Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy by Heather Ann Thompson

Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy by Heather Ann Thompson

Author:Heather Ann Thompson
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Pantheon
Published: 2016-08-23T00:00:00+00:00


A Long Journey Ahead

In the wake of their embarrassing defeat in the trial of Bernard “Shango” Stroble, Attica Special Prosecutor Anthony Simonetti and his stable of prosecutors lost some faith that the state would necessarily win the cases still slated to go to trial. In every case that had already gone to trial—including in the single one that they had managed to secure convictions, that of Hill and Pernasalice—the ABLD had relentlessly done its homework, and had managed to drum up substantial support in the court of public opinion. The ABLD had, for example, blanketed the recent Erie County fair with colorful, friendly leaflets questioning whether this was indeed a fair county and asking residents to be their best selves when sitting on Attica juries. Thanks to the ABLD it was unlikely that a single potential juror in Buffalo had not at least heard of, if not actually seen, one of these flyers.

Nevertheless, Simonetti and the judge overseeing all of the Attica cases, Carmen Ball, were determined that all remaining cases proceed as quickly as possible. Both men were in fact facing some media criticism that, although sixty-two prisoners had been charged with committing crimes at Attica back in December of 1972 (and some of them, like Shango, had been named in numerous indictments at the same time), by 1975 prosecutors had only managed to bring five cases to trial. A key challenge that Simonetti’s team of prosecutors had faced from the beginning was the considerable amount of time it had been forced to expend on responding to the ABLD’s strategically deployed blizzard of motions. What is more, the ABLD’s myriad motions had at times been granted, which also set back prosecutors—particularly when they were required to dismiss charges against a given defendant altogether. As The New York Times noted in November of 1975, charges against twenty-seven defendants had eventually been dismissed for lack of evidence or other legal reasons.1 Six defendants had passed away while waiting for their trials.2

The state still had plenty of Attica defendants left to try, however, and Judge Ball was committed to getting these scheduled as soon as possible.3 One of the cases still to be tried was that charging several Attica Brothers, including Donald Noble, with the attempted murder of Attica correction officer Michael Smith “by cutting [him] with a sharp instrument” up on the catwalk on September 13, 1971.4 The fact that Michael Smith himself had told prosecutors that Donald Noble had actually tried to save him from being gunned down on the catwalk on that day, or the truth that Smith’s most catastrophic injuries had come not from any homemade prisoner weapon but rather from having been shot numerous times on the day of the retaking, had not stood in the way of their desire to pursue this case against these indictees.

The case they were most eager to get to trial, however, was the so-called leadership indictment, indictment no. 5, which had charged sixteen Attica Brothers—the ones who had been in segregation after having had Xs chalked onto their backs on the day of the retaking—with multiple offenses.


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