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<!---##CCI#[Text Tag=head Group=All]--->Letters probe killer's mind <!---##CCI#[/Text]---> Letters probe killer's mind
Frank pleads his innocence

Associated Press

Months before Leo Frank was hanged by a Georgia lynch mob in 1915, he was working from jail to publicize his story and hoping to overturn his conviction for the notorious slaying of a 13-year-old girl.

"I feel with you that my ultimate vindication must come, although I must confess that it is hard for me at this time to see just in which way it will come about," Frank wrote to journalist C.P. Connolly on Dec. 14, 1914.

Connolly wrote extensively about the case that would become a rallying point for the Ku Klux Klan.

It also helped lead to the formation of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai Brith. That letter was one of 18 that Frank wrote to Connolly from Oct. 28, 1914, through April 6, 1915.

The letters were acquired recently by the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati.

While not containing any startling new evidence, the letters do shed light on Frank as a person, said Gary Zola, executive director of the Marcus Center.

"These letters are significant because they give us another window into the mind of Leo Frank after his world had turned upside down," Zola said.

Frank, a Jewish businessman, was convicted and sentenced to death after an emotional 25-day trial in August 1913 in the beating and strangulation of Mary Phagan.

She worked at an Atlanta pencil factory that Frank managed, and her body was found in its basement. In the early letters, Frank urged Connolly not to relax efforts to get the facts before the public and appeared hopeful of overturning his conviction.

"I feel satisfied that the U.S. Supreme Court will be moved to give us some relief," Frank wrote on Jan. 4, 1915.

"I receive a great deal of mail and many of the writers compliment your articles in Colliers (magazine). They turned the trick!"

The letters show rising frustration and anger toward the prosecutor and others Frank believed helped frame him in a trial tainted by bigotry and questionable evidence.

But he didn't give up.

"I feel very hopeful of a favorable decision," he wrote on April 6, 1915, three days  before the Supreme Court rejected his final appeal.

In June 1915, Georgia's governor commuted Frank's death sentence to life in prison.

But a mob took him from prison and lynched him on Aug. 17, 1915.

The state of Georgia pardoned Frank in 1986 after a former office boy at the factory said he saw a janitor, Jim Conley, carrying Phagan's body to the basement.

Conley, who died in 1962, was a prosecution witness during Frank's trial, though defense lawyers pointed to him as the murderer.

The pardon did not address Frank's guilt or innocence but was based on the state's failure to protect him while in custody.

Phagan's relatives remain convinced that Frank was guilty.

"He was convicted of the murder, and the 1986 pardon did nothing to change that," said the victim's grandniece, Mary Phagan-Kean, 48, of Marietta, Ga.

Connolly died in 1933. His grandson, Frank Connolly, who donated the letters to the Marcus Center, said his grandfather believed Frank was innocent.

The Anti-Defamation League, which opposes anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination, believes Frank was innocent and welcomes the addition of the Connolly letters.

The murder, trial and lynching have inspired books, a movie, plays and a musical.

"The case is one of those symbolic events that take on a life of its own," Zola said. "It became a watershed, especially for American Jews, because it showed that the violent anti-Semitism that they had fled in other countries could happen here too."

Publication Date: 08-05-2002




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