February 15

This Day in History

Vietnam War

Feb 15, 1970:

Chicago Eight defense attorneys sentenced

As the jury continues to deliberate in the trial of the Chicago Eight, defense attorneys William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass and three of the defendants are sentenced to prison for contempt of court.

The trial for eight antiwar activists charged with the responsibility for the violent demonstrations at the August 1968 Democratic National Convention took place in Chicago. The defendants included David Dellinger of the National Mobilization Committee (NMC); Rennie Davis and Thomas Hayden of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS); Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, founders of the Youth International Party ("Yippies"); Bobby Seale of the Black Panthers; and two lesser known activists, Lee Weiner and John Froines.

They were charged with conspiracy to cross state lines with intent to incite a riot. Attorneys William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass represented all but Seale. The trial, presided over by Judge Julius Hoffman, turned into a circus as the defendants and their attorneys used the court as a platform to attack Nixon, the war, racism, and oppression. Their tactics were so disruptive that at one point, Judge Hoffman ordered Seale gagged and strapped to his chair--Seale's disruptive behavior eventually caused the judge to try him separately.

By the time the trial ended in February 1970, Judge Hoffman had found all the defendants and their attorneys guilty of 175 counts of contempt of court and sentenced them to terms between two to four years. Although declaring the defendants not guilty of conspiracy, the jury found all but Froines and Weiner guilty of intent to riot. The others were each sentenced to five years and fined $5,000. None served time because a 1972 Court of Appeals decision overturned the criminal convictions; eventually, most of the contempt charges were also dropped.

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