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With evidence collecting and arrests continuing, a grand jury was impaneled on May 17 and began hearing evidence the next day. Judge John G. Rogers presided. On May 27, having heard some sixty-five witnesses, the grand jury returned a "true bill" of indictment for the murder of Officer Matthias Degan against August Spies, Albert Parsons, George Engel, Adolph Fischer, Louis Lingg, Oscar Neebe, Michael Schwab, Samuel Fielden, William Seliger, and Rudolph Schnaubelt.
Seliger and Schnaubelt were not tried, since the first testified for the state and the second fled the country. These ten men and twenty-one others were also indicted for conspiracy, riot, and unlawful assembly, though they were never tried for these charges.
On view here is a partially handwritten draft of portions of the indictment (the final version was printed). Included is the unfolded cover, with a list of witnesses (who testified again at the trial) and the first page of the draft.
There were several different variations of this document that were never used, including versions that charge the anarchists with the murder of other officers. As noted elsewhere, it appears as if the state focused on these men and this crime because the state felt that this approach made for the best and most compelling case.
Indicting these ten men for the death of Degan enabled the prosecution to focus on a single victim, though throughout the trial Grinnell invariably implied that the accused were responsible for all the dead and wounded policemen. And the charge of murder was, of course, the most serious available, into which the related crimes of conspiracy, riot, and unlawful assembly could be absorbed.
The final version of the indictment—like all the other versions, and like so many legal documents in general—was characterized by the stilted legal language and redundancies with which it tried to cover all possible contingencies. In its sixty-nine counts, it charged the ten men individually and separately with the murder of Degan, first with "a certain deadly and destructive instrument," then also with a pistol, a bomb, and "with certain means, instruments and weapons, a more particular description of which is to the said jurors unknown."
While assuming that Schnaubelt was the bomb-thrower, the final version of the true bill also indicted a person "a further description of whom is to the said jurors unknown." This allowed for the possibility that the actual murderer might not be one of the defendants, while still holding these ten responsible for helping to commit the crime.
At the trial, Grinnell went beyond the charges in the indictment, and, for that matter, beyond the purview of state law, to accuse the defendants of treason. When Black objected that his clients had not been charged with treason, Grinnell in turn responded that this was only because most of them were foreign subversives—and for that reason all the more deserving of harsh treatment. At the same time the prosecution singled out Parsons as the worst of the defendants because he was the only genuine American among them. Black's response in court was to observe, in regard to such attacks on Parsons as a traitor to his country, "It was a horrible thing that an American should sympathize with the common people; that he should feel his heart respond to the desires of oppressed workmen."
Grinnell also implied in his closing argument that it was not these men but American institutions that were awaiting judgment. "Great interests were at stake; the law itself was on trial," he told the jurors, and he admitted elsewhere that by the same principle by which he charged the eight defendants he could have indicted many others.