Chicago 7

Prosecutor Recalls Chaotic Scene At 1969 Chicago 7 Trial

Richard Schultz is the last surviving member of either trial team from the infamous case which shook Chicago

NBCUniversal Media, LLC

Richard Schultz remembers exactly where he was on the evening of Aug. 28, 1968. Along with colleagues from the U.S. Attorney's office, he was at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Balbo, watching a riot stemming from the Democratic National Convention.

"It was violent, it was wild," he recalled. "Demonstrators were being beaten on the heads, cops were being hit with boards with nails sticking out."

And echoing down Michigan Avenue, came the chant which would become synonymous with the event.

"The protesters were chanting, 'The whole world is watching, the whole world is watching,'" he said. "And they were!"

Schultz has a unique perspective of those events. A year later, he and U.S. Attorney Thomas Foran headed up the team which prosecuted the alleged instigators of the mayhem, known before the trial as the "Chicago 8."

"A week before the trial started, they announced they were going to bring to the trial, the riots they brought to the convention," he said. "They were encouraging, to say the least, violence during the trial."

The eight defendants, Abbie Hoffman, David Dellinger, Rennie Davis, Tom Hayden, Jerry Rubin, Bobby Seale, John Froines, and Lee Weiner, faced a variety of charges; chief among them, conspiracy and inciting to riot. From the beginning of the trial, the streets in front of the Dirksen Federal Building were often filled with protesters and police. But that paled in comparison with what was transpiring inside.

There were fistfights. In the courtroom. Actual brawls.

"Remember the old western movies, where everyone would just be punching everyone else out and throwing them over the bar?" Schultz asked. "I would stand back and watch that---in the courtroom!"

The former prosecutor said the melees frequently began with spectators who loudly, and often profanely protested the proceedings.

"It would explode in a mini riot!" he said. "And many of them morphed right into the well of the courtroom, right in front of the jury and the judge, people slugging it out, kicking and rolling on the ground---it was wild!"

A low point came as defendant Bobby Seale loudly protested his treatment, demanding a new lawyer. What followed was an episode which many observers have called a low point in federal jurisprudence in Chicago.

"He's bound and gagged for two days," Schultz recalled, shaking his head. "What an awful sight!"

That said, Schultz argued there is a back story that has never been told. Chief defense attorney William Kunstler repeatedly insisted to the judge he was withdrawing as Seale's attorney. And a few weeks before, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled in a case that an unruly defendant could not be removed from a courtroom.

While Judge Julius Hoffman has faced decades of withering criticism for his decision to bind and gag Seale, Schultz argued the appellate court decision left him no option to bar him from the courtroom.

"We couldn't proceed with the trial, the trial ground to a halt, Seale was just screaming he was going to cross examine," he recalled.

He said he firmly believes Kunstler and the defense team knew of the appellate ruling, and pushed the judge into the infamous move.

"We were all in shock----the whole world was in shock," he says today. "A black man was bound and gagged in a federal courtroom! It was horrible, and I'm telling you, it was carefully orchestrated!"

Seale was eventually severed from the case, leaving the remaining defendants who would be known to history as the Chicago 7.

The trial was filled with continuing mayhem. On one occasion, defendants Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin appeared in court wearing judicial robes. When ordered to remove them, they were wearing Chicago Police uniforms underneath.

Witnesses like Alan Ginsberg recited poetry from the stand. Others sang. Schultz recalled trying to stop that on one occasion, as his ten-year-old daughter was sitting in the gallery.

"I stood up and I said I object to the witness singing," he remembered. "And my daughter yells out, 'Aw daddy, let him sing!'"

The Michigan Avenue melee which Schultz witnessed first-hand would later be called a "police riot" by an investigating commission. Schultz is careful to note that eight officers were indicted with violating protesters' civil rights. (All were acquitted).

"They weren't trained for this---clearly not," he said. "Deputy Police Supt. Rotchford said 'I lost control of my policemen,' and he did!"

But that said, Schultz firmly rejects the notion that the defendants in the case were wrongly accused, or the folk heroes that some have painted them as in ensuing years.

"They were violent, they were revolutionaries, and they wanted to destroy our federal government," he said, recalling that some had declared in advance of the convention, "Come to Chicago and we're going to fight in the parks---be prepared to die."

In the end, the defendants were acquitted of conspiracy. Five were convicted of crossing state lines with the intent to incite a riot. But those convictions were reversed on appeal, and the Justice Department declined to retry the case.

"The Seventh Circuit (appellate court) didn't say they weren't guilty," Schultz noted. "The Seventh Circuit reversed it for a new trial. No one was going to retry them."

The infamous proceedings are the subject of a new movie, "The Trial of the Chicago 7." Schultz has seen it.

"I thought the acting was very good," he said, but he quickly discounted the historic portrayals.

"Nothing was close to the trial," he insisted. "The movie was fun to watch---it's just a fantasy, that's all."

Next Tuesday, in the sprawling ceremonial courtroom of the Dirksen Federal Building, Schultz will take part in an online program about the trial, just two floors above the room where the infamous proceedings took place. Today, 51 years later, he said he doesn't believe much could have happened which would have changed the course of what was easily, the most volatile federal case in Chicago history.

"There is nothing that we could have done to stop the violence in the courtroom," he said. "There was nothing that we could have done that would have changed that."

Contact Us