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Fourth International, August 1942


Walter Rourke

The Trial of the Assassin of Trotsky


From Fourth International, vol.3 No.8, August 1942, pp.233-236.
Transcribed, Edited & Formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for the ETOL.


The trial of the GPU murderer of Leon Trotsky is completing its second year with the criminal still to be sentenced. “Frank Jacson” or Jacques Mornard, as the assassin has called himself, has just employed another legal trick to continue the policy of dragging out the trial and postponing sentence. His latest is to accuse the trial judge of partiality.

Under Mexican law there is no trial jury. A case is turned over to a trial judge, who is required to hand down a verdict within one year. The trial consists of his investigation, examination of witnesses and the accused, etc., throughout the year’s period, with the prosecutor playing a relatively minor rôle compared to American court procedure.

The trial may be divided into two stages: the first was the period immediately following the murder on August 21, 1940 until January 1941; the second part extends from then to the present. During the first part, the GPU made no legal moves to defend its agent. Jacson took great pains to hide his GPU antecedents. Pretending to have been close to the Trotskyists in Europe, he fabricated a story that members of the Executive Committee of the Fourth International had sent him to Mexico to serve as a secretary for Trotsky. This pose as a disillusioned follower of Trotsky was Jacson’s main effort. In defining his motives for the crime, Jacson in general followed the line laid down in the “confession” letter placed in his pocket by GPU superiors. His only slips came when he forgot what had been written in his letter. [1]

In the course of interrogating Jacson about the motives for the crime, Trotsky’s attorney, Albert Goldman, showed up Jacson as a very unclever liar. Goldman demonstrated that Jacson lied about his income, about his passport, and about his so-called connections with the Fourth International. During this questioning Jacson’s “disagreements” and “discussions” with Trotsky were shown to be the purest invention, The GPU agent in his “confession” letter had pretended that Trotsky demanded that he go to Russia to commit sabotage and murder and that this had led to his determination to kill the man who had “ruined” him. It was established, however, that all the time Jacson had for all his deep laid plans and disagreements with Trotsky were 20 minutes – that was the total time he had spent with the Old Man during all his visits.

Jacson’s Canadian passport was traced to a dead member of the Stalinist International Brigade who had fought in the Spanish Civil War. It is well known that the GPU seized all Brigade passports for its own use.

These facts, plus the circumstances of the previous GPU attack on Trotsky’s life three months earlier, made it clear to everyone that Jacson, like Siqueiros before him, was one of Stalin’s agents ordered to kill Leon Trotsky.

All these vital and conclusive facts were brought out during the first period of the trial from August through December 1940. During this period the case was in the hands of Judge Raul Carranca Trujillo who, although he committed some legal errors that caused some trouble as the trial progressed, conducted the investigation honestly and fairly. He ordered that a psychoanalytical report be drawn up by Doctors Alfonso Quiroz and Jose Gomez Rebledo. This report is very complete and unfavorable to the assassin, concluding that he is sane but of a criminal type and a menace to society. It also concludes that he has accomplices and probably understands Russian. The unfavorable conclusions of this report caused the defense to appoint its own psychoanalysis, a Dr. Millan who, of course, must present contrary conclusions.

At the turn of the year, Judge Trujillo was made a Magistrate in a higher court and the case passed to Judge Manuel Rivera Vazquez. At about the same time, January 8, 1941, the GPU through intermediaries engaged a clever but unscrupulous lawyer to defend Jacson. This lawyer, Octavio Medellin Ostos, is still handling the case.

Jacson’s “defense” presented a well-nigh impossible problem for his lawyer and were it not for the precedent of the Siqueiros case [2], one could say with certainty that such a clear-cut case left no room for maneuvering. The GPU agent got off to a bad start: there was the famous “confession” letter that at least established the fact of premeditation, if nothing more. The criminal had destroyed all his documents – thereby proving that he wanted to hide his real identity; the Stalinist origin of his passport makes this understandable. Jacson himself had confessed the way he deceived Trotsky into sitting down to read something brought by the assassin in order to distract his victim’s attention. He confessed he had struck from behind and that Trotsky had made no previous move against him. These points are all important in Mexican law which has various grades of homicide or “calcifications.” Jacson had all “calcifications” against him: premeditation, breach of trust, advantage and treason.

