on an errand. That is where the similarities regarding the separate points of view end. Mr. Zimmerman attested that, during  a 911 emergency call, he had heeded the advice of the dispatcher and broke off his pursuit of Trayvon Martin, when Martin had allegedly jumped him behind some bushes and began assaulting him. An audio witness who was speaking with Martin on the phone at the time attests quite differently: that Martin was approached by Zimmerman and promptly assaulted in turn. At this point, the guessing game involves whether Martin’s death was due primarily to self-defense or to an issue of racial profiling and bigotry.

While police initially concluded that there wasn’t enough evidence to arrest Zimmerman on grounds of assault, Travyon Martin’s father Tracy pursued the issue further with the help of civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump. The case attention and criticism nationwide, and an Internet petition gathered over 2 million digital signatures that called for Zimmerman’s arrest. State attorney Angela Corey charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder, a move that was criticized by many legal analysts as overreaching, without the arrangement of a grand jury.

While many nationwide viewed this act as racially motivated and thus called for Zimmerman’s conviction after his arrest, there were those within the legal community who fervently believed this case never should have gone to trial. Beyond the prosecution’s challenge of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman meant bodily harm to Martin without provocation, interviews later revealed that the jury did not even give discussion toward whether or not Zimmerman’s actions were motivated by race. Zimmerman was found not guilty after 16 hours of deliberation.

What may have been just as shocking as the event itself was the dichotomy of opinion and involvement that developed from the verdict. Polls suggested that a vast majority of Republicans approved the verdict while a minority number of Democrats agreed. Of those polled, an overwhelming number of African Americans found the shooting unjustified, while a dramatically lower number of Caucasian citizens concurred. As a nationally-involved trial, several political figures, athletes and celebrities voiced their opinions on the jury’s verdict, just as divided as the general public.

There are those who criticize Ms. Corey for her decision to take this case to court, especially without convening a grand jury beforehand. There are those who believe this case was simply one that no prosecuting team could win given the evidence that they were to use. Some believe Corey suffered from intense political pressure, and so charged Zimmerman simply for the sake of deflecting that pressure from her office. Some believe that charging Zimmerman was not serving justice, the primary function of a prosecutor, and that Corey may have just been looking for someone to pin the crime to in light of the situation garnering national attention from the civil rights community and anyone who believed the event was racially motivated. Whatever the case, after Zimmerman’s acquittal, the Justice department closed their own investigation and decided against pressing charges as well.

The Lindbergh Baby Kidnapping: The Right Man?

Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a plane. If only he could have piloted the safe return of his young son.

The tragic story of “Lindbergh’s baby” made international headlines, and led to the “trial of the century,” resulting in a conviction and execution of the alleged kidnapper, though the convict maintained his innocence throughout.

The case involved 20-month-old Charles Lindbergh Jr., the son of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh and his wife, Anne. In the evening of March 1, 1932, little Charles was reportedly abducted from his crib at home in New Jersey just after being put to bed by the Lindbergh family nanny, Betty Gow.

In the days following, several ransom notes were sent to the Lindbergh, each with different ransom demands and different conditions for the ransom to be delivered. Finally, Lindbergh asked a family doctor and friend to meet with the man believed to be the kidnapper for an exchange of money in return for information of the location of the toddler.

The toddler was said to be on a boat called the Nelly, though the boat was not found – even by Lindbergh himself, who flew up and down the Eastern seaboard in his personal plane. Finally, a motorist pulled over to urinate in a patch of woods near the Lindbergh home and found the remains of a small child, decomposing and missing organs. Officials later determined that it was indeed Charles Jr., and that he had been dead as much as two months – long before the last of eight ransom notes was delivered to the Lindberghs.

It wasn’t until two years later, in September 1934, that a man was arrested and charged with the kidnapping and murder of Junior Lindbergh – a German immigrant named Richard Hauptmann, who was found by a license plate number written on the back of a dollar bill that was among those used as the ransom money (the police had tracked the serial numbers of the bills). Several of the bills were used along a certain subway route in New York City that went through the German-Austrian neighborhood of Yorkville in the Bronx.

