Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Mendel Beilis Trial: Witnesses

This is the summary of the first day of the Mendel Beilis trial, which occurred on 25 September, 1913 on the Julian calendar (“O.S.” which stands for Old Style), 8 October, 1913 on the Gregorian calendar (“N.S.” which stands for New Style).  The Tsarist Empire operated on the Julian calendar, which Britain and its colonies switched from in 1752.  Russia stayed on the Julian calendar until the revolution in 1917 and by then there was a 13 day difference between Gregorian and Julian dates. 

See the transcript translation for this first day.                          

See the chronology of the entire case.
The trial ran 34 days.  The transcript is 1436 double-column pages long in three volumes, two of testimony and one of closing speeches.  The translation is about 3000 pages long.  There are two reasons for that.

One is that, to help scholars, I obsessively recorded what transcript page material came from, and I started a new translation page with every new transcript page.  Some translation pages have only one line at the top.

I also took up space on some pages with obsessive footnotes on the results of research I did to make sure I transliterated and translated terms correctly, and recorded information I found on forensic issues and works cited to during the testimony.  And I footnoted cross-references between confirming and contradictory testimony from day to day. 

This day occupies pages 3 through 16 of Volume I of the transcript.

No witnesses testified.  The first order of business was establishing what witnesses had actually showed up after receiving a summons. 

See the list of almost 200 people who testified at trial.  The transcript shows that some 215 witnesses were summonsed.

Some of them would never show up.  E.V. Cheberyak and I.D. Latyshev were dead. The former was Andrey Yushchinsky’s best friend Zhenya; he died August 9, 1911.  The latter was one of the murderers; he died March 29, 1913.  N.V. Yushchinskaya was Andrey’s aunt Natalya, his mother’s full sister; she died in 1911 but I don’t know the date.  Zhenya and Natalya’s depositions were read in court, which was legal in Tsarist law.  Latyshev left no deposition and even the confession he signed moments before his death was not read in court.

Some of those who would never show up had been lost track of by the authorities.  They included E.F. Mishchuk, former chief of detectives in Kiev; I.P. Kozachenko, a government agent who sometimes was assigned to a jail cell to play informer; A.A. Pukhalsky who was in jail with Beilis; A.E. Karaev, who trapped one of the murderers into a confession and was sent to Siberia; and Aleksey Vygranov, a detective who worked on the Yushchinsky case with Nikolay Aleksandrovich Krasovsky and left Kiev on September 24 (Julian), never to be seen or heard from again. 

Footnotes to the translation identify these and other important witnesses – or non-witnesses.  Tsarist archives discussed in A.S. Tager’s Tsarist Regime and the Beilis Case from 1934, and Oskar Gruzenberg’s Memoirs, showed that some of those who were still alive were helped to get out of Dodge by the government.  All of them could have blown the government case, mostly because they knew about falsified evidence.

Next there is a discussion of jurors.  In 1913, Russia passed a law changing how prospective jurors were selected.  It weighted selection in favor of peasants and owners of small businesses.  Why such a law wasn’t passed immediately after the 1905 revolution that prompted so many reforms, and was reserved for 1913 when so many reforms had been repealed, is unknown.  Viktor Korolenko and Vasily Shulgin (the latter was editor of the Kievlyanin, a newspaper that supported the monarchy) both believed it was aimed at packing the Beilis jury with obedient muzhiks, which did indeed happen.  On this day, the only remaining juror with a higher education asked to be excused and the judge allowed it over the defense’s protests.

Third, Judge Boldyrev ruled to excuse the expert witnesses from attending the trial until 10 October (Julian).  Witnesses were divided into those who testified to facts, and those with expertise.  (The judge strictly enforced who could testify to what.)  The defense strongly objected to excusing the expert witnesses.  Some of them had been deposed very early in the investigation, and had no idea of subsequent developments, and while they had to listen to the indictment (read on day 2), volumes of material had been condensed into it after their last contact with the facts of the case.  If the experts don’t know the facts of the trial, two things will happen.  One is they won’t know on what the indictment was based, including things that might invalidate what they deposed to.  The other is that they will have to rely for this information on summaries presented to them while they are being questioned, and the summaries may be skewed based on the party asking the question.  In fact, as the trial proceeded, Criminal Prosecutor Oskar Vipper increasingly asked questions that misrepresented previously established facts, including facts on which the prosecution case relied. 

The defense protested about excusing the experts on the first day, on the grounds that quoting out of context is always prone to misrepresenting the full context.

About two thirds of the way through the first-day proceedings the prosecution makes a startling turnaround.  They argue strenuously that jurors have a duty to serve, but in the first phase of the day’s proceedings they dismissed the concept that witnesses have an absolute duty to appear.  This will not be the last time they argue opposite concepts; it always depends on the expediency of the moment.

Judge:  Fyodor Boldyrev

            Criminal Prosecutor, Oscar Vipper
            Civil Prosecutor Georgy Zamyslovsky
            Private Civil Prosecutor Aleksey Shmakov

            Oscar Gruzenberg
            Nikolay Karabchevsky
            Dmitry Grigorevich-Barsky
            Alexandr Zarudny
            Vasily Maklakov

Vipper was a hired gun from St. Petersburg who was not appointed to the trial until March, 1913.   Zamyslovsky was a powerful member of the Duma; he had to take the title Civil Prosecutor because he had never been admitted to the bar.  Shmakov was allowed to play a prosecutorial role after filing a lawsuit against Beilis as a private citizen, seeking damages in relation to Yushchinsky’s death, according to Beilis’ autobiography.

Gruzenberg was hired in October or November 1911 by Arnold Margolin, head of Beilis’ defense committee, along with Grigorevich-Barsky.  Karabchevsky, one of the deans of the Russian legal system, joined the team by the time Beilis was arraigned.  I’m not sure when or how Zarudny got involved, but Vasily Maklakov had the interesting history that his full brother was a rabid supporter of the Black Hundreds who eagerly promoted using Beilis as the victim in this trial.  Nikolay Maklakov signed off on a bribe to one of the prosecution witnesses.

To Day 2, "Indictment"

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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