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During the early morning hours of Sunday, April 27, 1913, the body of thirteen year old Mary Phagan, an employee of the National Pencil factory and a native of Marietta, was found in the basement of the National Pencil factory. Although several men were arrested, including Newt Lee, the night watchman who discovered the body, and Jim Conley, a sweeper employed at the pencil factory, the accused was Leo Frank, the factory’s Jewish superintendent from Brooklyn, New York. Frank was indicted for the murder of Mary Phagan by a grand jury on May 24, 1913 and Jim Conley became the key witness for the prosecution.

While the investigation drew on the local newspapers were abound with stories related to the case in general, and Leo Frank in particular. By the time the trial against Frank began on July 28, 1913, public opinion against the accused was immense. In the courthouse, described as having a “mob-like” atmosphere, Frank was found guilty of the murder of Mary Phagan by the jury and sentenced to hang by the presiding judge.

Immediately following the trial, Frank’s defense team requested a new trial. The presiding judge denied the appeal. Another motion for a new trial was denied by the Georgia Supreme Court in February 1914. Beginning in June 1914, Frank’s defense appealed to the Fulton County Superior Court to set aside the guilty verdict. Fulton County Superior Court denied the appeal, as did the Georgia Supreme Court (December 1914) and the United States Supreme Court (April 1915).

As five courts upheld the original decision of the jury in Leo Frank’s case, Frank then applied for clemency with the Georgia Prison Commission to commute his sentence from death to life in prison. This application was denied. Lastly, Frank applied to Governor John M. Slaton for Executive Clemency.

One day before Governor Slaton was to leave the Office of Governor, and two days before Frank was to hang, Governor Slaton commuted the sentence from death to life in prison. Governor Slaton’s decision did not correspond with public opinion, though. Approximately two months following the Governor’s commutation, on August 16, 1915, Leo Frank was kidnapped from the state prison in Milledgeville, taken to Marietta and lynched by a group of angry citizens.

Document Descriptions

Document Description Date Images
1 Letter of A. W. Cozart to Prison Commission and Governor John Slaton 21 May 1915 1
2 Letter of William H. Felton to Prison Commission 22 May 1915 1, 2
3 Letter of Thomas W. Loyless (Augusta Chronicle) to Prison Commission 13 May 1915 1, 2
4 Letter of Andrew J. Cobb to G. H. Yancey, Prison Commission Secretary 20 May 1915 1
5 Letter of A. M. Hughlett to W. Woods White 27 May 1915 1
6 Letter of Russell K. Smith to Prison Commission and Governor John Slaton 29 May 1915 1
7 Atlanta Ministers petition to the Prison Commission and Governor John Slaton to commute the sentence of Leo Frank No date 1, 2, 3, 4
8 Application of Leo Frank for Executive Clemency by Governor John Slaton 22 April 1915 1, 2, 3
9 Letter of T. B. Rice to R. E. Davison 17 May 1915 1, 2
10 Letter of J. L. Kiningham to R. E. Davison May 1915 1
11 Notification to Hugh M. Dorsey of the application by Leo Frank for Executive Clemency 22 April 1915 1
12 Notification to B. H. Hill of the application by Leo Frank for Executive Clemency 22 April 1915 1
13 Letter of Hugh M. Dorsey to R. E. Davison, Prison Commission Chairman 22 May 1915 1, 2
14 Petition of Hannah G. Franklin to Prison Commission on behalf of Leo Frank 17 May 1915 1
15 Letter of A. G. Powell to Prison Commission and Governor John Slaton 19 May 1915 1, 2
16 Letter of T. L. Gantt to R. E. Davidson, Prison Commission Chairman 30 April [1915] 1
17 Recommendation of Prison Commission to Governor John Slaton to decline the application of Leo Frank for Executive Clemency 9 June 1915 1, 2
18 Memorandum of Recommendation by T. E. Patterson, Prison Commissioner, regarding the application for Executive Clemency by Leo Frank No date 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
19 Untitled fragment implying opposition to the commutation of Leo Frank’s sentence. No date 1
20 Decision by Governor John Slaton to grant Executive Clemency to Leo Frank 21 June 1915 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29