An investigation of Hauptmann’s home revealed about $14,000 in ransom cash in his garage, the phone number of the Lindbergh family doctor written into a door jamb, and some wood floor panels missing that were consistent with the wood used to make the makeshift ladder that the kidnapper used to climb through the baby’s window at the Lindbergh home.

During the trial, the prosecution hammered the circumstantial evidence against Hauptmann, though there was no physical connection between Hauptmann, the baby and the crime scene (no fingerprints were found on the window, the crib, or the child himself). Meanwhile, Hauptmann’s defense was that he only discovered the money was left behind by a friend, Isidor Fisch, who had returned to Germany in late 1933 and died a few months later. However, cross-examination revealed that there was no record of the box being where Hauptmann claimed it was, and no record of a $7,500 business debt that Fisch supposedly owed Hauptmann, which the latter claimed as justification for about $40,000 cash being left behind by Fisch and claimed by Haptmann as debt repayment.

With Fisch dead, and the defense able to discredit several witnesses who claimed Fisch was near the Lindbergh house prior to the child’s disappearance, the circumstantial evidence against Hauptmann proved to be overwhelming, and he ws convicted of murder and kidnapping in 1935 and executed by electric chair in April 1936.   He insisted he was innocent, even turning down a commutation of his sentence to life in prison in exchange for a confession.

Scopes Monkey Trial: Collision of Religion vs Science

Can religion and science co-exist? Is there common ground between what fundamentalists believe about God and the creation of the universe, and what science has taught us about the universe and its origins?

In the 21st century, we can certainly answer that question a little more definitively than we could in the 1920s.In the 1920s, there was a real debate about religion and science and which should prevail in the education of children, and the flashpoint came in July 1925 with the famous Scopes Monkey Trial, which was immortalized in the book and play titled Inherit the Wind.

The Scopes Monkey Trial was a legal clash between Darwin’s theory of evolution and the Biblical account of creation as being antithetical. Earlier in 1925, the Tennessee state legislature passed what was called the Butler Act, which prohibited the teaching of evolution in any state publicly funded school.  John Scopes, a high-school science teacher in Dayton, Tenn., worked with businessman George Rapalyea to test this new law by launching a conspiracy to violate the law and put it on trial as an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment.

To make a spectacle of the law, the ACLU joined in the defense of Scopes and wound up enlisting famed defense attorney Clarence Darrow to for the defense team for the trial, which was to be held in the tiny town of Dayton. Darrow joined the cause after the prosecution brought one of the Fundamentalist heroes of the time, three-time Democratic presidential nominee William Jennings Bryan, to represent the prosecution, despite not having tried a case in more than three decades. It seemed like a death sentence.

Because of the names involved, and the thought of religion being attacked in a Bible-belt state like Tennessee, a large crowd of spectators and national media descended on Dayton for what turned out to be an eight-day trial that discussed evolution and the Bible.

After the judge shot down the defense’s primary argument challenging the constitutionality of the law by keeping the focus of the trial on Scopes and his alleged violation, Darrow pretty much had his hands tied. Even some scientific witnesses, who would have testified to the theory of evolution, were not allowed to testify.

Eight days of the trial led to less than 10 minutes of jury deliberation, and Scopes was found guilty of violating the Butler Act and was ordered to pay the minimum $100 fine (which is near $1,400 in today’s dollars). The case was appealed, and the conviction was overturned on a technicality, as state law prevented judges from unilaterally imposing fines of more than $50; the jury was supposed to impose the fine of at least $100 according to the text of the Butler Act.

Though Scopes was not called to the stand during the trial, he did say publicly afterward that he was not sure that he ever taught evolution in class, but the fact was not in dispute during the trial, which led to the conviction.

While Bryan, the fundamentalist Christian, won the case, he was publicly humiliated during the trial when Darrow took the unorthodox step of calling Bryan to the stand as a witness and spent two hours exposing Bryan’s Christian beliefs and his ignorance of science (at the time) and his literal interpretation of the Bible, which was already being heavily questioned by scholars around the world.

