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Leo Frank jury. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

Conviction and Sentence

In final arguments, solicitor Hugh M. Dorsey—in support of the prosecution—painted Frank as a Jekyll and Hyde figure. Conversely, the defense team of Reuben Arnold and Luther Rosser claimed Frank was an honest, upstanding citizen who was a victim of anti-Semitism, and emphasized that the real perpetrator was Jim Conley.

Dorsey had the last word, and with it he destroyed Frank’s character and portrayed Phagan as a symbol of lost innocence. By referring to great Jewish historic figures in his closing statements, he deflected charges of anti-Semitism and asserted that Frank’s deviant behavior dishonored the Jewish people and the girl he was accused of brutally murdering. Dorsey’s words were relayed to the crowd outside and greeted with thunderous applause.

Before the verdict was read, Judge Roan consulted Frank’s attorneys. Fearing mob violence if the jury acquitted Frank, they mutually agreed neither they nor Frank should be in court when the decision was read out. The jury deliberated less than two hours before returning a guilty verdict. When Dorsey emerged from the courthouse, he was cheered and carried on the shoulders of the crowd. Informed of the verdict, Frank again proclaimed his innocence.

Judge Roan sentenced Frank to hang.