A Special Supplement: The Trial of Bobby Seale



The United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois (Eastern Division) occupies several floors of the new Federal Building in Chicago’s Loop. Of this thirty-story building, designed in steel and glass by the late Mies van der Rohe, the Chicago Art Institute has said, “The commitment to order everywhere present is translated into an authoritarian and heroic presence.” Its lobby is designed “without recourse to historical vocabulary,” while the building itself, outside and in, lacks all adornment. The single exception is an electric carillon on the ground floor which in normal times plays popular and patriotic tunes, but during the conspiracy trial which is now in progress the carillon has been silenced. The revolving doors at each of the four corners of the lobby are each guarded by six armed marshals and visitors are asked to identify themselves as they enter. Purses and briefcases are opened and searched. Since the beginning of the trial pistols have been taken from four visitors.

The courtrooms themselves are to be found along interior corridors on the upper floors of the building. Judge Hoffman’s court, where the conspiracy trial is held, is on the twenty-third floor and, like the other courtrooms, is two stories high. As the visitor enters through swinging doors at the rear of the room, he finds himself standing in a carpeted aisle between two rows of wooden benches. Those on his left are for spectators, who are carefully searched before they are allowed to enter. The benches to the right are for the press, though the last three rows of this section are reserved for friends and relatives of the defendants. Because the trial has attracted such attention, the benches on both sides of the aisle are usually filled.

At the end of the aisle is a chain and beyond this chain, in a large open space, sit the defendants around four tables arranged in a large rectangle. At the far end of this rectangle sit the two defense attorneys. Opposite them, seated at a table half the size, are the three government lawyers and an FBI agent who assists them. Behind these lawyers is the jury box with its twelve jurors and two alternates. Of these, all but two are women.

At the front of the room, facing the court, is the judge’s bench, elevated to form a kind of stage on several levels. On a low platform to the right sits the court stenographer. Behind her, a foot or so higher, is the witness box. At the opposite end of the stage sits a marshal in a kind of pulpit. Along the wall behind the defendants’ table there are folding chairs for additional members of the press and in this wall there are two doors. The one farther from the judge’s bench leads to a cloakroom and from there to the corridor, while the one closer to the judge leads to the lockup, one floor above. When this door is opened, the defendants, seven…

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