Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Al Capone: Chicago's Most Infamous Mob Boss

The Trial

Capone spent his summer of freedom in his old hideout in Lansing, Michigan, seemingly resigned to the trial.  However, behind the scenes his organization had procured the list of prospective jurors and began bribing them by every means possible.

Wilson  got word of the bribery and went with Johnson to Judge Wilkerson with the evidence that Capones gang was bribing and threatening the potential jurors.   Judge Wilkerson was neither surprised nor concerned.  "Bring your case to court as planned, gentlemen," he told them confidently.  "Leave the rest to me."

Capone before trial
Capone before trial
On October 6, 1931, fourteen detectives escorted Capone to the Federal Court Building.   Security was very, very tight.  Capone was brought in through a tunnel to a freight elevator.

The crime czar was well dressed in a conservative blue serge suit.  No pinkie rings or any other gaudy gangster jewelry this time. Every major newspaper had dispatched its top talent.  It was the "Who's Who" of  newspaper journalism.   The question was posed to Al repeatedly, "Are you worried?"

"Worried?" Capone answered with a smile, "Well, who wouldn't be?"   As Bergreen notes: " At that moment, however, he was feeling quite confident.   He assumed that his organization had gotten to the jury and all that was required of him was to show up in court each day, appearing polite and respectful, until his inevitable acquittal.  And even then he would be sure to act magnanimous and tell the press that there were no hard feelings on his part, he knew the government boys were just doing their job."

The government team consisted of U.S. Attorney George E. Q. Johnson, a tall man with gold-rimmed glasses, and his prosecutors Samuel Clawson, Jacob Grossman, Dwight Green and William Froelich.  One journalist compared Johnson and Capone: "Capone's thick-featured face, the roll of flesh at the back of his neck, presents a contrast to the attorney's lean face, his shock of gray hair, and his general appearance of wiriness."

Judge Wilkerson entered the courtroom.  He wore no robes over his dark suit.   "Judge Edwards has another trial commencing today," he announced. "Go to his courtroom and bring me the entire panel of jurors.  Take my entire panel to Judge Edwards."  Everyone was shocked, but no one more than Capone and his lawyer Michael Ahern.  The new panel of jurors, most of whom were white men from rural areas, had never appeared on any list of Capone's and had never been approached for bribery.  These jurors would be sequestered at night so that the Capone mob couldn't get to them.

On October 17, Johnson gave his final summation to a jury composed of men with farm backgrounds like his own.  After his opening statement, he turned his attention to Capone himself.  "I have been a little bewildered in this case at the manner in which the defense has attempted to weave a halo of mystery and romance around the head of this man.  Who is he?  Who is this man who during the years that we have considered here has so lavishly expended what he claims to be almost half a million dollars?  Is he the little boy out of the Second Reader, who succeeded in finding a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, that he has been spending so lavishly, or maybe, as his counsel says, is he Robin Hood?  But was it Robin Hood in this case who bought $8,000 worth of diamond belt buckles to give to the unemployed?  No. Was it Robin Hood in this case who paid a meat bill of $6,500?  Did that go to the unemployed?   No, it went to the house on Palm Island.  Did he buy these $27 shirts to protect the shivering men who sleep under Wacker Drive at night?  No.

"At any time, at any place, has this defendant ever appeared in a reputable business?  Has there appeared a single instance of contact with a reputable business?   What a picture we have in this case: no income, but diamond belt buckles, twenty-seven- dollar shirts, furnishings for his home -- $116,000 that is not deductible from his income.  And yet counsel comes here and argues to you that the man has no income!"

Late Saturday night, October 17, 1931, after nine hours of discussion, the jury completed its deliberation and found Capone guilty of some counts, but not all counts of tax evasion.  The following Saturday, Judge Wilkerson sentenced Capone to eleven years, $50,000 in fines and court costs of another $30,000. Bail was denied and Capone would be led to the Cook County Jail to await eventual removal to a federal penitentiary.

"Capone tried to smile again," said the New York Times, "but the smile was bitter.  He licked his fat lips.  He jiggled on his feet.   His tongue moved in his cheeks.  He was trying to be nonchalant, but he looked as if he must have felt --ready to give way to an outburst of anger.  It was a smashing blow to the massive gang chief.  His clumsy fingers, tightly locked behind his back, twitched and twisted."

As Capone left the courtroom, an official of the Internal Revenue Service slapped liens on his property so that the government could satisfy its tax claims. Capone lost his temper and tried to attack the man, but was restrained by the marshals who had him in custody.

Capone's appeal
Capone's appeal

"Well, Im on my way to do eleven years," he said, looking at Ness. "Ive got to do it, thats all. Im not sore at anybody. Some people are lucky. I wasnt. There was too much overhead in my business anyhow, paying off all the time and replacing trucks and breweries. They ought to make it legitimate."

"If it was legitimate, you certainly wouldnt want anything to do with it," he told Capone as he walked away, seeing him for the last time.

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