ORSON WELLES defends 17 Hispanic youths in THE SLEEPY LAGOON MURDER CASE (ZOOT SUIT)
I’m not very hot about being nationalistically inclined. ...I hate that in anybody. I do truly believe that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.
—Orson Welles. 1974
I don't think a policeman should work like a dogcatcher, putting criminals behind bars. In any free country a policeman is supposed to enforce the law, and the law protects the guilty as well as the innocent. ...It has to be tough. The policeman's job is only easy in a police state. That's the whole point, Captain. Who is the boss, the cop or the law?
—Miguel Vargas to Hank Quinlan in Touch of Evil
Orson Welles above comments certainly seem to be worth re-visiting in light of the current state of civil liberties in America, where some of our highest elected officials seem to be acting like Hank Quinlan, feeling it's no longer necessary to obey "the fine print in the rule books" in order to catch criminals.
In any case, after reading the text of the 26-page SLEEPY LAGOON pamphlet that was published in June, 1943, it seems rather likely that the racist statements made by Mr. Ed Duran Ayres of the Los Angeles County Sherriff's office during the trial might well have contributed to the genesis of Hank Quinlan in Welles' Touch of Evil.
Below is the complete text of the SLEEPY LAGOON pamphlet, with a short Foreword by Welles, who relates a story told to him by Pete Vasquez, while he was waiting to be examined at the draft induction center in Los Angeles.
However, to set the scene, let's start with this paragraph taken from Welles FBI file, which states that The Citizen's Committe to Defend Mexican-American Youths was "known to be controlled by the Communist Party."
ORSON WELLES - FBI REPORT - April 15, 1943
On November 30, 1942, a group of figures in the Hollywood motion picture industry staged an invitational forum at the Beverly Hills Hotel, which was actually sponsored by the "Pan-African Security Council." The purpose of the forum was to discuss the trial of the twenty-two Mexican defendants in the Sleepy Lagoon murder case, which was pending at the time in the Los Angeles courts, and to raise money for their defense. Orson Welles acted as chairnan of this forum. Welles as chairman, opened the forum by stating that the most important minority question in the country today is the Negro question, but that almost of equal importance is the question of the Mexican minorities, which is of particular interest in Los Angeles and Southern California. The above-mentioned murder case was the reason for the creation of the Citizens Committee to Defend the Mexican Youth in the Sleepy Lagoon Murder Case, which organization is known to be controlled by the Communist Party. Many of the individuals who composed the Pan-American Security Council were also members of the Communist-inspired Citizen’s Committee to Defend the Mexican Youths.
THE SLEEPY LAGOON CASE
PREPARED BY THE SLEEPY LAGOON DEFENSE COMMITTEE
FORMERLY THE CITIZEN'S COMMITTEE
FOR THE DEFENSE OF MEXICAN-AMERICAN YOUTH
Los Angeles, California, 1943
PUBLISHED BY THE SLEEPY LAGOON DEFENSE COMITTEE
206 SOUTH SPRING ST
LOS ANGELES 12, CALIFORNIA
First printing June, 1943 - 10,000 Copies
Second printing, Sept., 1943 - 20,000 copies (revised)
Permission to reprint is hereby given
PRINTED IN U.S.A. BY THE MERCURY PRINTING CO., HOLLYWOOD
By ORSON WELLES
Here is what Pete Vasquez told me...
I met him at the induction center. He was ahead of me in the line. He'd been studying the clarinet and it turned out we had mutual friends among Negro Jazz musicians. He'd heard some of my broadcasts on Latin America, and he knew I was interested in what the Los Angeles papers have been calling "The Pachuco Murder."
"The fellas down in our section—there's nothing bad about them, no more than anywhere else. But things are tough. There's nowhere to go—no place to play games—or nothing—If the cops catch you on the street after 8 o'clock, usually they run you in—or rough you up, anyway. If you look like a Mexican you just better stay off the street, that's all—. And where can you go? It's real bad. I'm going into the Army, and it's all right with me. I'm glad to be going. Things will be better in the Army, and I'm glad of the chance to fight. It makes it hard, though, for a lot of our fellas to see things that way. They want to fight for their country, all right—but they want to feel like it's their country."
