On this date in 1969, the trial of the infamous “Chicago Seven” began in the courtroom of Judge Julius Hoffman of the Northern District of Illinois. The Chicago Seven (originally eight, before one of the defendants, Bobby Seale, had his case severed) were a group of protesters at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The group of defendants were charged with conspiracy to incite the riots that occurred at the Convention. The prosecution in the trial stressed the incendiary rhetoric of the defendants and their intentions of disrupting the DNC. The defense insisted that the violence seen at the Convention was the result of overreaction on the part of police and DNC officials.
Thanks to a generous donation by Professor Ralph Brill, the Chicago-Kent Law Library has 4 of the original courtroom sketches from the Chicago Seven trial on display in Room 950. Also on display along with these sketches is the book Verdict! The exclusive picture story of the trial of the Chicago 8.
After a five-month trial that saw the defense call numerous high profile artists, activists and musicians to the stand, five of the seven defendants were found guilty. These sentences were eventually overturned in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in 1972, with that court finding numerous examples of procedural error and outright hostility towards the defendants on the part of Judge Hoffman.
The trial of the Chicago Seven has been depicted in numerous works of art, including the 2007 animated film Chicago 10, which includes language taken from the transcripts of the trial, as well as footage collected in the period surrounding the trial.
For more information on the Chicago Seven and their trial, take a look at the collection of resources put together by the Federal Judicial Center. This site includes a comprehensive summary of the history of the events surrounding the trial, legal questions and arguments considered by the court, and a wealth of historical documents related to the trial.