One Week in May: Making Idaho's Trial of the Century

By Bruce Reichert

For one week in May of 2007, cast and crew gathered in the court room of Boise's historic Borah Building, to re-enact key moments in a trial that mesmerized the nation. Exactly one hundred years ago, union organizer Bill Haywood stood accused of paying Harry Orchard to dynamite former Governor Frank Steunenberg. His attorneys, Clarence Darrow and Edmund Richardson, desperately tried to keep Haywood from the hangman's noose. But prosecutors James Hawley and William Borah had other plans. They hoped to bring to justice the leaders of the Western Federation of Miners and thus end the violence that had plagued the states of Idaho and Colorado.

James Hawley in his closing argument to the jury. Hawley, played by actor Dan Peterson, was the lead prosecutor for the State. Clarence Darrow, played by actor Gary Anderson, had already made a name for himself before agreeing to defend Big Bill Haywood.
 
Big Bill Haywood, a leader of the militant Western Federation of Miners, was a tough, one-eyed miner. Harry Orchard, who experienced a religious conversion before the trial, accused Haywood of paying him to kill former Governor Frank Steunenberg.
Orchard's testimony was both riveting and essential to the State's case against Haywood. Glen Hughes and Matt Clark played these key figures in the re-enactment.
 
The audience listens attentively to the proceedings of the Trial. Each day new audience members voluntarily donned costumes coordinated by Joan Yost, had make-up applied by Frances Alves and her assistants, and sat patiently waiting for the next scene to play out. And occasionally they would be called upon to emote!
 
State Treasurer Ron Crane, who volunteered his nearby office space for the production, spent a day as a member of the audience. Joan Yost coordinated all the costumes for the cast and audience.
 
Audience members Byron Johnson and Susie Boring-Headlee pose for the camera. IdahoPTV producer and host Marcia Franklin plays newspaper reporter Ida Crouch Hazlett.
 
Director Pat Metzler discusses the next scene with producer Bruce Reichert and continuity producer John Crancer. Harry Orchard is seated, ready to begin testimony that will implicate Big Bill Haywood in the murder of a former Governor. Vern Bisterfeldt, a former police officer and current city councilman in real life, acts as the Deputy.
 
A bank of expensive lights fills the court room. All the "Trial of the Century" scenes were shot with two High Definition cameras, while a third camera caught the behind-the-scenes activity for a "Making of" program.
 
Each afternoon the cast and crew, including the audience, provided Boiseans with a touch of history as they walked two blocks from the court room to Boise's Rose Room for a catered lunch, thanks to the generosity of Life's Kitchen.
 
The jurors listen to hours and hours of testimony and speeches. Decorum is maintained by Judge Wood, played by Keith Couch.
 

James Hawley and William Borah, two of Idaho's most influential political figures, handled the prosecution of Big Bill Haywood.

And while many Idahoans believed Haywood was guilty of paying Harry Orchard to kill Steunenberg, the prosecution's case floundered on the lack of corroborating evidence.

Richard Klautsch and Dan Peterson provided the audience with some wonderful moments of wit and great speechifying!

 
Gary Anderson traveled from California to join the all-Idaho cast as Clarence Darrow. His Idanha Hotel fan was created by Morgan Dethman for the occasion. Primary shooters for our production were Jeff Tucker and Pat Metzler.
 
The jurors have handed the Judge their verdict. Big Bill Haywood stands to hear the sentence, surrounded by his defense team of Clarence Darrow and Edmund Richardson, played by actor Doug Copsey. Audience member Byron Johnson stands by the railing.
 
The audience is stunned by the verdict. No one saw it coming, not even defense attorney Clarence Darrow.
 

Some scholars believe the verdict of the Idaho jury in the summer of 1907 is the best example of the rule of law in American history. Certainly their verdict shocked many in the court room and beyond.

Idaho Public Television's hour-long program, "Assassination: Idaho's Trial of the Century," is scheduled to air November 15, 2007.