Just as the first edition of this pamphlet was rolling off the press there occurred, almost simultaneously and in widely scattered parts of the country, those insurrections, which President Roosevelt declared, "endanger our national unity and comfort our enemy."
Outbreaks against the Mexican and Negro peoples, in Mobile, Los Angeles, Beaumont and Detroit, made clear to the whole nation the pattern of Axis plans for the disruption of the home front at a time when the perspective of speedy victory abroad was opening to the United Nations.
This pattern first revealed itself, a whole year before the nation-wide outbreaks, in the Sleepy Lagoon Case.
Their 1942 success in railroading 17 innocent Mexican-American boys to jail had emboldened the Fifth Column in Los Angeles. It was therefore relatively easy, in June of 1943, for the defeatist press, the Native American fascists, and the corrupt and fascist-minded police force of that city to incite pogroms against the whole Mexican community. The so-called "zoot-suit" riots, quickly followed by the anti-Negro insurrections in Beaumont and Detroit, were the logical outcome of the Sleepy Lagoon frame-up.
This relationship was recognized by our Latin American allies. The entire press of Mexico, at the time it reported the "zoot-suit" riots, reprinted in full the infamous Ayres document and reviewed the Sleepy Lagoon case. While the Fifth Column element, the Sinarchists and Accion Nacional in Mexico, attempted to use the unfortunate situation provoked by the U. S. Fifth Column to whip up anti-American sentiment, Lombardo Toledano and Mexican labor called for firmer unity among the win-the-war forces in both countries to defeat the common enemy. If the Mexican Fifth Column had a limited success in capitalizing on the work of its U. S. counterpart, it was because Lombardo and other democratic leaders in Latin America were able to point to the activities of organized labor in the U. S. and of such groups as the Citizens' Committee as proof that not all Americans think like Ed. Duran Ayres or act like the prosecution that sent the 17 boys to jail.
That the anti-Mexican pogroms produced a situation which continues dangerous to hemisphere unity and to the war effort cannot, however, be denied. We have still to face that danger and combat it. Foreign Minister Padilla of Mexico has been obliged to make the further migration of Mexican agricultural workers to the United States dependent on firm measures to assure that they are not discriminated against when they cross the border. The whole program for bringing in Mexican workers to supply the agricultural labor needs of the West and southwest is threatened. Mexican-United States relations are subject to new and ominous strains and the unity of the hemisphere is imperiled.
And, just as two ways of life and thought are at war on the battlefields of Europe and Asia, so are two ways of thought and life grappling here at home. The indivisibility of the home and battlefronts is nowhere more clearly symbolized than in the Sleepy Lagoon case.
On April 20th, 1943, President Roosevelt met President Camacho on Mexican soil. He voiced the faith which enables men of all races, creeds and colors to join together in the fight against the common enemy, everywhere in the world. He told our Mexican neighbors, "Our two countries owe their independence to the fact that your ancestors and mine held the same truths to be worth fighting for and dying for. Hidalgo and Juarez were men of the same stamp as Washington and Jefferson."
And President Camacho replied, "Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln are present in the current decisions of your country. And, among your other claims to fame, your Excellency undoubtedly possesses that of having inflexibly fought to apply to the relations between the countries of this hemisphere the teachings of the same liberators."
The conviction of the 17 boys in the Sleepy Lagoon case is based on the "theory" that the Catholic priest Hidalgo and the Indian liberator Juarez, far from being "men of the same stamp as Washington and Jefferson," were "biologically inferior." And that there descendents can find no common cause with the "Anglo-Saxon" children of Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln.
The immediate and unconditional pardon of the 17 boys would therefore represent an important victory over that "theory" and over the chief propagator of racist nonsense—Adolph Hitler.
The demand for their pardon is more than a matter of simple justice—it has become a weapon for victory.
