One Day in Federal Court: Tacoma, Thursday, February 19, 1959 -- from Murray Morgan's Broadcast Script

  • By Murray Morgan
  • Posted 5/13/2016
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 11229

Former Teamsters Union leader Dave Beck (1894-1993) was tried in federal court in Tacoma on charges of income-tax evasion. Murray Morgan (1916-2000) covered the trial for his daily radio news program. The verdict was rendered on Thursday, February 19, 1959, Judge George Boldt (1903-1984) presiding. This is the script that Morgan wrote for the next day's broadcast about Beck, and a parade of other defendants who appeared in Judge Boldt's courtroom. It was contributed to HistoryLink by his daughter Lane Morgan.

Modern Morality Play

The modern morality play that is the life and times of Dave Beck came to a climax yesterday afternoon at three minutes after three when Court Clerk Rosemary Freeney read the verdicts brought in a by a jury of eight men and four women on the six counts of income tax evasion charged against the former president of the Teamsters International by the Federal Government.

Six times she read the word "Guilty."

Beck, who rose from rags to riches by cornering the market in transportation, conceivably could be reduced to modest circumstances -- to say nothing of a cell at McNeill -- by the verdict. He can be fined $10,000 and given a five-year term for each of the six counts, and the back taxes -- with interest and penalties -- total more than half a million. But Beck did not flinch or change expression as the verdicts were read. He rocked back slightly in his swivel chair at the lawyers' deck, and the color mounted up his neck and ears. But within a few moments, his complexion faded to normal, and by the time Judge Boldt was thanking the jury for their services -- and telling them that they were the best jurors he had encountered in 35 years of courtroom experience, Beck was smothering yawns.

Judge Boldt, as is his custom, remanded Beck to the custody of the U.S. Marshall -- who took him first to the small office just down the corridor from the courtroom and later transferred him by car to the Tacoma City Jail, where federal prisoners are kept in a special section.

The pudgy, bald-headed, blue-eyed man in the expensive suit was jovial as he got into the car. "I couldn't feel better," he told reporters as he left for the first night of his life to be spent behind bars.

This morning Defense Attorney Charles Burdell will ask Judge Boldt to set bail for Beck, pending action on his appeal. Burdell told me the notice of appeal will be filed immediately. He said that the appeal will stress the argument that Judge Boldt erred in his definition to the jury of what constitutes taxable income. Burdell said that after he had heard the judge's instruction to the jury on that matter, the verdict of guilty had not come as a surprise to him -- and that he and Beck had talked over its probability.

Beck, however, had seemed confident to the last. When he appeared in court to hear the verdict, he remarked to friends "This is all foolishness." He told reporters that he had just been starting a hamburger sandwich at the Winthrop when the call came in that the jury had reached a verdict -- and that he finished the sandwich before starting for the federal building. "It wasn't a club sandwich," he remarked to Sam Angeloff, who had once described him as eating a club sandwich in a story. "I haven't had a club sandwich in eight years." "I'll just say the condemned man ate a hearty sandwich," said Angeloff.

Jury Deliberations

While the defense may have anticipated the verdict after the instructions by Judge Boldt had closed off several possible favorable interpretations of Beck's income, the jury was by no means unanimous from the start.

The first ballot was taken on Tuesday afternoon. The jurors voted on one of the four counts in the indictment that related to money Beck received from the Seattle Joint Council Number 28 Building Association. This was the more complicated of the indictments -- and on the first ballot eight jurors felt that Beck was guilty, three said not guilty, and one ballot was blank.

Subsequent votes Tuesday saw the undecided ballot swinging over to vote innocent on the counts in this indictment ... the minority interpreting the law in a manner different from the majority.

On the question of Beck's guilt on the two counts in the other indictment, the opinion was more strongly against him. But on none of the six counts did all the jurors agree that Beck was guilty. Finally, about ten-thirty, the women on the jury asked if they couldn't sleep on it overnight.

Yesterday morning, the minority members begin to weaken. Arguing over cups of coffee that they brewed on a hot plate in the jury room, the jurors came to agreement on the two counts of the first indictment, and, vote by vote, narrowed their differences until all agreed Beck was guilty on all counts.

"We just came to the conclusion that we had been measuring the facts with the wrong yardstick," one of the early dissenters told me. "I feel sorry for him, but he was guilty."

Quite a few people expressed sympathy for Beck yesterday -- none more interestingly than one of the courtroom officials "Beck's a very warm, outgoing man," he remarked to me. "Not at all what I expected. He's the most considerate man I ever saw in this courtroom. In all the time I've been here he's the only man who ever handed me paper towels while I was drying my hands in the men's room."

A Mixed Bag of Defendants, an Infinite Variety of Problems

While the jury was out and the federal courtroom was otherwise unoccupied, Charles W. Billinghurst, the Assistant U.S. Attorney in charge of nearly everything except Dave Beck, ran through an accumulation of men awaiting sentencing or arraignment. They were a mixed bag and their stories led Judge Boldt to remark that the infinite variety of problems that people get themselves into was, to him, a never ending source of interest if not amazement.

