Monday, 31 March 2008

The Lost Chicago 8 Tapes

During the course of making Chicago 10, director Brett Morgen made an incredible archival discovery: courtroom recordings of the Chicago 8 trial, made by the court stenographer in an attempt to make sense of the proceedings. The reels had sat unlabeled in a Chicago archive for nearly four decades. While some of the audio had degraded, other parts of the tapes provided the basis for the voice actors' work in Chicago 10, allowing them to hear what lesser known voices like Thomas Foran and Judge Julius Hoffman sounded like. I've uploaded an excerpt from these recordings, which provides fascinating insight into the tone of the trial, here.

In a related historical note, the prosecution in Chicago 8 trial was able to listen in on private conversations of the defense with the aid of the Chicago Police and/or FBI. This information was made public in a judgment in 1981 where David Dellinger, Abbie Hoffman, William Kunstler, and Jerry Rubin had attempted to expunge their original Chicago trial convictions. Presented below is an excerpt from the trial judgment dated August 19, 1981:

One of the FBI memoranda indicates that United States Attorney Thomas Foran requested the FBI before the 1969 conspiracy trial to monitor closely the activities of the defendants and obtain any statements they might have made "to show possible admissions, to thwart a possible attempt to seek a change of venue due to publicity, and to show possible contempt of court before, during, and after the trials by the defendants and their lawyers." A subsequent FBI memorandum states that, during trial, Foran requested the FBI to record any statements made by the defendants, as such recordings "would be invaluable to prove contempt actions" and to demonstrate (in response to a request for change of venue because of adverse publicity) that "the defendants generated their own publicity."

Another FBI memorandum suggests that Judge Hoffman had ex parte conversations with Foran concerning both the defendants' possible claim of adverse publicity and the possible contempt citations against the defendants.

According to another FBI memorandum, "Chief Judge William J. Campbell (of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois) advised ... in strictist (sic) confidence that Judge Hoffman based on actions of the defendants and attorneys in the courtroom may call a mistrial and send all defendants and their attorneys to jail for contempt for six months." Another FBI memorandum indicates that Chief Judge Campbell advised the FBI that a subpoena served by the defendants on the FBI would be quashed.

Three of the documents indicate that the Chicago Police and possibly the FBI had surreptitiously attended and/or surveilled several meetings of the defendants and their counsel. It appears that information obtained in this manner (including trial strategies and potential arguments on appeal) was forwarded to Assistant United States Attorney Richard Schultz, one of the prosecutors at the 1969 conspiracy trial.

Another FBI memorandum relates to a threatening letter that was allegedly signed by "The Black Panthers" and addressed to two of the jurors. After Judge Hoffman showed this letter to one of these two jurors (who defendants believed was favorable to their position), she stated that she feared to remain on the jury. This juror was therefore replaced by one of the alternate jurors (who, defendants allege, was engaged to be married to a "patronage dispenser" of former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley). Defendants challenged the authenticity of the letter and requested that the district court order a full investigation. Judge Hoffman indicated he would do so. The memorandum from the FBI file, however, reads in part:

Assistant United States Attorney) Jack S. Schmetterer ... requested letter sent to Petersen family and King family be examined for latent fingerprints. He desired absolutely no other investigation or 'outside contacts' at this time. No investigation should be undertaken without contacting him or the USA Thomas Foran. Judge Hoffman concurs.

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