The Chicago Conspiracy Trial illustrated many of the tensions that persisted in the wake of the 1968 Democratic National Convention (DNC). The trial pitted outspoken activists and attorneys against a more conservative judge and jury, and was watched closely by both the media and the general public.
In March 1969, six months after end of the Chicago DNC, a grand jury indicted Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, Lee Weiner and John Froines and charged them with conspiracy to incite a riot, crossing state lines to start a riot, obstructing police officers during a civil disorder and intending to create incendiary devices to use during a riot.
Bobby Seale, who had only been at the DNC for two days in order to deliver a last-minute speech, was charged with crossing state lines to encourage a riot. These charges fell under Title 18 of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. The defendants became known as the Chicago Eight.
Judge Julius Hoffman presided over the trial, which began on September 24, 1969. William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass served as defense attorneys, and Thomas Foran and Richard Schultz, as the prosecutors. The jury was composed of two black women, eight white women and two white men. The majority of the jurors were middle class and middle aged.
From the start, the trial was under intense media and public scrutiny, with outbursts and antics occurring regularly among the defendants. One morning Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin entered the courtroom dressed in judicial robes. When ordered to disrobe, Hoffman removed the robe to reveal that he was dressed in a Chicago Police uniform beneath.
In perhaps the most controversial occurrence, Judge Hoffman ordered that Bobby Seale be bound and gagged to his chair to silence his frequent vocal outbursts. Judge Hoffman later removed Seale’s case from the rest of the Chicago Eight, and sentenced him to four years in prison for contempt.
The trial ended on February 18, 1970, with the jury acquitting Froines and Weiner of all charges but finding Rubin, Dellinger, Hayden, Davis and Abbie Hoffman guilty of crossing state lines intending to incite a riot. They were cleared of conspiracy charges, but sentenced to five years in prison.
All seven of the remaining defendants of the original Chicago Eight, as well as defense attorneys Leonard Weinglass and William Kunstler, were also charged by Judge Hoffman for contempt of court. These contempt charges, as well as the Anti-Riot convictions, were later overturned.