Law school puts Al Capone on trial

Wednesday, February 11, 2009 | 10:08 p.m. CST; updated 11:44 p.m. CST, Wednesday, February 11, 2009
From left, Carly Duvall, Rigel Oliveri and Caleb Jones listen to the prosecutor during the Al Capone Valentine's Day Massacre mock trial on Feb. 11.

COLUMBIA — The courtroom quieted as Judge E. Richard Webber received the verdict statement from the bailiff.  Al Capone and his lawyers looked anxiously at the judge, while the prosecution did the same a few feet away.  "The verdict reads as follows," Webber said, drawing out the pause.  "We, the jury, find the defendant, Alphonse Capone, not guilty."

Al Capone has been dead for many years, but that did not stop the Historical and Theatrical Trial Society at the MU Law School from trying to change a little history. In its third year, the group tried him for ordering the murders of seven rival gangsters in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. 

"Capone was never charged, but we'll change that tonight," Joshua Jones, the trial's director, said.

The theatrical society, headed by Steven Easton, has fictionalized trials of notable historical crimes, including the assassination of Jesse James.

"It was a teaching idea for a while, a good opportunity for the students to get experience," Easton said. "It also shows the public a different side of the law."

MU law students, as well as professors and notable figures from the law community in Columbia, serve as the actors.

This year, Mayor Darwin Hindman played the jury foreman, and Webber, a U.S. District Court Judge in the Eastern District of Missouri, played the presiding judge.  Both are graduates of the law school.

"It's a diversion from the ordinary school work these students usually do," Webber said.

The St. Valentine's Day Massacre occurred on Feb. 14, 1929, when gangsters related to the Capone organization killed seven members of George "Bugs" Moran's gang in a warehouse in Chicago.  The killers, likely headed by Jack "Machine Gun" McGurn, were never prosecuted successfully. Capone was never charged for his involvement, though he went to prison on tax evasion charges in 1931.

The attorneys for the state of Illinois, public defender Michael Byrne and student Jeffrey McCarther, attempted to link McGurn's actions to Capone, played by student Caleb Jones. 

"Your employee, Jack McGurn, did the hit?" Byrne asked. 

"I hope he wasn't on the clock," Jones as Capone replied.

"This hit was too well-executed to be done by Jack McGurn," Byrne said in his closing argument. "Do what's right, put this man away for a long time." 

The jury disagreed.

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