‘Monstrous misconduct’ nothing new in Dedham courthouse

Michael Proctor isn’t the first member of the Massachusetts State Police named Proctor to be disgraced by his testimony in a major murder case at the Dedham courthouse.

More than a century ago, Italian anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti were convicted of murdering a bank guard in Needham. Their trial, based on false evidence manufactured by a corrupt Norfolk County district attorney, became a national cause celebre, much bigger even than the Karen Read murder case of today.

Sacco and Vanzetti found guilty from the front page of the Boston Herald on July 15, 1921. (From Herald archives)

In 1923, one of the corrupt district attorney’s chief witnesses against the defendants was Capt. William Proctor of the Mass. State Police. In those primitive days of ballistics, he testified that the bullet that killed the guard was “consistent” from coming from Sacco’s pistol.

Except that it wasn’t. Proctor later claimed that he had been coerced into lying by the district attorney. Felix Frankfurter, the future Supreme Court justice, was shocked that a state trooper named Proctor would lie under oath. Another Harvard professor called Proctor’s perjury “monstrous misconduct.”

Proctor’s admission of perjury didn’t matter. The Italians were executed at Charlestown State Prison in 1927.

It is unknown whether the two Proctors from the Massachusetts State Police who delivered such appalling testimony at the same courthouse a century apart are related.

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