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The People V. Leo Frank

Airs Thursday, November 12, 2009 at 10:30 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Leo Frank married into Atlanta's high society of German Jews when he wed Lucille Selig.

Mary Phagan, a child laborer in an Atlanta pencil factory, was 13 years old when she was murdered. The trial of her accused killer, Leo Frank, was one of the most sensational criminal cases in American history.

Above: Mary Phagan, a child laborer in an Atlanta pencil factory, was 13 years old when she was murdered. The trial of her accused killer, Leo Frank, was one of the most sensational criminal cases in American history.

In 1913 Atlanta, 13-year old Mary Phagan, is found dead in the basement of the National Pencil Company. The police soon focus on Mary Phagan's boss, Leo Frank, a Jewish engineer recently arrived from New York. Frank's murder trial becomes a free-for-all of racial stereotypes and contradictions. He is found guilty largely on the say of the state's star witness, Jim Conley, a black factory sweeper.

Leo Frank is sentenced to death, but his story is far from over. Frank's lawyers appeal the conviction 13 times, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Meanwhile, "The New York Times" leads a crusade to exonerate Frank. At the 11th hour, Georgia Governor John Slaton concludes that Frank had not received a fair trial and commutes his sentence from death to life in prison.

Gawkers at the lynching site of Leo Frank. No one was prosecuted.

Above: Gawkers at the lynching site of Leo Frank. No one was prosecuted.

But Slaton's decision ignites a backlash. On a hot August afternoon, 25 men drive to the state penitentiary, walk in and -- without any resistance -- abduct Frank. They drive him to an oak grove near Mary Phagan's childhood home. A noose is put around his neck and the small table on which he has been hoisted is kicked out from under him.

"The People V. Leo Frank" weaves drama with recollections, commentary and archival images. Will Janowitz ("The Sopranos") is Leo Frank and Seth Gilliam ("The Wire") plays Jim Conley with a script drawn directly from the historical record.

Watch the film trailer.