Yesterday's re-trial of Al Capone
, a mock trial staged by the Eleventh Judicial Circuit to celebrate the court's centennial, provided a chance to fully understand the circumstances surrounding Capone's 1930 perjury trial.
"There is a gangster in this courtroom," proclaimed Defense Attorney Vincent C. Giblin as he stalked back and forth in front of the jury. He went on to describe a man who had wronged people in numerous instances, was as calculating as he was ruthless, and showed no remorse in his actions. He described an unscrupulous, habitual law-breaker whose flair for treachery knew no bounds.
Giblin, however, was not talking about Al Capone. In fact, Giblin was defending Capone. As he turned away from the jury, he shot a glance across the room to the plaintiff's table. "McCreary," said Giblin emphatically, "is the real gangster."
The McCreary he referred to was Miami's Public Safety Director at the
time, Sam D. McCreary, played by William Altfield. Prior to the original
1930 trial, McCreary was responsible for deeming Capone unwelcome in
the city and ordering him arrested on sight. After four consecutive
bogus arrests and constant harassment, Capone's frustration with the
local law enforcement resulted in him filing a lawsuit against McCreary
for false imprisonment.
In that trial, the charges against McCreary were
dismissed and Capone found himself facing a perjury charge because of
the testimony he gave. Luckily, Giblin - played by Bruce Lehr -
presented arguments compelling enough to get Scarface cleared of the
charges once again.
Atfield, Lehr, and all the other mock trial participants were able to
bring this moment in South Florida history to life by accentuating the
subtleties within the character interactions. For example, whenever the
prosecution spoke of or to Capone, they took a decidedly vituperative
and nasty tone vocally. This made the prosecution's - and McCreary's -
contempt for Capone not just implied, but palpable. Furthermore, Juan C.
Martinez' portrayal of Capone was particularly captivating; the
audience stood to their feet when he gathered himself to take the
witness stand and he hadn't spoken a single word up to that point.
In all, the Re-Trial of Al Capone was a live history lesson that
presented authenticity in locale and testimony. The 1930s came alive in
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the retro grandeur of courtroom 6-1 with the help of those that
maintain the order within the court, and Alphonse Capone once again
walked away victorious.
But the importance of the event lies in the underlying message of fairness and justice. "Al was no saint," said Judge Scott Silverman, who presided over the hearings as Judge E.C. Collins. "But what this trial really shows is that no matter who you are, you're going to get due process in America.