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La Grande Observer 12/22/14

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Presumed innocence of someone accused of a crime is a cornerstone of the American justice system. Presumed guilt is a horrible pitfall.

Presumed innocence means that anyone can go into a trial court and not have the judge or jury predecide that they are guilty. A decision of guilt or innocence is made after all the evidence is presented.

SOMETIMES prejudice about a person's presumed guilt becomes so inflamed in a community that the accused is unable to get a fair trial. Such was the case with a Jewish man, Leo Frank, in 1913.

Brooklyn-born Frank was put on trial in Atlanta for the murder of Mary Phagan, a 13-year-old who worked in his pencil factory. The community, so outraged by the death of the young girl, became convinced that Frank was guilty. A janitor's false testimony and a publisher's sensationalism added fuel to the fire, ending in Frank being lynched.

Sixty-nine years later Alonzo Mann, who had been a 13-year-old office boy in the factory, came forward to say he had seen Jim Conley dragging Mary's body. Conley had threatened to kill Mann if he said something.

This true story of community prejudice and the death of an innocent man became the basis for the recent Broadway musical, "Parade." Eastern Oregon University's Chamber Choir will bring this stirring story to life with music and drama at 7:30 tonight and Saturday and at 3 p.m. Sunday in McKenzie Theatre.

Do people jump to conclusions today concerning the guilt of defendants? Think of the way some of the media has handled the arrests of Christian Longo and Edward Morris, charged with killing their families on the Oregon coast a year apart. They've sometimes been referred to as "accused killers." And then there's Ward Weaver, the man accused of killing two neighbor girls in Oregon City. Most Oregonians might be convinced that all three men are guilty, but they still deserve a fair trial. Will they be able to get one?

"Parade" offers a sober lesson on the dangers of prejudice and ignorance in society. People attending this weekend's production will be deeply moved. The musical is a vivid reminder that a civilized people must let facts and reason rule, rather than strong emotion or group hysteria.


"Parade," the Broadway musical being performed this weekend, is another example of how Eastern Oregon University reaches out to the community with music, theater, art and sports activities, enriching the lives of the people who live in the Grande Ronde Valley.

The UNIVERSITY-community connection is strong. Eastern faculty and student artists, athletes and performers regularly open their events to the public. We can show our gratitude to EOU by attending them.


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