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This Day in Georgia History

July 28, 1913

Leo Frank Trial Began

To view an image of Leo Frank, see the Digital Library of Georgia.

One of Georgia’s most famous - and in many ways, most infamous - trials of the century began in superior court in the Fulton County Courthouse. Here, Leo Frank was charged with first-degree murder in the death of 14-year-old Mary Phagan. Given prevalent prejudices of the time in the South, Frank began the trial with two strikes against him - he was Jewish and he was from New York. As the trial began, a jury was quickly selected and seated. The first witness called was Mrs. J.W. Coleman, Mary Phagan’s mother. She managed to stay collected during most of her testimony but finally broke down in tears when asked to identify the clothes her daughter had worn on the day she was murdered. Next on the stand was George Epps, a thirteen-year-old boy who also worked at the National Pencil Factory, where Frank was supervisor. Epps had ridden the streetcar with Phagan the morning of April 26th, and the two had agreed to meet for an ice cream and to watch the Confederate Memorial Day Parade at 1:00 p.m. When Mary didn’t show, Epps went to a baseball game. The final witness on this day was Newt Lee, the night watchman who discovered Mary Phagan’s body and telephoned police. He testified for over two hours, telling the same story he had told police - that he noticed the body when he went into the basement to the restroom. He also told of Leo Frank being nervous because of the presence of John Gantt, who had been recently dismissed from the factory. That night, Frank called Lee to ask if everything was all right, an unusual practice for him.