Council for Pan American Democracy
THE SLEEPY LAGOON CASE
On the night of August 2, 1942, one Jose Diaz left a drinking party at the Sleepy Lagoon ranch near Los Angeles, and sometime in the course of that night he died. It seems clear that Diaz was drinking heavily and fell into a roadway and was run over by a car. Whether or not he was also in a brawl before he was run over is not clear.
On January 13th, fifteen American-born boys of Mexican descent and two boys born in Mexico stood up to hear the verdict of a Los Angeles court. Twelve of them were found guilty of having conspired to murder Diaz, five were convicted of assault. Their sentences ranged from a few months to life imprisonment.
The lawyers say there is good reason to believe the seventeen boys were innocent, and no evidence at all to show even that they were present at the time that Diaz was involved in a brawl, assuming that he actually was in a brawl, let alone that they "conspired" to murder Jose Diaz. Two other boys, whose lawyers demanded a separate trial after the 17 had been convicted, were acquitted on the same evidence.
Seventeen for one! You don't have to be a lawyer to know that the Los Angeles District Attorney and the Los Angeles press were not "prosecuting" only 18-year-old Manuel Delgado or 19-year-old Henry Leyvas. Jose Ruiz, aged 17, was convicted "of murder in the first degree and of two counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to commit murder." You don't have to be a lawyer to know that Jose Ruiz did not stand alone at the bar of "justice."
It wasn't only seventeen boys who were on trial.
It was the whole Mexican people, and their children and their grandchildren. It was the whole of Latin America with its 130,000,000 people. It was the Good Neighbor Policy. It was the United Nations and all for which they fight.
It was that kind of trial.
It began to be that kind of a trial even before Jose Diaz met his death on August 2nd. The Los Angeles paper started it by building for a "crime wave" even before there was a crime. "MEXICAN GOON SQUADS." "ZOOT SUIT GANGS." "PACHUCO KILLERS." "JUVENILE GAND WAR LAID TO YOUTHS' DESIRE TO THRILL." Those were the curtain raisers, the headlines building for August 3rd.
On August 3rd the death of Jose Diaz was scare head news. And the stories were of Mexican boys "prowling in wolf-packs," armed with clubs and knives and automobile tools and tire irons, invading peaceful homes, beating and stabbing their victims to death.
On August 3rd every Mexican kid in Los Angeles was under suspicion as a "zoot-suit" killer. Cops lined up outside of dance halls, armed with pokers to which sharp razor blades were attached, and they ripped the peg-top trousers and "zoot-suits" of the boys as they came out.
Mexican boys were beaten, jailed. "Zoot-suits' and "Pachuco" hair cuts were crimes. It was a crime to be born in the U.S.A. — of a Spanish-speaking father or mother.
A lot of things were happening in the world that summer of 1942, and they were not unrelated to what happened on Los Angeles in August.
Mexico declared war against the Axis in May. In June, Roosevelt, Churchill and Molotov reached an agreement on the urgent task of opening a second front. In August, the people of Brazil, outraged when the Nazis sank more of their ships, demanded war. Churchill went to Moscow in August.
All through that summer Vice President Wallace's historic May 8th speech was reaching deeper into the hearts of Latin American people, awakening in the common man of the hemisphere a new will to fight for the victory it foretold.
Americans, Englishmen, Russians, Chinese, Latin’s—men of different races but of the "same stamp"—were forging a global unity.
There was altogether too much unity in the air to suit the Axis book.
And something else happened in August, even more closely related to the events in Los Angeles.
The Inter-American Monthly, an authoritative journal published in Washington, D.C., reported:
Both the Mexican and U. S. governments are holding their breath as a ticklish experiment in racial relations is launched. To fill the need for agricultural workers in the U. S. west and southwest, Mexican laborers are to be brought in on a temporary basis. A plan worked out between official agencies of the two countries specifies wage scales, conditions of work, immunity from military service; laborers will have their transport paid, and will return to Mexico when their work is done. In mid-August candidates for this mass migration were lining up a block deep outside the Ministry of Labor in Mexico City.
The trade unions in the U.S. conferred with the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM). Unions and governments worked together, in national and international unity. They were going to make sure that the Mexican labor battalions got a square deal. They were going to make sure that the wage scales and trade union rights of American workers were protected.