By the way, the Butler Act remained on the books until 1967, and these kinds of laws were banned altogether by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1968, which ruled a similar law in Arkansas was unconstitutional as a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

The OJ Simpson Drama That Began In 1994 Is Not Over Yet

A double-homicide that occurred on June 12, 1994, became one of the biggest trials of the century after former football player O.J. Simpson was charged with the killings of his ex-wife Nicole Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman. The outcome of that eleven months, heavily publicized trial would send shockwaves throughout the country, and unfortunately, the drama is about to get amplified once again as Simpson is scheduled for parole on a completely different set of charges that eventually led him behind bars.

Although the case against Simpson for the double-homicide was strong, his defense team convinced a jury of his peers that DNA evidence was far from conclusive, and certainly not a reliable way of proving guilt. Simpson was eventually found innocent, probably in part because using DNA as the foundation of a criminal homicide case was a new wrinkle in court back in 1994. People were not familiar with the science behind DNA, and so they found that there was reasonable doubt that Simpson had committed the murders.

On top of that, Simpson’s defense also implicated the LAPD in a brand of misconduct that persists even today–racism. Many of us are already aware of the disparity between the way African Americans and Caucasians are treated by law enforcement (in some circumstances, but not all of course), and the defense team was able to capitalize on race as a source of confusion during the trial. It worked.

The lawyers also suggested that evidence had been handled improperly. If true, any evidence could have been tainted before it was provided as part of a court exhibit.

Although Simpson was eventually acquitted of the murders and released from custody, Nicole Simpson’s family levied a successful civil lawsuit against O.J., after which they were supposed to be given $33.5 million. To date, they have not received the full amount.

The trial itself unleashed a crazy amount of tension between African Americans, those of Hispanic descent, and Caucasians. Although a high number of African Americans thought that O.J. was the victim of unfair bias towards a man of color, Caucasians were much more certain that he had committed the double murder.

Back in 2007, O.J. was caught and convicted of felony armed robbery and kidnapping in Las Vegas. He was slammed with 33 years behind bars, although he would be given the opportunity for parole after only nine. And that leads us to the newest tidbit of news regarding the case.

In a more recent development to the O.J. Simpson drama extravaganza, the prosecutor that put him behind bars now says that Simpson will likely be released after his next parole hearing. Because previous allegations (should) have nothing to do with the robbery charges that landed him in prison this time around, he is more likely to get out. After all, he has been jailed for nine years already. If he is to be released, it could happen by the first of October (2017).

The prosecutor also said that he gave Simpson the chance to make a plea bargain to reduce the amount of time spent behind bars to only two years, but that Simpson did not accept. The man is just about to turn seventy years old, and we’ll know soon enough if this is his last birthday behind bars.

How Much Do You Remember About The Manson Family Murders?

The Manson case gripped America like no other, in large part because everything about the family in question was fascinating from the very beginning. Charles Manson was reportedly sold by his mother for some beer in his early years. Eventually his uncle found him. One must wonder how much history could have changed if Manson had stayed in the arms of a woman who wanted children more than a pitcher of beer. Then again, Manson seemed worth giving up. Sadly, we’ll never know.

Charles grew up troubled, diagnosed with schizophrenia while exhibiting symptoms consistent with paranoid delusions. He was a control-freak, accustomed to manipulating people and circumstances in order to get his way. He spent time in facilities designed to rehabilitate delinquent youths, and then prison as well. But that was nothing compared with what was to come. In the late sixties, he moved to San Francisco and began recruiting. Him and his cult then moved to a ranch outside of Chatsworth.

Before his release from prison, he had spent most of his life behind bars of a sort–and he had asked permission to stay, suggesting there was no potential for him to adapt outside of prison walls. It turns out they should have honored his request.

