Retired American Lawyer, Ted Grippo has over 50 years of professional experience in the fields of law enforcement and private practice. He held the post of Illinois Securities Commissioner and was a senior and co-founding partner of the Chicago law firm of Grippo & Elden. Ted Grippo is also a member of the American Bar Association and the National Italian American Foundation. After years of extensive experience as a lawyer, Ted Grippo has decided to take on a project of a new kind with the recent release of his book, With Malice Aforethought: The Execution of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti.
An accomplishment that was indeed possible in part to his law background, the book uncovers new evidence in the infamous Sacco-Vanzetti case. Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were two Italian immigrants tried, convicted and executed for murdering a paymaster and his guard in a Boston suburb in the 1920s. The case has been a much disputed one, and Grippos book unravels new evidence that he firmly believes clearly shows that the two men were framed. I believe my book pays respect to both men and that they were both innocent. Some observers of the case theorized that Sacco was guilty and Vanzetti, innocent. I found no basis to justify the so-called ‘split theory’, states Grippo. The book is also a look at how Americas justice institutions failed immigrants during The Red Scare of 1919-1920- a result in part of the rise of aggressive radical activities carried out by exploited immigrant workers. The Sacco-Vanzetti trial during this time challenged Massachusetts and America to meet the Constitutions promise of equal justice under the law for all people in the nation. Grippos book demonstrates how that challenge was met and his devotion and respect to law that has been at the forefront of his career. Grippo hopes his book will help readers gain insight on the issue of unfair trials. Id like readers to gain an understanding of what an unfair trial looks like. Id like them to understand the difficulties suffered by Italian immigrants of the 19th and 20th Centuries. And they should be aware of the responsibilities of the public prosecutor and the judge in criminal cases. I also hope Ive cleared the names of Sacco and Vanzetti, says Grippo.
Ted Grippo spent 7 years researching and writing the book. The first four years were spent almost entirely on research, note taking and outlining, while the last three years were spent almost exclusively on writing with continued and very important research. After researching and analyzing court documents related to the Sacco-Vanzetti case in preparation for his book, Grippo developed his Sacco Switched Gun Theory, which is presented in the book- a theory fellow lawyers are calling very compelling. Grippos desire to write a book relating to a case that happened 90 years ago was inspired by a personal attachment. My strongest inspiration to write the book resulted from my father explaining to me when I was ten years old that many believed Sacco and Vanzetti were innocent. I was also inspired because they were Italian immigrants like my mother and father, and because Sacco was a shoemaker, like my father, explains Grippo. This emotional connection is also being felt readers, who in some way identify with the case. After years of dedication, there is one thing that Grippo firmly believes regarding this case and that is the fact that both Sacco and Vanzetti were innocent. I wanted to find out for myself whether Sacco and Vanzetti received a fair trial and whether it was possible to determine their guilt or innocence. Now I wish to share with as many people as possible my findings that they did not receive a fair trial and that they were innocent. I hope my book will serve to finally clear their names, says Grippo. The author/retired lawyer also believes that society learned many lessons from the Sacco-Vanzetti case. Two important lessons that were learned from this case is that judges must be free of prejudice even to those with alien or unpopular ideals and that the public prosecutor under American law is a representative of the people. These two lessons are the essence of American justice, says Grippo.
Italian immigrant workers, and members of a local anarchist group, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, were arrested on the night of May 5, 1920 while riding a streetcar to Saccos home. They were arrested as suspicious characters. After their arrest, they would never be free men ever again. Seven years of wrongful accusations, lead to turmoil for both men and the families they loved dearly. While in jail, both suffered immensely, emotionally, mentally and physically. Their execution and news of it brought upon worldwide riots; American embassies were stoned, cars and American flags were burned. Both Sacco and Vanzetti came to America for a chance at a better life, to achieve the American Dream- a dream they were robbed of and one which would ultimately change the future of their families, whom they cared deeply for and whom they fought to maintain their innocence for. Grippos telling book shares the details of the lives of both Sacco and Vanzetti and the case against them, a case Grippo still considers as being extremely unfair. This is one of the most unfair trials in American history. One could say it is the mother of all wrongful convictions, says Grippo.
