Harrisburg 7: 1971-72
It seemed surreal. A group of well-known Catholic activists committed to non-violence charged with conspiracy to raid federal offices, blow up government buildings and kidnap National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger using Washington D.C.’s heating tunnels to carry out the plot.

The seven charged were primarily composed of Catholic non-violent direct action activists: Phillip Berrigan, Sister Elizabeth MacAlister, Rev. Neil McLaughlin, Rev. Joseph Wenderoth, Anthony Scoblick, Mary Cain Scoblick along with Eqbal Ahmad—a Pakistani journalist and political scientist.

The trial sparked a nationwide defense effort that included a rally in Harrisburg that drew upwards of 20,000 people to support the seven.

Father Berrigan was serving time in the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary, in central Pennsylvania at the time of the alleged conspiracy.

Boyd Douglas, who eventually would become an FBI informant and star prosecution witness - was a fellow inmate. Douglas was on a work-release at the library at nearby Bucknell University.

Douglas used his real connection with Berrigan to convince some students at Bucknell that he was an anti-war activist, telling some that he was serving time for anti-war activities. In fact, he was in prison for check forgery. In the course of the investigation the government resorted to unauthorized and illegal wiretapping.

Douglas set up a mail drop and persuaded students to transcribe letters intended for Berrigan into his school notebooks to smuggle into the prison. (They were later called, unwillingly, as government witnesses.)

Librarian Zoia Horn was jailed for nearly three weeks for refusing to testify for the prosecution on the grounds that her forced testimony would threaten intellectual and academic freedom. She was the first United States librarian to be jailed for refusing to share information as a matter of conscience.

U.S. attorneys obtained an indictment charging the Harrisburg Seven with conspiracy to kidnap Kissinger and to bomb steam tunnels. Former Attorney General Ramsey Clark led the defense team for their trial during the spring months of 1972. Clark used a then relatively untested theory of scientific jury selection—the use of demographic factors to identify unfavorable jurors.

Unconventionally, he didn't call any witnesses in his clients' defense, including the defendants themselves. He reasoned that the jury was sympathetic to his Catholic clients and that that sympathy would be ruined by their testimony that they'd burned their draft cards. After nearly 60 hours of deliberations, the jury remained hung and the defendants were freed.

Douglas testified that he transmitted transcribed letters between the defendants, which the prosecution used as evidence of a conspiracy among them. Several of Douglas' former girlfriends testified at the trial that he acted not just as an informer, but also as a catalyst and agent provocateur for the group's plans.

There were minor convictions for a few of the defendants, based on smuggling mail into the prison; most of those were overturned on appeal.
2 photos · 13 views