There was the case of Michael Murphy, a neat, wiry carpenter who, while walking down the street in Aberdeen one day, brooding over money problems some of which stemmed from the impending birth of his third child, on an impulse walked into a bank and held it up with a toy pistol -- but, while the tellers were gathering up the cash he had demanded, decided he couldn't go through with the hold-up and surrendered.

Murphy, it develops, had had an unfortunate childhood. During the war, he served as a torpedoman on six submarine combat patrols -- an experience which left him with deep feelings of anxiety which have plagued him ever since. He has been under examination at Western State -- and Dr. Shovlin had written the court to say that he is not psychotic, and is safe to be at large.

In pondering what to do about Murphy, Judge Boldt said that bank robbery is as serious an offense as he gets in the regular run of court business -- that a robber threatens the lives of innocent bystanders because even if he does not shoot others may. But -- Boldt went on -- Murphy's attempt had been not so much vicious as foolish... and so, while aware of his heavy responsibility to the community as well as to the person standing before him, he would defer sentencing Murphy for five years and impose no fine. "But," he warned, "once for this kind of monkey business ought to be enough. You just grazed the very edge of a long stretch in the penitentiary."

The next defendant was Lester Rierson, a short, round-headed truck driver up for sentencing on a plea of guilty to have stolen government property from McChord Field.

His attorney said that Rierson was a victim of "bad company and unfortunate circumstances," and attributed the thefts to the fact that he had a wife and five children and Christmas was approaching. Twice before Rierson had brushed with the law in connection with assaults -- one of which the attorney brushed off as "a family matter" and the other involved Rierson's defense of the honor of a goat he had sold to a neighbor.

Judge Boldt noted Rierson's troubles, though, seemed to start in taverns -- and, while fining him $200 and deferring sentence for five years, he suggested, "Taverns would be a pretty good place to stay away from. Try the library -- or someplace else." He warned Rierson that he should live on his income. "After all," said Judge Boldt, "you're a Teamster. You make good money."

Among the other defendants was David Bartlett, a short, sandy-haired bootlegger from Chehalis, who pleaded guilty to possession of unlicensed liquor but not to owning what the government claims was one of the nicest, butane-fired stills to come to the attention of revenuers in recent years. He will be sentenced later.

Also pleading guilty were a parade file of Airmen from McChord, picked up by the FBI for swiping tools and household equipment, some of which they took home, some of which they sold to a used car dealer in Auburn. ...

Sentenced to Prison

Judge Boldt told William Gums, a 22-year-old car thief and reform-school graduate, who was arrested in a stolen car with a loaded 30-30, that it was just luck that he hadn't killed someone or been killed. "The kindest thing," said the judge, "is to give you opportunity for advantagement you will find in a federal penal institution. I say this seriously. If you have to be in one, a U.S. penitentiary is about the best there is in the world." He gave Gums three years.

And the final two men up for sentencing were Harry Gardner and Norman Whipple, as sad a pair as you're likely to encounter in court or out. Gardner, who is 25, had been in almost continual trouble with the law since he was 15. He had an unfortunate childhood, a sorry service record, a miserable marriage, and is an alcoholic. Recently he had been making a bit better go of it as a result of a friendship with a Seattle woman who served as a sort of foster mother for him. He got a job on ship, and while the ship was in Longview he got drunk and went ashore. In Vancouver he ran into Whipple, who gave him a plug of hashish and 3 ounces of marijuana. Gardner tried some marijuana himself, then -- he says -- got scared and decided he had to get rid of the hashish, which -- he said -- he had never seen before. "Anybody could have told me it was a plug of tobacco." Anyway, to get rid of the hashish he called a taxi -- and passed out -- and he left the narcotics on the seat of the taxi.

Judge Boldt was sympathetic -- but not at all convinced that it would be a good idea to turn Gardner loose on society again. While Gardner's proxy mother sobbed in the spectators section, Gardner was sentenced to five years in the penitentiary -- the minimum term allowable for a narcotics offense.

A similar penalty was meted out to Whipple, who had given Gardner the hashish, which Whipple had picked up some months earlier in Karachi. "You were making $525 a month in your trade," said the judge to the tiny, balding seaman. "Whatever a man in that status wants to be fooling with hashish, I don't know. I don't write the laws, I just apply them, and under the law I have no alternative but to turn you loose or send you up for five years. I sentence you to five years at hard labor."

For Judge Boldt it was a very full day.

He'll be back at the same stand, this morning.

###

Postscript

Dave Beck was paroled after spending two and a half years at McNeil Island Penitentiary. He was granted a state pardon by Governor Albert Rosellini (1910-2011) in 1965 and a federal pardon by President Gerald Ford in 1975.

Judge George Boldt became best known for the Boldt Decision (United State v. Washington) in 1974 that affirmed the treaty rights of Washington state tribes and changed the course of Northwest fisheries management. He also presided over the chaotic "Seattle Seven" conspiracy trial in 1970, where his contempt citations of the defendants were later overruled.


Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both HistoryLink.org and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
Major Support for HistoryLink.org Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You