Manson almost had a career in the music industry, but was turned down. When he didn’t get his way, he appears to have ordered his followers to slaughter a group of seven people connected–some, very loosely–to the man who denied him the opportunity to make music. Out of all those killed, the death of actress Sharon Tate caused the greatest stir.

When Manson first entered a courtroom to answer charges of murder, he had carved the letter “X” into his forehead. Later on while serving his inevitable sentence, he would have a swastika inked in its spot. Although he did have an attorney during the trial, he mostly defended himself. One of his followers, Kasabian, was rewarded with immunity for testifying against the rest of the Manson family. Although she did not commit a murder for Manson, she did accompany the rest in order to serve as a lookout while five people were slaughtered.

In January 1971, a jury took ten days to find each of the defendants guilty, and several of the Manson family were sentenced to death. The trial itself lasted seven months.

Having ordered the death of a pregnant woman–something seen akin to child molestation to those serving time in prison–it’s a shock that Manson has survived all these years. At least one failed attempt that we know about was made on his life.

Although Manson was originally sentenced to die and would have never received the opportunity for parole, the death sentence was abolished in the state of California, forcing the state to adjust his sentencing. This odd loophole allowed him to seek parole only seven years after his incarceration, and he has since had parole rejected twelve times. Although a couple of his followers had favorable parole hearings within the last decade, the push to approve these cases was denied by the governors who were serving at the time. As of now, Manson’s parole board hearings have gone so poorly that he will not be allowed to petition again until 2027 when he will have reached age 92.

He will almost certainly never see the light of day outside of a prison, and his current health is in question.

Sacco and Vanzetti: Misplaced Justice?

Before McCarthyism, there was the Red Scare.

And just like McCarthyism, the Red Scare had all of America paranoid and on constant alert. And when paranoid, humans can be known to be over-vigilant and even irrational. One famous 1920s trial placed some of that hysteria into the American criminal justice system, and two men may have been convicted for their beliefs, instead of the crime for which they were charged.

Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were Italian-born anarchists living in Red Scare America, just after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917 that overthrew the U.S.-allied czarist government and instilled a communist regime. Communism then became seen as a real threat to the American way of life, so anything that was not seen as pro-America was seen to be “radical” and feared.

Such was the case with two anarchists in Massachusetts – Sacco was a shoe-maker, Vanzetti a fishmonger. In April 1920, a shoe factory was robbed of about $15,000 in payroll cash, and a paymaster and guard were both shot and killed during the robbery. A few days later, while police were heading to a location where the alleged getaway car was found, Sacco and Vanzetti were arrested and charged with the robbery and murder, as they were two “Italian-looking” men as described by witnesses, and were carrying loaded weapons at the time of their arrest.

The pair was found to have a gun that matched one carried by the murdered guard that was not found at the scene, and they had shell casings and bullets on them that were similar to those found at the crime scene. The pair also denied being anarchists, or even owning guns. After anarchist literature was also found on them, the pair was arrested and indicted for the robbery and double homicide.

In 1921, the trial itself did not gain much attention – but the result sparked controversy. Despite Sacco and Vanzetti having no prior criminal records, conflicting ballistic and forensic reports, and several key witnesses’ credibility being questioned during the trial, and police failing to recover the stolen money, the pair was convicted of murder and sentenced to death by the judge.

As details fo the trial came out in the weeks and months following, some communists and anarchists began speaking up in advocating for Sacco and Vanzetti’s innocence, and demanding their release. Noting that many witnesses were discredited, there was no money found, and there was no absolute connection between forensics and ballistics to the two men, the calls of innocence began to ring louder as the pair went through their series of appeals.

Over the next five years, opposition to the conviction began to take on a life of its own, and protests and violent demonstrations were held in several major international cities lambasting the American judicial system for its unfair and unjust treatment of what was believed to be two innocent men simply because of their anarchist, anti-government beliefs.

More and more people in the public became convinced that Sacco and Vanzetti were innocent, and demonstrations became more violent, including bombs being set off in New York and Philadelphia. However, despite the public outcry and several appeals, the two men were executed in the electric chair in August 1927.

