Free Press v. Fair Trial: Supreme Court Decisions since 1807

By Douglas S. Campbell | Go to book overview

Stroud v. U.S.

Robert F. Stroud v. The United States of America Docket No. 1919-276 251 U.S. 15, 64 L.Ed. 103, 40 S.Ct. 50 ( 1919) Argued October 22, 1919. Decided November 24, 1919.


Background

Changing the location (change of venue) of the trial is a solution to the problem of finding an impartial jury that can be traced back at least as far as to Coke. Here, however, instead of changing the location of the trial, the judge simply excluded citizens of a certain county from serving as jurors (change of venirepersons).


Circumstances

Robert F. Stroud is better known as "the Bird Man of Alcatraz" after a 1955 book by Thomas E. Gaddis and a 1962 film starring Burt Lancaster. The name is a bit of a misnomer, however, since Stroud was forced to give up his birds when transferred in 1942 from the federal prison at Leavenworth, Kansas -- for disciplinary reasons -- to Alcatraz. Although he had only a third grade education, he taught himself French, Spanish, and Greek, and he earned diplomas in mechanical drawing, engineering, music, theology, and mathematics from the Kansas State Agricultural College's extension division.

Stroud's work with birds can be traced to a single incident at Leavenworth Federal Prison. After being blown to his knees in the prison yard by a strong wind during a thunderstorm, he found himself face-to-face with a nest of four sparrows, which he then took to his solitary cell. There he applied a splint made out of a toothpick to one of the birds, which he named Runt. Eventually he was caring for as many as 300 birds (nearly all of them Roller Canaries), and he had built many cages and a crude laboratory in his cell to help him study bird diseases. In 1943 a 60,000-page manuscript he had written, called Stroud's Digest of Diseases of Birds, was published by Webb

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