70-year delay

THE Georgia parole board's posthumous pardon of Leo Frank is a satisfying move toward a squaring of accounts within the justice system. Leo Frank was the Jewish businessman lynched in 1915 after he was convicted of the murder of 13-year-old Mary Phagan, an employee in his Atlanta pencil factory. The emotional trial and lynching were part of a wave of anti-Semitism at the time and a factor in the creation of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith.

The case came back into the news in 1982, when Alonzo Mann, who had been a teen-aged office boy at the time of the murder, came forward to say what he had been too afraid to say at the time of the trial: Mann had seen someone else, the factory janitor, with the victim's body.

Since then, Jewish groups had pushed for a new trial for Mr. Frank. The Georgia parole board ruled in 1983 that the new evidence was not sufficient to prove Mr. Frank's innocence, and so a pardon was sought instead, on the grounds that justice had been denied Mr. Frank.

This case should remind us all that public mechanisms of justice are fragile and more susceptible than they should be to the emotions of the times. As judges and juries continue to weigh guilt and innocence and reach their verdicts -- as they must -- they should do so with the memory of cases like this before them.

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