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In his reminiscences of the trial, defense attorney Sigmund Zeisler recalled that his clients, concerned about what they believed were Judge John Rogers's biased instructions and rulings before the grand jury, requested that their legal counsel petition for a change of venue. The first page of the petition, filed June 10, 1886, and signed by seven of the eight men ultimately tried and convicted (Albert Parsons was still at large), is on view here, courtesy of the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County Archives. The body of its text reads:

"And now come the defendants, August spies, Michael Schwab, Samuel Fielden, Adolph Fis[c]her, George Engel, Louis Ling[g] and Oscar W. Neebe, defendants &c. in their own proper person and by their attorneys, and petition the Court for a Change of Venue in said cause from the Hon. John G. Rogers, one of the Judges and who is presiding in said cause on account of the prejudice of said judge. Wherefore they pray [?] a change &c."

In the succeeding two pages the defendants swear that they have read and are aware of the petition's contents, and that they believe "that they cannot have a fair and impartial trial before [Judge Rogers]." They asked instead for Judge Murray F. Tuley, arguably the most highly regarded jurist in the city. Before taking the case, defense attorney William P. Black had consulted with Tuley, who advised Black that accepting the Defense Committee's request was the right thing to do.

Whether or not he knew of Black's conversation with Tuley, State's Attorney Grinnell refused to consent to this change. The two sides compromised on Judge Joseph E. Gary, who, Zeisler also recalled, "was universally regarded as instinctively impartial." Like Tuley, Gary was Circuit (or Superior) Court judge who served ex officio in criminal cases. Gary and Tuley had once been law partners.

Gary's first act was to deny Captain Black's request that the trial be postponed because the current public furor would make it difficult for his clients to receive a fair hearing. It was probably this very furor, in fact, that compelled Gary to reject the request and to participate in the rush to judgment.