The Chicago Conspiracy Trial

Curator's note: Rich Samuels initially presented the "Chicago Stories" segments on the Chicago Conspiracy Trial on WTTW's "Chicago Tonight" show on February 21st and 22nd, 2005.

Special thanks: To WTTW cameramen Tom Siegel and Tim Boyd and to freelance cameraman Patrick Gulotta who shot the video for these segments; to WTTW motion-control camera expert Carlos Tronshaw; and to WTTW's multi-talented Tim Boyd who edited the high-resolution version of the segments with Avid Adrenaline.

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Above: The most enduring image of the "Chicago Conspiracy Trial" was, of course, defendant Bobby Seale bound and gagged in a federal courtroom. (Sketch by Verna Sadock of WMAQ-TV)

Above (from left to right): "Chicago Conspiracy" defendants Lee Weiner, John Froines, Abbie Hoffman, Rennie Davis, Jerry Rubin, Tom Hayden and David Dellinger. (Defendant Bobbie Seale had presumably been severed from the trial by the time Richard Avedon photographed the "Chicago Seven").


The alleged conspirators were indicted in March of 1969, charged with conspiring to come to Chicago with the intent of causing riots at the August, 1968 Democratic National Convention. Curiously, a "documentary" produced by the city of Chicago that aired on WGN-TV on September 15th, 1968, prefigured the charges in the indictment.

In the city's documentary, Mayor Richard J. Daley alleged he had information that some of those who were part of the disorders attending the DNC planned to assasinate the contenders for the nomination as well as himself. (The Daley clip was lifted from an interview the mayor did with CBS's Walter Cronkite on August 29th, 1968).

Director of Police Intelligence Thomas Lyons alleged in the city's documentary that some of the individuals who came to Chicago to disrupt the convention also planned nude-ins and public fornication; and that they intended to put ground glass in the food of delegates to the DNC. Lyons based his allegations on reports in the "underground press".

The Judge...

Julius Jennings Hoffman: He was seventy-four when the Chicago Conspiracy Trial began in his courtroom on September 24th, 1969. The trial lasted four and a half months. (Sketch by Verna Sadock of WMAQ-TV).

Featured in the "Chicago Stories" documentary...

Nancy Kurshan: She was a cheerleader at her high school on Long Island. But at the University of California Berkely campus (in the aftermath of the "Free Speech" movement"), she became the girl friend of future Chicafo Conspiracy defendant Jerry Rubin.

On New Year's Eve of 1967, Nancy, along with Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, Ed Sanders and Paul Krassner, dreamed up the idea for the "Youth International Party" ("Yippies" for short). It was their original intention to come to the 1968 DNC in Chicago to stage a "Festival of Life" to counter the "Festival of Death" at the convention.

During the course of the followin months, when the city of Chicago repeatedly refused to issue them permits for their events, it became clear that there would be some sort of violent confrontation.

Nancy believes that she would have been among the indicted, had it not been for the sexism of the movement in which she participated and the general sexism of the time.

Nancy is presently a social worker.

Co-prosecutor Richard Schultz: Schultz, then an Assistant U.S. Attorney, prosecuted the conspiracy case with then U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, Thomas Foran (who died on August 6th, 2000 at the age of 76).

Schultz, now in private practice, believes the alleged conspirators came to Chicago to destroy the government. Yippie co-founder Nancy Kurshan believes Schultz is correct in this belief. (The sketch above of Richard Schultz is by Verna Sadock of WMAQ-TV).

Courtroom Artist Verna Sadock: Verna had come to work at WMAQ-TV only three weeks before the Conspiracy Trial began. It was, therefore, the first time she'd ever been in a courtroom.

Verna, through her skills, transformed the tragedy and farce of the trial into art.

Verna has sketched courtroom procedings for thirty-five years. But the Chicago Conspiracy Trial was her favorite.

(Among her most prized possessions: an autographed sketch of Judge Julius Hoffman).

Reporter Bob Greene: Bob had been on the staff of the Chicago Sun Times less than a year when the Chicago Conspiracy began. It was the first Federal Court trial he covered.

Reporter Seymour Adelman: Adelman had covered the Federal Building beat for "Chicago Today" and its predecessor for many years. Obviously, he never saw anything like the Chicago Conspiracy Trial.

The outcome...

Though the jury found five of the seven defendants guilty (not of conspiracy, but of individual acts). the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals voided the convictions and the contempt citations imposed by Judge Hoffman. The government chose to not retry the case.

What became of the defendants? Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and David Dellinger are deceased. (Dellinger, a generation older than his co-defendants, was the most recent to die. He passed away last May at the age of 88).

Conspiracy defense attorney William Kunstler died in 1995 at the age of 76. Defense attorney Leonard Weinglass, based in New York City, continues to practice civil rights law.

Judge Julius Hoffman died in 1983 at the age of 87.

Tom Hayden served ten years in the California State Assembly and two terms in the California State Senate. He's currently a visiting professor of urban environmental policy at Occidental College in Los Angeles.

To learn more about the trial and the key figures in the case, visit the "Chicago Seven" section of the "Famous Trials" website of Doug Linder of the University of Missouri-Kansas City Law School. Linder has links to other websites (some of which, unfortunately, have expired) as well as an extensive bibliography.

You should also visit the website of Bobby Seale where you will find, among other things, a number of barbecue recipes, some of which are low-sodium.

If you're lucky, you may be able to find a used copy of Verna Sadock and Joseph Okpaku's long out-of-print book "Conspiracy". It contains many of Verna's courtoom sketches and snippets of some of the trial's more outrageous testimony.

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