Unity was in the air, was growing.
And, while the Mexican and U. S. governments "held their breath," and the trade unions worked to make sure the "ticklish experiment in racial relations" worked—other forces got busy.
There were the old-time enemies of American labor. They wanted the New Mexican help to come cheap, and to keep it away from any fraternizing with American trade unionists. They wanted Mexican workers, but no fancy contracts to protect them.
The Falangists and Sinarchists and other Fifth Columnists in Mexico told the Mexican workers to stay home. They revived all the "negative memories," talked about "Yankee imperialism" and "gringo justice."
In May, Vice President Wallace warned that:
“We must be especially prepared to stifle the Fifth Columnists in the United States who will try to sabotage not merely our war materials plants, but our minds. We must be prepared for the worst kind of Fifth Column work in Latin America.”
In August, along with the first migration of Mexican war workers, Los Angeles had its newspaper "crime wave," its "zoot-suit" and "Pachuco" hysteria. Maybe that was an accident, but the timing was perfect.
And Sleepy Lagoon exploded like a well-placed time bomb.
After the Grand jury had returned an indictment and before the trial itself began, Mr. Ed Duran Ayres of the Foreign Relations Bureau of the Sheriff's Office, filed a statement.
That statement is the key to the Sleepy Lagoon case.
It isn't nice reading, but you will have to read a good chunk of it to understand why Sleepy Lagoon challenges every victory-minded person in the United States, Jews or Protestant or Catholic, Spanish-speaking or Mayflower descendant, immigrant or native-born.
"The biological basis," said Mr. Ayres, "is the main basis to work from."
How do you try a murder case on "the biological basis?" On that basis Hitler found every Jew in the world "guilty."
Mr. Ayres took in even more territory:
Although a wild cat and a domestic cat are of the same family they have certain biological characteristics so different that while one may be domesticated the other would have to be caged to be kept in captivity; and there is practically as much difference between the races of man as so aptly recognized by Rudyard Kipling when he said when writing of the Oriental, "East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet," which gives us an insight into the present problem because the Indian, from Alaska to Patagonia, is evidently Oriental in background—at least he shows many of the Oriental characteristics, especially so in his utter disregard for the value of life.
[We pause for station identification. This is not Radio Berlin. It is the "Foreign Relations Department" of the Office of the Sheriff of Los Angeles speaking.]
Mr. Ayres continues:
When the Spaniards conquered Mexico they found an organized society composed of many tribes of Indians ruled over by the Aztecs who were given over to human sacrifice. Historians record that as many as 30,000 Indians were sacrificed on their heathen altars in one day, their bodies being opened by stone knives and their hearts torn out while still beating. This total disregard for human life has always been universal throughout the Americas among the Indian population, which of course is well known to everyone.
It was Juarez, the pureblooded Indian who said, "Peace is respect for the right of others." Not blood lust, but love and freedom led Juarez and the people of Mexico to take up arms against the foreign tyrant, Emperor Maximilian.
Proud Mexican children of Juarez, proud Indians and mestizos of Latin America bound to us because you "hold the same truths to be worth fighting for and dying for!" Ed Duran Ayres speaks for the Axis enemy.
President Roosevelt, saying "Hidalgo and Juarez were men of the same stamp as Washington and Jefferson," President Roosevelt speaks for us!
We stand with Vice President Wallace, who said that the Nazi "doctrine that one race or one class is by heredity superior and that all other races or classes are supposed to be slaves" is "the devil's own religion of darkness."
Seventeen Mexican boys were on trial, and Ed. Duran Ayres continued to argue their "biological" guilt. He said:
The Caucasian, especially the Anglo-Saxon, when engaged in fighting, particularly among youths, resort to fisticuffs and may at times kick each other, which is considered unsupportive, but this Mexican element considers all that to be a sign of weakness, and all he knows and feels is a desire to use a knife or some lethal weapon. In other words, his desire is to kill, or at least let blood. That is why it is difficult for the Anglo-Saxon to understand the psychology of the Indian and for the Latin to understand the psychology of the Anglo-Saxon or those from Northern Europe.