In the decades the followed, Massachusetts thoroughly reviewed the case and looked at how forensic investigations were conducted and aimed to improve them so that biases could be better neutralized. In 1977, the 50th anniversary of Sacco’s and Vanzetti’s executions, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis proclaimed that the pair was treated unjustly in a form of apology on behalf of the state, and urged that no “stigma” be attached to the names of the two men going forward.

Harry Thaw & The Very Public Murder

An estimated 1,000 witnesses. A jealous but wealthy husband. An equally wealthy man of society who has a propensity for taking young lovers.

Two plus two equals … not guilty.

There has always been a belief in two justice systems in America – one for the wealthy and well-connected, and one for everyone else. But you know what happens when two wealthy families are on opposite ends of a murder?

That depends, we suppose. In 1907-08, riches didn’t control the mind, and the mind proved to be a powerful defense.

It’s famously known as the “trial of the century” by American media at the time, as well-known architect Stanford White was shot and killed at the outdoor rooftop theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City, and coal and railroad heir Harry K. Thaw was put on trial for the very public murder in front of nearly 1,000 people who were watching a performance at the theater at the time of the shooting.

The setup is that Thaw had a lovely young wife named Evelyn Nesbit Thaw, who was a “supermodel” of the day, being featured on the covers of every major magazine in the country.  Thaw learned that her bride had been involved with the noted lothario Mr. White prior to the marriage, and Thaw became quite jealous of, and obsessed with, Mr. White. There was a report that White had raped Mrs. Thaw, but that was not definitively corroborated.

Thaw was charged with the June 1906, murder, and went on trial in January 1907 in what was called the “trial of the century.” Thaw claimed an insanity defense, saying that he shot White in a fit of jealous rage over the previous relationship. After much deliberation, including evidence that suggested that Thaw was not temporarily insane but had a history of mental instability that was consistent throughout his family, the jury was hopelessly deadlocked in deciding whether Thaw committed murder, as several on the jury were convinced of the insanity defense.

After that hung trial, Thaw was re-tried a year later, in January 1908, and much of the same media circus followed along. Thaw remained in jail during this time, and maintained his insanity defense, despite all the witnesses to the shooting who all corroborated the story seeing Thaw shoot White in cold-blood leading to this death.

The second trial went much the way of the first, with Thaw’s defense team presenting him as a man mentally disturbed and especially triggered by the relationship of the woman he loved with a man who was the toast of New York society at the time.  With the second jury, a verdict did come back – and Thaw was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

But instead of being freed, he was declared criminally insane and was sent to a mental institution until he was released in 1924, 16 years later.

Of course, there would be a couple more “trials of the century,” in the 20th century, but it is said that the Harry Thaw murder trial signaled the “end” of what was called the Gilded Age in America.  It was known as one of the first great celebrity trials in America, and it was one of the early successful insanity defenses.

Should We Take Another Look At the Rosenberg Espionage Trial?

The conspiracy surrounding the Rosenbergs wasn’t simple. Only a few weeks after the Korean War broke out, arrests were made on the grounds that Julius Rosenberg and Ethel Rosenberg conspired to commit espionage. That was the charge, but the reality was less murky: the couple was tried, convicted, and eventually executed three years later after allegedly providing the recipe for an atomic bomb to one of America’s greatest rivals, the USSR.

The funny thing about a conspiracy charge is this: no one has to prove beyond any doubt that you did something wrong in court. So how exactly was the couple tried and found guilty when the punishment would be death for treason? Easy. The government found witnesses who would testify to the wrongdoing of the defendants. Who, though, would know of such wrongdoing? Ethel’s brother and his wife, as it turns out. The government charged them both with conspiracy to commit espionage as well, and then allowed the couple to testify against the Rosenbergs in exchange for a softer sentence.

We know now that the U.S. had evidence that Julius ran errands as a courier for the Soviets, and also helped them recruit. Did the Rosenbergs give plans to build the atom bomb, jet propulsion engines, sonar, and radar to the USSR? Many believe they did, while others believe they did not. They were certainly guilty of conspiracy, but to what extent–and why did that matter so little at the time in the court of public opinion?

