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‘The People V. Leo Frank’ Premieres Monday on PBS

The documentary “The People v. Leo Frank,” which re-tells a true century-old story of a murder trial, racial stereotype, and a lynching, premieres Monday at 10 p.m. ET on PBS.

The People v. Leo Frank

The People v. Leo Frank

In 1913 Atlanta, a child worker, Mary Phagan, was found dead in the basement of the National Pencil Company.  Police focused on Phagan’s boss, Leo Frank, a Jewish engineer who recently arrived from New York.  Frank’s murder trial became a free-for-all of racial stereotypes and contradictions, according to the film’s web site.

Frank was found guilty and sentenced to death, mostly based on what the state’s star witness, Jim Conley, a black factory sweeper, said.  Frank’s lawyers appealed the conviction 13 times, and even went to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Meanwhile, The New York Times led a crusade to exonerate Frank, according to the film’s web site.  Georgia Governor John Slaton concluded that Frank did not receive a fair trial and changed his sentence to life in prison.

The decision sparked a backlash.  A group of 25 men in seven cars drove more than 100 miles to the state penitentiary, walked in, and abducted Frank.  They drove him to an oak grove near Phagan’s childhood home, where they reportedly put a noose around his neck and hung him.

The film includes recollections, commentary, and archival images, with Will Janowitz as Leo Frank and Seth Gilliam as Jim Conley, with a script drawn directly from the historical record.

For more about the film, click here.

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