(WOODY GUTHRIE) (1945-'46)

Sacco peddling fish on Suassos Lane (scene from the Giulio Montaldo film "Sacco e Vanzetti").


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Vital to the identification of Sacco and Vanzetti as the murderers was the identification of one of the fatal bullets as a bullet coming from Sacco's pistol. The evidence excluded the possibility that five other bullets found in the dead bodies were fired by either Sacco or Vanzetti. When Judge Thayer placed the case in the jury's hands for judgment he charged them that the Commonwealth had introduced the testimony of two experts, Proctor and Van Amburgh, to the effect that the fatal bullet went through Sacco's Pistol.

Such was not the belief of Proctor; he refused to accede to this view in the course of the preparation of the case, and the District Attorney knew that such was not intended to be his testimony. These startling statements call for detailed proof.

Proctor at the time of his testimony was head of the state police and had been in the Department of Public Safety for twenty-three years. On the witness stand he was qualified at length as an expert who had for twenty years been making examination of, and experiments with, bullets and revolvers and had testified in over a hundred capital cases. His testimony was thus offered by the State as entitled to the greatest weight. If the jury could be convinced that the bullet found in Berardelli's body came out of Sacco's pistol, the State's case was invincible. On this crucial issue Captain Proctor testified as follows at the trial:

Q. Have you an opinion as to whether bullet Number 3 (Exhibit 18) was fired from the Colt automatic, which is in evidence?

A. I have.

Q. And what is your opinion?

A. My opinion is that it is consistent with being fired from that pistol.

The Government placed chief reliance on his expert testimony. In his closing argument the District Attorney told the jury,
"You might disregard all the identification testimony, and base your verdict on the testimony of these experts."
It weighed heavily in the Court's charge. In simple English he interpreted the evidence to mean that
"it was his [Sacco's] pistol that fired the bullet that caused the death of Berardelli. To this effect the Commonwealth introduced the testimony of two witnesses, Messrs. Proctor and Van Amburgh."
Naturally the Court's interpretation became the jury's. By their silence the District Attorney and the counsel for the defense acquiesced in the Court's interpretation, showing that counsel for both sides apparently attached the same meaning to this testimony. After the conviction Proctor in an affidavit swore to the following account of his true views and the manner in which they were phrased for purposes of the trial. After giving his experience and the fact that he had had the custody of the bullets, cartridges, shells, and pistols in the case, he swore that one of the bullets
"was, as I then testified and still believe, fired from a Colt automatic pistol of 32 calibre. During the preparation for the trial, my attention was repeatedly called by the District Attorney and his assistants to the question: whether I could find any evidence which would justify the opinion that the particular bullet taken from the body of Berardelli, which came from a Colt automatic pistol, came from the particular Colt automatic pistol taken from Sacco. I used every means available to me for forming an opinion on this subject. I conducted, with Captain Van Amburgh, certain tests at Lowell, about which I testified, consisting in firing certain cartridges through Sacco's pistol. At no time was I able to find any evidence whatever which tended to convince me that the particular model bullet found in Berardelli's body, which came from a Colt automatic pistol, which I think was numbered 3 and had some other exhibit number, came from Sacco's pistol and I so informed the District Attorney and his assistant before the trial. This bullet was what is commonly called a full metal-patch bullet and although I repeatedly talked over with Captain Van Amburgh the scratch or scratches which he claimed tended to identify this bullet as one that must have gone through Sacco's pistol, his statements concerning the identifying marks seemed to me entirely unconvincing.

At the trial, the District Attorney did not ask me whether I had found any evidence that the so-called mortal bullet which I have referred to as Number 3 passed through Sacco's pistol, nor was I asked that question on cross-examination. The District Attorney desired to ask me that question, but I had repeatedly told him that if he did I should be obliged to answer in the negative; consequently, he put to me this question:

Q. Have you an opinion as to whether bullet Number 3 was fired from the Colt automatic which is in evidence?

To which I answered, "I have."

He then proceeded. Q. And what is your opinion?

A. My opinion is that it is consistent with being fired by that pistol.

He proceeded to state that he is still of the same opinion:
But I do not intend by that answer to imply that I had found any evidence that the so-called mortal bullet had passed through this particular Colt automatic pistol and the District Attorney well knew that I did not so intend and framed his question accordingly. Had I been asked the direct question: Whether I had found any affirmative evidence whatever that this so-called mortal bullet had passed through this particular Sacco's pistol, I should have answered then, as I do now without hesitation, in the negative.
This affidavit of Proctor was made the basis of Mr. Thompson's motion for a new trial before Judge Thayer. Here was a charge going to the vitals of the case, made by a high official of the police agencies of the state.

Felix Frankfurter, The Case of Sacco and Vanzetti, Atlantic Monthly, March 1927.

Lyrics as reprinted in liner notes for "Ballades de Sacco & Vanzetti" (French edition of "Ballads of Sacco & Vanzetti", Folkways/Le Chant du Monde, LDX 74467, 1960s); minor corrections by Manfred Helfert.

Goodbye, my comrades,
Goodbye, my north Plymouth,
Goodbye to the Boston harbor,
Goodbye, Suassos Lane.
Suassos Lane is just an alley
Up here in old north Plymouth.
You saw my fish cart
Roll here in Suassos Lane.

They say I killed him,
Said I killed the payroll carrier,
Over there in South Braintree,
Thirty-five miles from Suassos Lane.

My name is Lefevre Brini,
On the same day, Bart Vanzetti
Brought fish to the Cherry Court,
One block from Suassos Lane.

My name is Joseph Rosen,
I am a woolen peddler,
I sold Vanzetti a roll of cloth,
That day in Suassos Lane.

I'm Mrs. Alphonsine Brini,
Mr. Rosen and Bart Vanzetti
Showed me the cloth with big hole in it.
One block from Suassos Lane.

My name is Melvin Corl,
I's paintin' my fishin' schooner.
Vanzetti talked to me an hour,
About a mile from Suassos Lane.

How could I be in South Braintree,
Killin' men there in front of the fact'ry,
When all these friends and others saw me
Cartin' my fish in Suassos Lane?

I tell you workin' people,
Fight hard for higher wages,
Fight to kill blackmarket prices,
This is why you take my life.

I tell you workin' people,
Fight hard for cleaner houses,
Fight hard for the wife and children,
That's why they took my life.

Suassos Lane is just an alley
Up here in old north Plymouth.
You saw my fish cart
Roll here in Suassos Lane.

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