Juror Jean Fritz on the Chicago 8 Trial
Jean Fritz: Well, as far as the Vietnam War was concerned, I was against it. Very much against it. But I never paraded or anything. I never did anything to try to stop it. I said what I felt to people, but I never, uh, joined. I had a daughter that marched against it. And, uh … and she marched for a long time, but then when, uh, other people started being nasty she quit. Cause people got nasty. Then she dropped out.
In a way I was against the protests. I wasn’t, uh … I thought they shouldn’t be doing this, but I didn’t like what [Mayor] Daley was doing, either. Daley’s group were beating those boys up and girls up, and I didn’t believe in that, either. So it was a hard time, because I didn’t, uh … I wanted these kids to be able to say what they wanted to say, that was important to me, and yet I didn’t want all that trouble.
National Guardsman in Chicago. Courtesy of the filmmakers.
‘Course it was just almost the beginning of long hair and, uh, I wasn’t used to people like that yet. You know, I came from Des Plaines, a smaller town, and I wasn’t into stuff like that. So at first I was a little taken back, but after a few days I wasn’t taken back anymore and I enjoyed them. I listened to them and, uh, I thought they were pretty good. I thought they were very, highly intelligent boys, and I think we should listen to them.
The Filmmakers: What was the trial like?
Fritz: The conspiracy trial was a very hectic trial. And some days you were actually frightened what was going on, and some days you could laugh. It … it … every day was just a little different than the other day. And sometimes at night you couldn’t sleep, worrying about what was going on, and the next day you were just fine. So you never knew what was going to happen. But I thought, as a whole, Judge Hoffman was a very unfair judge. He didn’t give them … he didn’t give the defendants enough chance. I really felt that, that he, uh … You could see his dislike for them, and I don’t think any judge should show a dislike for anybody in their courtroom.
But yet a lot of times, even the ones that didn’t like him had to laugh, which was a miracle. Because when Jerry Rubin and Hoffman came in with the judge’s robes on, you had to laugh, I mean you had to laugh … and you weren’t supposed to laugh. But Judge Hoffman got them out right away, got us out, and into the jury room.
Filmmakers: What was the sequestration like?
Fritz: Oh, it was awful. Because I was thinking about my poor husband having to do the work all by himself, because we worked together all those years, and I couldn’t see him hardly at all. I could only see him once a week, and it was very frustrating for him more than me. I wasn’t unhappy. I was unhappy with what was going on, I was unhappy that we couldn’t read anything, we couldn’t listen to a radio, we couldn’t … we were like prisoners. We got in our room and we couldn’t leave, and I didn’t like that one bit.
When I was sequestered anything we did was monitored. We had … we had absolutely no freedom whatsoever. Sometimes you felt like you were the ones on trial, and you felt like you were a prisoner sometimes because you had no say-so about anything. And every time, uh, you tried to say something, nobody would ever listen to you. If you complained about something, “Oh, you have nothing to complain about. This is how it is.” Even when you were in the jury room there was always an FBI agent standing there listening to everything you’re saying. You had no privacy whatsoever except in your room.
Photo courtesy of the filmmakers.
Filmmakers: Can you tell me about the day that Bobby Seale was brought into the courtroom bound and gagged?
Fritz: Ohh … I think that was the worst day of my life the day they brought Bobby Seale into court tied like that. It was … it was absolutely sickening … you could, uh, you just felt that the world was coming to an end that you were actually seeing this in the United States of America. Somebody tied up like he was. Because he wasn’t a killer that was going to shoot somebody. He didn’t have a gun, he had nothing … he was only going to talk. And he wasn’t allowed to talk, he wasn’t allowed … Judge Hoffman just made him be quiet and had him tied up. I felt so bad for Bobby Seale, I thought it was the most horrible thing I ever saw.
I don’t think we ever talked about it to the other jurors. All of us, I mean Shirley and Frida and Mary and I all felt terrible, but we never talked to the other jurors about it, so … I’m sure that they didn’t care at all. That was their attitude. They probably didn’t like him in the beginning. So … they never liked any of the defendants, you know … you could tell that from the very beginning. They made up their minds before the trial even was into it that they didn’t like them, and that was obvious, always.
Filmmakers: How did you feel about the testimony of the undercover officers who infiltrated the organizations and spied on them, and then testified against them?