President Roosevelt said, in Monterrey:
In the shaping of a common victory our people are finding that they have common aspirations. They can work for a common objective. Let us never lose our hold upon that truth.
If Ed. Duran Ayres is right, then President Roosevelt lied, then the United Nations is a lie, and the people of Latin America are not our Allies but strangers and enemies, and unity, in the nation or in the hemisphere, cannot be.
Divide and Conquer. That is the Axis formula! That was the formula for trying the Sleepy Lagoon case.
Mr. Ayres again:
Representatives of the Mexican colony... may be loathe to admit that (this crime wave) is in any way biological—for reasons one can quite understand, pride of race, nationality, etc., but the fact remains that the same factors, discrimination, lack of recreation facilities, economics, etc., have also always applied to the Chinese and Japanese in California, yet they have always been law abiding and have never given our authorities trouble except in that of opium among the Chinese and that of gambling among both the Japanese and Chinese, but such acts of violence as now are in evidence among the Mexicans has been entirely unknown among these two Oriental peoples. On the other hand, among the Filipinos crime of violence in proportion to their population is quite prevalent, and practically all of it over women. This is due to the fact that there are so few Filipino women here, and also the biological aspect enters into it, as the Filipino is a Malay, and ethnologists trace the Malayan people to the American Indian, ranging from the southwestern part of the United States down through Mexico, Central America and into South America. The Malay is even more vicious than the Mongolian—to which race the Japanese and Chinese of course belong. In fact, the Malay seems to have all the bad qualities of the Mongolian and none of the good qualities. As to the Negro, we also have a biological aspect, to which the contributing factors are the same as in respect to the Mexican—which only aggravates the conditions, as to the two races.
Fifteen American-born Mexican boys and two Mexican-born boys were punished for a single death. Mr. Ayres made it perfectly clear that this Nazi policy of "collective guilt," like his theory of "biological guilt" is to be accepted as the guiding principle for American courts.
Again let us repeat; the hoodlum element as a whole must be indicted as a whole. The time to rehabilitate them is both before and after the crime has been committed, as well as during his incarceration, but it appears useless to turn him loose without having served a sentence ... It is just as essential to incarcerate every member of a particular gang, whether there be 10 or 50, as it is to incarcerate one or two of the ringleaders.
Divide and conquer. The harvest sown by Ed. Duran Ayres—and the Hearst press, and the California appeasers, and the labor-haters—that harvest was smugly reaped by the Axis, which on January 13th got the verdict its agents, had insured.
On January 13th the Axis radio beamed to Latin America carried the following message in Spanish:
In Los Angeles, California, the so-called "City of the Angels," twelve Mexican boys were found guilty today of a single murder and five others were convicted of assault growing out of the same case. The 360,000 Mexicans of Los Angeles are reported up in arms over this Yankee persecution. The concentration camps of Los Angeles are said to be overflowing with members of this persecuted minority. This is justice for you, as practiced by the "Good Neighbor," Uncle Sam, a justice that demands seventeen victims for one crime.
We are at war. We are at war not only with the armies of the Axis powers, but also with the poison gas of their doctrine, with the "biological basis" of Hitler and with his theories of race supremacy.
The unity of all races, creeds and colors has been sealed in blood, in the blood of our heroes of Bataan and Corregidor, Stalingrad, Tunis and Bizerte, in the vast expanses of China, in the African desert and the mountain passes of the Caucasus. Our coming victory on the continent of Europe will be won by "men of the same stamp" though different races, and it will be the victory of all—Indians, Malays, Chinese, Negroes, Russians, Slavs, French, English, Americans, yes, and of Germans, Italians and Japanese. The rivers of blood will wash away the fascist creed of "Aryan supremacy." And with it will go the last vestiges of discrimination in the United States, the Jim-Crow cars in the south, the signs in Los Angeles that still say "Mexicans and Negroes not allowed here."
That is not only the faith for which we fight; it is our armor and our sword, our weapon and our battle cry.
