Confessions of a Triangle Juror
Originally published, December 29, 1911
Another juror from the Triangle trial regrets the verdict he gave. The Forverts published an account yesterday regarding juror No. 2 who stated that the verdict was ‘unjust.’ He regretted the fact that he let himself be convinced by others to acquit the bosses. Another juror Victor Shteynman, juror No. 10, expressed the same feeling . He is a shirt manufacturer whose office is at 73 Franklin Street. His statement has caused a sensation in the press. He places blame for their acquittal solely on the judge.
“I couldn’t sleep the entire night,” Shteynman stated to reporters. “I knew I hadn’t fulfilled my duty to the community. But I want to tell you, I couldn’t complete my duty and follow the Judge’s orders at the same time, save that one time I did vote that the bosses were guilty.
“Would that I was never on that jury,” he explained. “The entire time of the trial I was disturbed, knowing that witnesses from both sides were lying and it would be extremely difficult for the jury to reach a verdict.
“When I was in the jury room I was very confused and didn’t vote the first time. I knew that people wanted someone punished for the fire.
“I believe that the Washington Place door was locked during the fire. But I wasn’t certain that the bosses knew it was locked. The judge warned us we must not convict the bosses unless we were certain that they knew the doors were locked. I didn’t know what to do.
“It would have been much simpler for me to vote for a conviction if instead of sentencing the bosses we had convicted the factory inspectors. Their responsibility was clear to us all. It was more their responsibility to ensure the doors stayed open, than the bosses’. But they were not on trial. The whole time I was seated in the jury room I didn’t stop trying to understand these inspectors.
“Soon, other jurors began debating with me about my silence and my abstaining from voting. Only one juror was silent. He also couldn’t decide how to react and didn’t vote either way.
“Earlier 2 jurors who had voted the first time that the bosses were guilty spoke to me. They asked me to vote with them. I wasn’t able to do that yet. I couldn’t get the judge’s words out of my mind — that I must be certain the bosses knew about the locked door.”
“Did the plaintiff not convince you with their evidence?” The reporter asked Shteynman.
“No, the testimony from both sides was dishonest. They parroted their testimony. I couldn’t believe it.
“I was convinced the door was locked. I believed the silent evidence, the burnt door and the bolted lock. But I also believed what was presented by the accused, that the lock had been nailed onto that bit of door.
“Therefore it was difficult for me to decide. I thought, surely one of the frightened girls had given the lock a push and thereby caused the door to lock and if that had really been the case, the bosses couldn’t have known. The judge warned us that if we had doubt whether or not the bosses knew, we must not find them guilty.”
“Did other jurors believe the door was locked during the fire?” the reporter asked.
“I think they did believe. But we couldn’t release ourselves from the judges warning,”
“How did you eventually come to the decision to release them?”
“I don’t recall well enough. Twice I abstained from voting. Then two jurors, who first voted ‘guilty,’ gave in and the second juror who also hadn’t voted also gave in. At the third ballot eleven voted ‘not guilty.’
“They all came to me telling me that I should vote in the next round. I had to follow their orders. I struggled bitterly within my heart. I voted ‘guilty.’
“And then all eleven appealed to me telling me I had to convince them that Harris and Blanck knew the door was locked the day of the fire. Naturally, I couldn’t do it. I had to give in.”
The reporter then asked Shteynman if he had a family, a wife and children.
“I have two children,” he replied. “They are the same age as the girls who burned to death in the Triangle fire. And that disturbed me and made it even harder for me to release the bosses. But I couldn’t do otherwise. I had to follow the judge.
“I have no more to say. I’ve told you all I could. You can only say on my behalf, that I hope the government will do something to prevent such catastrophes as the Triangle fire.”
That statement evidently caused a sensation throughout the city. Many prominent lawyers sharply criticized the jurors. They pointed out that after it’s decision, it would be impossible to sentence anyone with criminal negligence for the death of innocent people. They also spoke about the similarity to the “Slocum” ship case and the evidence and responsibility for deaths of hundreds of women and children. There the ship’s captain was far less negligent than the bosses for the drowning and was found guilty and sentenced to ten years imprisonment.
Newspaper reporters met with additional jurors, but each refused to speak with them. The jury foreman, Leo Abraham, said the following: “Eight jurors from the very beginning voted ‘not guilty.’ I have nothing further to say. Regarding Shteynman, well, I had best not say anything.”
Another juror, a Mr. Hiers said that his conscience is clear. “Nobody is responsible for this tragedy.” He said, “It was an act of God. I think the Triangle Factory was managed as good if not better than other factories. I spoke with witnesses and believe the girls who worked in the Triangle Shop weren’t as experienced as girls in other shops and therefore quickly became panicked. “
“Regarding Shteynman, he didn’t mention a thing about the judge’s speech, in the jury room. Generally, he had little to say. He had a serious demeanor and repeated what others were saying.”
The issue of whether or not the bosses will be prosecuted again will be hotly debated now due to the general discontent with the verdict. The district attorney has the means but judging from how they were discussing it in his office yesterday, he won’t prosecute the bosses anew. This time they were prosecuted only for the death of Margaret Schwartz. Now they can be prosecuted for the death of another and the locked door on the ninth floor where a pile of 28 dead was found who could have escaped had the door been open.