LAhistory
"Kisses and hugs and tears of joy provided a dramatic denouement to the Sleepy Lagoon murder case … when eight young men walked out of the County Jail as free men," on October 23, 1944 reported the Los Angeles Times.
Twenty-two men were arrested for Jose Diaz’s murder in the summer of 1942 (the trial is still considered the largest mass trail in California’s history). Sleepy Lagoon defendants faced so much discrimination from the courts (i.e. defendants couldn’t change clothes, speak or confer with counsel) that Carey McWilliams characterized the trial more as “ceremonial lynching than a trial in the court of justice.” Of the 17 young men tried for murder, 12 were found guilty and sent to San Quentin along with five others who were found guilty of lesser crimes. Four were parolled early; the final eight released on Oct 23, 1944.Soon after the trial began in October 1942, the Citizens’ Committee for the Defense of Mexican American Youth was founded, later renamed Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee. Carey McWilliams became national chairman of the organization, which had many supporters, including Charlotta Bass, Louisa Moreno, Rita Hayworth, Vincent Price and Orson Welles. The Committee’s records are part of UCLA’s Special Collections and many are online, including this letter that Orson Welles wrote to the San Quentin Parole Board. Photo credit: Daily News photo, Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA.

"Kisses and hugs and tears of joy provided a dramatic denouement to the Sleepy Lagoon murder case … when eight young men walked out of the County Jail as free men," on October 23, 1944 reported the Los Angeles Times.

Twenty-two men were arrested for Jose Diaz’s murder in the summer of 1942 (the trial is still considered the largest mass trail in California’s history). Sleepy Lagoon defendants faced so much discrimination from the courts (i.e. defendants couldn’t change clothes, speak or confer with counsel) that Carey McWilliams characterized the trial more as “ceremonial lynching than a trial in the court of justice.” Of the 17 young men tried for murder, 12 were found guilty and sent to San Quentin along with five others who were found guilty of lesser crimes. Four were parolled early; the final eight released on Oct 23, 1944.

Soon after the trial began in October 1942, the Citizens’ Committee for the Defense of Mexican American Youth was founded, later renamed Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee. Carey McWilliams became national chairman of the organization, which had many supporters, including Charlotta Bass, Louisa Moreno, Rita Hayworth, Vincent Price and Orson Welles. The Committee’s records are part of UCLA’s Special Collections and many are online, including this letter that Orson Welles wrote to the San Quentin Parole Board.

Photo credit: Daily News photo, Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA.

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