We are at war with the premise on which seventeen boys were tried and convicted in Los Angeles, sentenced to long prison terms on January 13th of this year. We are at war with the Nazi logic so clearly and unmistakably set forth by Mr. Ed. Duran Ayres, the logic which guided the judge and jury and dictated the verdict and the sentence.
And because this global war is everywhere a people's war, all of us are in it together; all of us together take up the challenge of Sleepy Lagoon.
In Los Angeles, a Citizens' Committee for the Defense of Mexican-American Youth has been organized. Its legal staff is studying the twelve volumes of the court record and will prepare an appeal. This appeal will set forth in detail the lack of evidence, the unreliability of prosecution witnesses, the lynch atmosphere created around the trial.
It will, for example, show how the boys were forbidden to get haircuts during the course of the trial, or to receive clean clothing from home. It will show how defense lawyer George Shibley charged that District Attorney Shoemaker "is purposely trying to have these boys look like mobsters, like disreputable persons, and is trying to exploit the fact that they are foreign in appearance."
And how District Attorney Shoemaker replied, "the appearance of the defendants is distinctive." The prosecution, he said, regarded as important evidence "their style of hair-cut, the thick heavy heads of hair, the duck-tail comb, the pachuco pants and things of that kind."
In the appellate court the defense will show that no eyewitness testimony in any way connected any of the boys with the death of Jose Diaz, that witnesses were intimidated, that the boys themselves were beaten and threatened, that defense attorneys were not permitted to consult their clients in the courtroom.
The defense lawyers have a case—a legal case—and they will try it in a lawyer-like way, in accordance with the laws of the state of California and the United States of America. The people of California and of the United States will back them up.
As we take the offensive against the Axis enemies everywhere in the world, we take the offensive against their agents and stooges and dupes in California.
Against Ed. Duran Ayres and his "biological basis."
Against Sheriff Eugene Biscailuz who complained, "I advocated months ago that we handle them like criminals, but it is hard to make society understand that children can be treated like that."
Against the Hearst press and its headline-made "crime waves."
Against the Sinarchists and the Falangists, and against every organized group, Mexican or American, that tries to disrupt our unity.
For this offensive we need an army, a big army and a united army. We need the united strength of the American trade unions with their more than eleven million members, fighting for the solidarity of labor at home and throughout the hemisphere.
We need the churchmen of all faiths, and their congregations to proclaim the unity of all races, creeds and colors, at home and throughout the hemisphere.
We need Americans of all strains and origins, Filipinos and Chinese, Poles and Czechs, Negroes and Jews and Puerto Ricans and Scandinavians and Irishmen to fight together against the attack on the Mexican minority as an attack against themselves.
And above all we need the Mexicans, all the Mexicans in the United States. Some of them came here long ago, to build our railroads and cultivate our fields. Some came in 1917, to help us win another war. And now thousands more are coming in answer to our call for help. We need them now to take the places of our boys gone to the fighting fronts. But we need them also to take up with us the challenge thrown down by Ed. Duran Ayres. We need all they bring us from their ancient culture, their long, proud, rich history.
"Hidalgo and Juarez were men of the same stamp as Washington and Jefferson," President Roosevelt said. "It was therefore inevitable that our two countries should find themselves aligned together in the great struggle which is being fought today to determine whether this shall be a free world or a slave world." So too it is inevitable that all of us should fight together in the case of Sleepy Lagoon.
The seventeen kids believe in us. One of them recently wrote:
It makes me feel good to know that the people are trying to help us. I had gave up hope, but when I received your letter I said if the people are trying to help us well I got to have hope. I know that all of us here will try to make a good record. I know that the mothers are doing all they can for us.
Seventeen scared kids in San Quentin, trying to "make a good record."
We have pledged to do all we can for them.
WE, TOO, MUST "MAKE A GOOD RECORD. “ON THE GOOD RECORDS OF ALL OF US DEPENDS OUR COMMON VICTORY.”
