Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Wheels of Justice, Part Two

While newspaper reports can take a drama-infused moment and convert it into dry, impartial recitation, don't think for a moment that the unfolding events of this scene—the airport shooting which killed a suspected member of a smuggling ring in southern California—were anything but wrought with emotion. From the moment of the coroner's inquest, when flight instructor Burley Chaney took the stand, deep emotions propelled some unscripted outbursts.

Discovering that Chaney's relationship with his now-dead student aviator stretched back to their mutual roots in Ohio, it can seem understandable to see his obvious emotion throughout the court proceedings.

At the Los Angeles County coroner's inquest in early May, 1927, rising to his feet at the witness stand, Chaney had hurled out, "You're a bunch of dirty murderers," speaking of the four uniformed immigration officers sitting in a row in front of him. Newspaper reports characterized him as red-faced and "swollen with rage" at the moment of his finger-pointing outburst. (The immigration agents—at least two of them—were exonerated of the charges after thirty minutes of deliberation by the coroner's jury.)

Still, it's hard to determine the source of anger for a person who not only witnessed the shooting of a friend sitting right before his eyes, but faced some serious charges in the affair, himself.

After the verdict was reached on the first of two counts facing Chaney and his two suspected accomplices—two other pilots were acquitted of that first count—the three were required to stand trial a second time. Beginning the next day, the task would be to determine whether the three aviators had conspired to violate United States immigration laws.

In that first hurdle, though immigration officials had claimed they had arrested six Chinese aliens—and insisted they had proof that the six had been smuggled across the border from Mexico—apparently the nexus could not be established between those aliens and the source of their transportation.

With this new trial, however, the task was simply to determine intent, not action.

The penalty, should the three be found guilty of this second charge, could be a sentence of up to two years in federal prison or a fine of ten thousand dollars. Or possibly both.

At the conclusion of that trial—Thursday, July 21, 1927—all three aviators were found guilty as charged. The sentencing would follow the next Monday. 

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