Fritz: Well, I didn’t like it. As far as the FBI was concerned and the undercover officers, you just had the feeling that they were copying what you’re saying. We didn’t … I didn’t feel free to talk to anybody … I didn’t … I mean about anything. You got to the point where you were thinking, Well, what if they’re doing this to me? What if they’re copying everything I’m saying, and you … we were frightened of, of the undercover people. Because when they go to a college and try to get kids talking and, uh … I think that’s terrible, I mean, uh … to do that to kids, I think, is … the whole thing was a great disappointment. It really was. Yeah, that’s when I learned not to like my government, and not to trust them. And that’s hard to say, but that’s how I felt.
Filmmakers: What were the deliberations like in the jury room at the end of the trial?
Fritz: The jury deliberations were very, very tense, because we knew when we entered that jury room that they were going to find all these defendants guilty. They did not like them, they didn’t like their looks, they didn’t like anything they said. You could just tell that they detested these men. We knew that the minute we entered the room. As soon as we sat down the first words they said, we knew that they wanted them guilty. So it was a big argument, and twice we sent in that we were a hung jury, and twice Hoffman said we had to stay till it was over. And the one man that protected us all, supposedly, was standing there, he made the nice fancy remark, “You know, you’re going to be here forever if you don’t agree on things and make them guilty.” That were actually his words, and he had no right to say that.
I never thought the defendants were guilty. The only reason the four of us changed in the end was [coughs] Judge Hoffman wouldn’t take our answers, and we thought by doing this we wouldn’t have another trial for them. We thought, this’ll be over and I—we knew they wouldn’t go to prison. We knew that. At least that’s what we thought. We were pretty positive, but we … we hadn’t really changed our mind at all. It’s just that we decided that we should say something.
Filmmakers: Did you feel like you had to compromise with your verdict?
Fritz: We felt we had to make a compromise because Judge Hoffman would not take a hung jury, and also we didn’t really want a hung jury if we could help it, because then they would go on trial again, and we just thought they were innocent. But we figured if we did the one count—I think there were ten counts, I’m not sure anymore—that it would work alright, and then we felt very guilty afterwards that we even gave in. At least I did. I felt very … that I betrayed my belief by doing this. I really did.
The Chicago Eight. Courtesy of the filmmakers.
When the verdict was read in front of the court, I … I just couldn’t believe it. I felt like screaming. I really didn’t, uh, … I said to myself, “Oh my god, I don’t even remember the speeches and I’m convicting them on ’em.” And I … that’s why … I was just sick. I was just absolutely sick. I thought, “This is my fault, we shouldn’t have given in.” That’s how I felt, that I betrayed my own beliefs. That’s why I was so upset when I got home, and everything.
When we got home the whole street was full of cameras and reporters and neighbors. The whole street, all the way down. And I was sick, petrified, and I just got out of the car and ran as fast as I could to get in the house. I wouldn’t talk to anybody, I wouldn’t look at anybody. And then I went in the house and went hysterical. So … it wasn’t easy.
After the trial when I got home, it took a long time for me to settle down. Cause I had customers people around us coming in and telling me how ashamed they were of me, and things like that. And it took me a long time. For a while then I quit going to the store, I wouldn’t go. And that lasted for … I don’t know how long that lasted, but I wouldn’t even go to work.
I had death threats. And, uh, … I found a note the other day, god, of the filthiest thing I ever read in my life, that somebody sent me. And then two of my … one of my best friends wrote me a letter that was unbelievable. Unbelievable. Uh, what I was doing was so wrong, and, uh, things like that. And then I had others like, one of the men that worked for the paper in Des Plaines, he came to this house and he sat down with me, and he said if I ever have to go on trial will you come and help me? He was so … I have that article … he was so wonderful. So wonderful. So it was, it was … not everybody was nasty.
I spent a long time thinking about the trial. I still think about it once in a while. It was something I’ll never forget. It was a wonderful experience for me and it was a terrible experience. But I, I, I really cared about it, I cared very, very much about it. And I think it changed my life. I think I became more … what do you say? … more tolerant of others. I was never untol- I was never a very intolerant person, but I think I got better. I think I got better with the trial. ‘Cause I really … it did something to me. It really did.
All extended interviews were provided by the filmmakers and edited by Andrew Lutsky.