A SUMMARY OF FACTS IN THE SLEEPY LAGOON CASE
During June and July of 1942 the Los Angeles press began to build a "crime wave" among Mexican-American youth which was unsubstantiated by any official records. Stories of arrests were played up on the front pages. No mention was made of subsequent release for lack of any charge.
Early in the morning of August 2, 1942 one Jose Diaz was killed and two men were stabbed and beaten at the Delgadillo home on the Williams Ranch. The prosecution based its case on this theory: That the defendants were all members of an organized group known as the "38th Street Gang"; that one of its members, Henry Leyvas, was beaten by members of a rival gang at a reservoir near the Williams Ranch nicknamed "Sleepy Lagoon"; that Leyvas gathered his gang and returned armed and organized, for the purpose of revenge on the rival gang who were said to be at the party at the Delgadillo home; that in the course of the fight which occurred on their arrival at the party the killing occurred.
However, one of the main prosecution witnesses testified that Diaz had been run over by a car earlier in the evening. Additional facts brought out show clearly that long before the defendants arrived at the party there had been a brawl during which Diaz might have been killed; that some people had been evicted from the party by the Delgadillos at that time; that the evicted people had promised to return to get even; that the complaining witnesses mistook the defendants for the boys who had threatened to return; that the Delgadillos attacked the defendants on their arrival at the party.
It is most significant that two other boys, charged in a joint indictment with the 17 convicted boys, were never brought to trial. They were scheduled to be tried separately after the trial of the others was completed. The indictment against them was dismissed upon the motion of the District Attorney on the grounds of insufficient evidence—the same evidence which had been used to convict the 17.
These boys must be freed. This weapon of the Axis must be removed. For these reasons and in the name of justice, all organizations and all fair-minded citizens throughout the United States should aid in the appeal.
A short biography of the boys convicted in the Sleepy Lagoon Case
Three were convicted of first-degree murder and two counts of assault and are now serving life sentences at San Quentin Prison.
Henry Leyvas, 20, worked hard on his father's ranch until the day in August 1942 when he went down to the Sheriff's substation, because he heard they were looking for him. It was several days after that before anyone saw or heard from Henry. He was being held incommunicado—then his attorney unexpectedly walked into a room where he was handcuffed to a chair, being brutally beaten by the police.
Jose "Chepe" Ruiz, 18, wanted to play Big League Baseball—instead he's on the team at San Quentin. Chepe has had a good education in police methods already. In May 1942 he was arrested on "suspicion" of robbery and had his head cracked open by the policeman's gun—then found not guilty of the charge.
Robert Telles, 18, was working in a defense industry. Bobby has a talent for drawing and a sense of humor, which didn't leave him even during the long bitter days of the thirteen-weeks trial, when he found it possible to draw caricatures that made the other 21 unhappy kids smile.
Nine were convicted of second-degree murder and two counts of assault and are now serving sentences of 5 years to life at San Quentin.
Manuel Reyes, 17, joined the Navy in July 1942. He was to have taken the pledge, but was arrested a few days before the date set. Manuel writes from San Quentin: "...we were treated like if we were German spies or Japs. They didn't figure we are Americans, just like everybody else that is born in this country. Well, anyway, if I didn't get to join the Navy to do my part in this war, I am still doing my part for my country behind these walls. I am buying Defense Stamps and going to volunteer to do some war work."
Angel Padilla, 18, was a furniture worker. He was beaten by Officers Hopkinson and Gallardo. "They hit me in the teeth and ribs and they kicked me below the belt. I couldn't get out of bed for a week."
Henry Ynostroza, 18, is married and the father of a year-old child. Henry supported his mother and two sisters since he was fifteen. He was beaten too. The officers kicked him in the legs till they were black and blue, and hit him with their fists all over his body.
Ysmel "Smiles" Parra, 24, married and the father of a two-year-old girl. Smiles was working in a furniture factory. He writes from San Quentin: "It has come to my attention that there are many people who are trying to help us because they feel that our conviction was an injustice. I wish it were possible to thank them all personally." He's on the baseball team at San Quentin.
