I agree with Howard Rosenberg that “The Murder of Mary Phagan” was excellent television (TV Review, Jan. 23), but otherwise he appears to have seen a different production than the one broadcast to the rest of the country--or else he nodded off for the last hour or so.
In 1915 Atlanta, Mary Phagan was murdered, Leo Frank was convicted of being a rich Yankee Jew in the wrong place at the wrong time, her real killer was allowed to cop a plea, an honest governor was hounded out of politics for commuting Frank’s sentence after discovering the evidence of his innocence--he didn’t dare pardon him--and Frank was then lynched by the good people of Georgia.
The officials who orchestrated one of the blackest episodes in the history of jurisprudence went on to get elected to high public office and die in bed. Larry McMurtry’s story illuminated the depressing facts of the tragedy with simple power, helping to set a great historical wrong at least partially to rights. And that was the story most people saw.
But now even-handed Rosenberg tells us that “Frank’s guilt or innocence is clouded” and that the evidence that demolished the testimony against him is “inconclusive,” and he “remains a puzzle, either a murderer or a victim of blind hate and ignorance.”
It is unlikely that the eyewitness who came forward in 1982 to testify to Frank’s innocence and the identity of the real killer did so to prove he could fool a polygraph, or that the state of Georgia pardoned Frank in 1986 because they felt his trial might have been conducted improperly. They did so because they made a mistake in convicting a man of a crime he did not commit, and were responsible for his death.
What program were you watching, Mr. Rosenberg?