Tandem had the opportunity to ask Ted Grippo about his personal thoughts on Sacco and Vanzetti, their court statements, issues of immigration and law in America today, his emotional connection to the case, and his research findings.
Would you say your own cultural background of being Italian-American gave you an emotional connection to the case of Sacco and Vanzetti?
My own heritage, my parents immigrant background, my fathers trade as a shoemaker, all gave me an emotional connection to the case, but my law education and practice provided me with a strong intellectual connection, as well. Both were strong motivating factors to write the book.
Through your research of court findings, was there anything about both cases that surprised you?
My biggest surprise about the Sacco-Vanzetti case was the arrogance of Judge Thayer and the prosecutors. There appears to have been no limits to their belief that Sacco and Vanzetti had no rights. The prosecution fabricated evidence, suppressed exonerating evidence, suborned perjury and exercised no restraints on improper cross-examination. The Judge behaved like a prosecutor. Harvard Professor (and later U. S. Supreme Court Justice) Felix Frankfurter and Harvard Professor Edmund Morgan, both termed the actions of the judge and the prosecutors monstrous misconduct.
Would you say the case against Sacco and Vanzetti had much to do with the fact that they were Italian?
In my book, I point out that in excess of fifty lynchings and many additional acts of violence were committed throughout America against Italians and their families during the thirty years immediately before the Sacco-Vanzetti case. During that time, except for Blacks, more Italians were lynched than persons of any other ethnic group. Strong anti-Italian feelings continue to exist, although it appears to have lessened in recent years.
Do issues surrounding immigration and the right to a fair trial still exist today?
Ive noted that the Sacco-Vanzetti story illuminates todays issues of immigration and the administration of criminal justice. Many of the issues relating to immigration in the 1920s are repeated in Americas current immigration problems. The right to a fair trial was often denied to immigrants in the 1920s as are the rights of many minorities today. The Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University Law School and the Innocence Project in many cities will attest to many minorities who have been subjected to unfair trials and wrongful convictions.
How different would you say Sacco and Vanzetti were from each other and what if any, similarities did they share?
Sacco and Vanzetti were both hard workers. They had different inclinations. Vanzetti was cerebral; Sacco was physical. Vanzetti had a thirst for knowledge that grew more insatiable the older he became. He was a dreamer and an idealist, and as a young man, more religious than Sacco sometimes defending his faith with his fists. Sacco was more practical. He loved machines and physical things. Sacco was happy working his strong peasant body in the fields. Vanzetti was comfortable in a library or a classroom. However, they had one important concept in common. They both believed that workers were often exploited, and they sought to better working conditions for them.
Both Saccos and Vanzettis statement were quite powerful in terms of the message they conveyed especially regarding their innocence and belief in being discriminated because of their culture and class. What are your feelings regarding their statements?
Sacco and Vanzetti each made sentencing statements from the heart. They knew they would be condemned to death because their beliefs in socialism (anarchism, at that time) represented a threat to the ruling class. I believe their political and economic views were misguided, but in the absence of violence, they had every right to express them.
Its clear that both Sacco and Vanzetti developed a friendship and bond during their prison time. Would you say theirs is a true definition of friendship?
You can tell by the various writings and statements of Sacco and Vanzetti how they deferred to each other in a respectful way. When Fred Moore told Vanzetti he could save him if he (Moore) gave up on Sacco, Vanzetti answered, Save Nick. He has the wife and child. No greater love hath a man than to lay down his life for a friend. Theirs was true friendship.
What about Saccos letters to his children? And Vanzettis letter to Saccos son Dante? What does this show about their characteristics?
Saccos last letter to his children Dante and Inez expressed his paternal love, the most sensitive. Vanzetti had no children, but he loved all children and he expressed a paternal love for Dante. Sacco and Vanzetti showed feelings of love, not hate, in the face of an unjust death penalty.
Are there any family members of the Sacco or Vanzetti family alive today that youve been able to meet or that have read your book?
Ive not met any Sacco or Vanzetti family members and know of none who have read my book. However, I intend to visit Boston soon and look up Sacco descendants. There are no Vanzetti descendants in America; to my understanding, all are in Italy.
For more information
on Ted Grippos book, visit: www.tedgrippo.com