Chapter 33: The Summations, and the Verdict

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Prosecutor Thomas F. Murphy

In this Podcast, we hear the closing speeches, and the verdict of the second jury. In a mirror image of the first trial, this time it was Hiss’s lawyer Claude Cross who was quiet, even plodding, and it was Prosecutor Murphy (like Hiss’s barrister Stryker at the first trial) who delivered the barn-burner. Then — after a year and a half of HUAC hearings, Hiss’s libel suit, the Grand Jury proceeding, and two trials — finally comes the jury’s verdict. Further Research:- Alistair Cooke (at 335) described Mrs. Hiss after the guilty verdict was uttered as “a flushed and now ageless little gnome.” Hiss wrote that the jury’s verdict stunned him. (“Recollections of a Life” at 157.). I read elsewhere that he and his defense team had planned a victory press conference to be followed by a victory lunch. I have read in an unpublished biography of Hiss that, as he and his wife walked and then drove away from the courthouse, a few people yelled “Traitor!” but no one blocked his path or attempted physical harm. At sentencing several days later, Claud Cross was the only speaker who showed emotion. The verdict must have been crushing for him. He must have known that, despite his excellent reputation as a trier of complex corporate cases in the Boston area, fifty and a hundred years hence the only thing anyone would remember about Claud Cross was that he lost the Hiss Case. Stryker got a hung jury, but Cross lost. It must have added to his gloom that he went to his grave (in 1974) believing Hiss innocent. Alistair Cooke (at 339-40) had strong feelings at the sentencing: “It is a moment when all the great swirling moral abstractions are blacked out in a crisis of the flesh. The principles we try to live by . . . . dissolve into a formal ceremony . . . The defendant stands alone, the lawyers look through a glaze at their papers, the judge says: ‘to run concurrently.’. . . . People who had craved the confirmation of Hiss’ guilt sighed and looked palely miserable. Mr. Murphy . . . had been suddenly overcome with a rheumy blur of speech that could have come from the onset of a cold but most likely did not." Cooke recalled being at the sentencing in 1939 of Jimmy Hines, a monumentally corrupt and gangster-affiliated politician who had been unsuccessfully defended by Lloyd Paul Stryker. “[I]n that moment neither the crime nor the personality condemned is clear. You do not respond as you might expect to the case resolved or the victim labeled, or the fox run to ground. The defendant becomes a symbol of the alternative fates possible to all our characters.. . . . The man about to be sentenced is suddenly at the center of the human situation; and because he is totally disarmed he takes on the helpless dignity of the lowest common denominator.” Cooke, sad to say, never expressed the slightest sympathy for Chambers. As I wrote earlier, maybe Chambers was too much the ‘Red Hot American,’ unlike anything the very British Cooke had ever experienced. Questions: Do you agree with the second jury’s verdict? If you had been the judge, would you have sentenced Hiss to more or less time in prison? If you were Hiss speaking to the judge just before sentencing, would you have been tempted to confess, said that you had been a naive and ignorant intellectual in the depths of The Great Depression, and hoped for a lighter sentence?

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