Sacco-Vanzetti Case, a controversial murder case in the United States in the 1920's. Nicola Sacco (1891–1927) and Bartolomeo Vanzetti (1888–1927) were charged with the fatal shooting of a factory paymaster and his guard during the robbery of a $16,000 payroll on April 15, 1920, in South Braintree, Massachusetts. The trial was held in Dedham, Massachusetts, before Judge Webster Thayer in 1921, and the accused men were convicted of murder in the first degree.
Sacco and Vanzetti were Italian-born anarchists. The crime and trial took place during a period of intense antiradicalism in the United States. Those opposing the verdict stressed the inconclusiveness of the evidence against the defendants, alleged that Judge Thayer had made prejudicial statements, and claimed that Sacco and Vanzetti had been convicted because of their foreign birth and their political views rather than on the basis of the evidence presented in the case.
Sentencing was delayed by special pleas and applications for a rehearing. In 1925 a condemned criminal confessed that he had participated in the crime and denied that Sacco and Vanzetti were involved. Judge Thayer discounted the confession and the subsequent investigations by the defense. In April, 1927, he sentenced both men to death.
The case had been widely publicized, and strong feelings were aroused both for and against the condemned men. The sentencing brought forth further protests from outstanding lawyers, scientists, writers, and other public figures in the United States and elsewhere. In response, Governor Alvan T. Fuller of Massachusetts appointed a committee headed by President A. Lawrence Lowell of Harvard University to review the evidence. The committee agreed with the court's decision and did not advise executive clemency. Sacco and Vanzetti were put to death in August, 1927.
An outbreak of demonstrations followed execution of the death sentences. In various European countries demonstrators, many of them Communists or Communist-led, destroyed United States property. Controversy over the case continued for decades. Tests made with modern ballistics techniques in 1961 showed that a pistol found in Sacco's possession had fired one of the fatal shots. However, these findings did not end the dispute. Many people still felt that the trial had been unfair and that Vanzetti, at least, was innocent. Some also claimed that the gun had been planted on Sacco. In 1977 Massachusetts governor Michael S. Dukakis officially proclaimed that “any stigma of disgrace should be removed" from the names of Sacco and Vanzetti. In 1983, it was determined that six of the cartridges found in Sacco's possession had been made with the same dies as two shells found at the site of the robbery.
Among the many writings concerning the case are: The Case of Sacco and Vanzetti (1927), by Felix Frankfurter; Letters of Sacco and Vanzetti (1928); Boston (1928), a novel by Upton Sinclair; Winterset (1935), a play by Maxwell Anderson; Tragedy in Dedham (1962), by Francis Russell; Protest (1965), by David Felix; and Sacco and Vanzetti: The Case Resolved (1986), by Francis Russell. Vanzetti's last statement to the court is considered to have great literary merit and has been widely quoted. The artist Ben Shahn won fame in the 1930's with a series of satirical paintings about the case.