This case is important because it aids in several important discussions regarding something we’re supposed to believe in as Americans: that is, you’re innocent until proven guilty. The Rosenberg case told us exactly how these types of important, publicized cases should not play out. Although the government had a treasure trove of evidence that was not declassified until the USSR collapsed, almost no direct, tangible evidence linking the couple to any wrongdoing was made public during the trial and subsequent execution, causing a great number of people to defend the integrity of the couple.

Their children, for example, maintained the couple’s innocence until the files were declassified. Even then, they believed that the files pointed a finger more at Julius and less at his wife.

The trial also forced us to reconsider how to best employ the death penalty in any circumstance. Some might contend that Ethel’s role in the apparent espionage, however small or large it may have been, should not have required a lethal response maybe just a few less days at the beach. There are a great number of historians who contend that neither she nor her husband was deserving. There are others who adamantly suppose that the couple would never have been tried at all, had it not been for the rampant paranoia that plagued communities and social orders during the Cold War.

Today, the death penalty is still controversial–here in the U.S. anyway. The Rosenberg trial begs the question: is the death penalty ever really necessary? Is it truly a humane response to criminal activity if there is even a sliver of doubt concerning a person’s guilt or innocence? These are questions we will undoubtedly continue to ask ourselves in the foreseeable future. Maybe we should continue to analyze the Rosenberg espionage trial for that reason alone.

The Trial of Galileo Galilei

Galileo was born in 1564 and lived to the ripe old age of 77, when he died in 1642. That’s pretty good, under the circumstances. Today he is famous for having hypothesized many of the scientific principles and realities that we take for granted–such as the super silly notion that the planets revolve around the sun instead of around the earth (the former concept is known as heliocentrism, and the incorrect latter concept known as geocentrism). Although he was eventually proven partially correct, the scientific minds of the time period were compelled in a large part by religion. Heliocentrism contradicted Scripture. If you contradict God, then you’re considered a heretic, and so to trial he went.

Galileo quickly discovered much in astronomy that led to controversy. During the time period, there weren’t many who could force people to question their place in the cosmos, but Galileo was such a man. He discovered mountainous terrain on the moon and satellites revolving around Jupiter. He discovered sunspots and the phases of Venus. He discovered nebulae, even though he couldn’t begin to conceive what they were. Although his newly-founded views of the universe were frowned upon, he persisted.

The Roman Catholic Church had already lended its support to scientists and astronomers such as Aristotle and Ptolemy, and so the rift had begun. Although Jesuits first disagreed with Galileo’s findings, they eventually concluded the same after observing the phenomena for themselves. Many of those who refused to accept Galileo’s contributions to the field of astronomy purportedly never even bothered to look through a telescope in order to see for themselves. Then again, we experience a lot of the same type of skeptics today in even more important areas of science.

Certain high-ranking members of the Catholic church were called upon to offer their opinions on the Galileo problem. One decided that heliocentrism needn’t remain an issue as long as it was considered only in theory or hypothesis, and not in reality. When Galileo would not relent to those who disputed his findings, he was asked to provide conclusions based on physics and mathematics. He initially refused, but eventually provided a number of such conclusions. The church refused to listen to his reasoning.

An inquisition was formed on February 19, 1616 in order to discuss the reality of a heliocentric view of the universe. When this viewpoint was determined to be theologically absurd, he was ordered to essentially cease and desist, or else stronger measures would be forced upon him.

After a long period of back and forth between supporters and opponents, he was eventually ordered to stand trial in 1633. He was found guilty of heresy on June 22 of the same year. At first he was sentenced to imprisonment, but this was changed to house arrest. He died at home in Italy. As a result of the proceedings, many of his publications were banned for a time.

Galileo’s observation of heliocentrism suggested the sun was the center of the universe, which we now know to be untrue. It’s simply the center of one solar system in a single galaxy within the massive observable universe we know about today.