Manuel Delgado, 19, married and the father of two children, one born the day after he arrived at San Quentin. Manuel is a woodworker, was earning ten dollars a day at the time of his arrest. Now he's on the baseball team at San Quentin. Gus Zamora, 21, was a furniture worker. Now at San Quentin, he makes cargo slings for the war effort and plays on the softball team.
Victor Rodman Thompson, 21, known to his friends, as "Bobby" is the one Anglo-American in the group. During the trial the prosecutor implied that Bobby was as "bad" as the Mexicans because he went around with them.
Jack Melendez, 21, had already been sworn into the Navy before his arrest. The dishonorable discharge, which came through about a week after his conviction, was "like kicking a guy when he's down." Jack's brother has been overseas since May 1942 and Jack says that the thing that bothers him most about being in prison is that he can't be "over there" doing his share. He is doing office work in the hospital at San Quentin.
John Matuz, 20, had been in Alaska, working for the U. S. Engineering Department. When he was arrested the officers refused to believe that the $98 he had with him was his. "They tried to make me say I stole it, and they smacked me around until I passed out."
Five of the boys are serving County Jail sentences ranging from six months to one year, having been convicted of assault. They are:
Andrew Acosta, Victor Segobia, Eugene Carpio, Benny Alvarez, Joe Valenzuela.
The 17 kids believe in you!
HERE IS HOW YOU CAN HELP THEM
Get every member of your organization and every friend to send letters to Governor Warren, Sacramento, California, asking for the release of the Sleepy Lagoon defendants. Send copies to us.
Order copies of this pamphlet for distribution among the members of your organization and your friends.
Contribute as much as you can and as quickly as you can. Thousands of dollars are needed at once to support the appeals for reversal of the convictions.
DO YOUR PART TO WIN THE WAR ON THE HOME FRONT!
You can help to crush the Axis Fifth Column in our midst by helping to free the 17 boys convicted in the Sleepy Lagoon Case. Much Axis propaganda has been made over these unjust convictions. It is up to you to help show our minority groups that through our democratic institutions and the organized will of the people, such grave injustices are rectified.
SPONSORS (Partial List)
Editor - California Eagle
International Workers Order
President International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union
Council for Pan American Democracy
Josefina Fierro de Bright
Director Calif. State CIO Minorities Committee
Screen Office Employees Guild
President American Newspaper Guild
Screen Artist's Guild
Phillip M. Connelly
Calif. State CIO Pres.
Int'l Workers Order
John Warren Day
Dean, Grace Cathedral Topeka, Kansas
CIO Legislative Director
Chairman, Los Angeles CIO Committee on Mexican Affairs
Hon. Augustus F. Hawkins
Rep. 62 A.D. Los Angeles
Int'l Rep. UER & MWA
John Howard Lawson
Prof. F. O. Matthiessen
Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union of America
President Trans. Workers Union of America
Mrs. Will Rogers Jr.
Rev. Clayton D. Russell
Peoples Independent Church of Christ
R. Lal Singh
Editor—"Our Daily Bread"
Ferdinand C. Smith
National Secretary, National Maritime Union of America
Welles continued to be interested in the case after the youths had been convicted on the murder charges, sending this letter of support to the parole board in San Quentin. Shortly afterwards the appeals court ordered the youths freed, citing the lack of credible evidence used to convict them.
March 1, 1944
After a very careful examination of the records and facts of the trial, I am convinced that the boys in the Sleepy Lagoon case were not given a fair trial, and that their conviction could only have been influenced by anti-Mexican prejudice. I am convinced, also, that the causes leading up to this case, as well as its outcome, are of great importance to the Mexican minority in this community. That is to say, the case has importance aside from the boys incriminated — the whole community is undermined. Any attempt at good relations is impaired — as is the importance of unity in the furtherance of the war effort. To allow an injustice like this to stand is to impede the progress of unity.
I have heard of the splendid record the boys have made in San Quentin — each having made a fine showing for himself in behavior, cooperation, etc.
Because this case is a very special one for the above reasons, I am of the opinion that it merits special attention on the part of the Board Members. Many people in the film colony have expressed great interest in it, and I feel I am speaking for them, too, in making this plea.