The defense embarked on a tactic of delay with two possible escapes in view for Jacson – a “legal” and an illegal one. A “legal” escape might be arranged by maneuvering the case into the hands of some judge amenable to the inducements of a well-stocked GPU treasury. For this it was necessary to create and seize upon every pretext, no matter how small, to accuse Judge Rivera Vazquez of partiality against the prisoner. At the same time the defense had to lay the groundwork for another “version” of the crime which could give the hoped for, more amenable judge a basis for being more “impartial.” The illegal escape would be one arranged by corrupting the prison administration into permitting Jacson to walk out the front door. For these two possible escapes there were two prime necessities: time and a “new version” of the crime.

Jacson’s New Version

Three months after Ostos took his case and seven months after commission of the murder, Jacson suddenly announced that his key statements had been made while he was under the influence of some mysterious “liquid” with which he was injected and which made him lose consciousness and not know what he was saying. His original statements, besides much material about his earlier personal history, had dealt with his “motives” and his preparations for the crime. He had admitted in these statements that he had resolved to kill Trotsky days before August 20 (actually he started working on the assignment a couple of years before, but days suffice to establish premeditation); he had admitted buying a gun as well as having prepared the pickaxe – the murder weapon – in a carefully planned attack. These previous admissions, he now says, were made while he was drugged. True, Jacson at that time had reenacted the crime during the reconstruction carried out in Trotsky’s office. But due to an oversight, Judge Trujillo neglected to make sure that the prisoner’s lawyer was present and had signed the court record; therefore this reconstruction (a guarantee to all accused in Mexican law) did not have legal value and had to be repeated.

Under instructions from his new lawyer, Jacson refused to repeat his earlier description. Legally, nevertheless, all requirements for a conviction of murder were fulfilled by Jacson’s second reconstruction, but the defense claimed that the first description of the crime was “illogical with the statement by the accused” and “is contradicted scientifically by the autopsy certificate.” The defense pretends that the direction of the wound shows that the blow could not have been struck from behind. The defendant demanded a new reconstruction based on his “real” version of the crime (a version which he had not yet presented). The judge refused this since the former confession had not been shown false and therefore retained full legal weight in Mexican law.

In the meantime, during the last months of hearings in the case, the GPU’S lawyer called in many witnesses who could in reality add nothing to the record. Former secretaries and Trotskyists were called and questioned along a line similar to that followed by Goldman during his interrogation of Jacson: source of their funds, whether they ever used false names on passports, familiarity with Trotsky’s writings, their own political history, etc., in an effort to show that Jacson was not the only one who could not answer these questions satisfactorily; in each case these attempts failed miserably and only served to show that it was precisely a GPU agent who had difficulty with such questions.

In addition, these witnesses, as well as the members of the police guard outside of Trotsky’s home, were questioned repeatedly about Trotsky’s personal characteristics – young or old, strong or weak, agile or slow and clumsy, whether or not he usually went armed, whether he was given to violent outbursts. These questions indicated the future “new version” of the crime: “legitimate self-defense.”

Finally, the questions, especially those directed at the Trotskyists, had as their object the preparation for accusing the judge of partiality. Questions were asked involving long answers that had nothing to do with the case. For instance, Ostos would ask them to tell of Trotsky’s part in the Russian Revolution and the formation of the Red Army. Whenever the judge ruled out a question as irrelevant, the response was a “protest” from Jacson’s lawyer.

Shortly before the trial was closed, Estampa, a weekly, presented the defense with a gift from heaven. In an article devoted to an analysis of the case, the author incorrectly quoted Judge Rivera Vazquez as saying some very uncomplimentary things about the assassin. As a matter of fact, in response to a question about his opinion of Jacson, the judge had declined to answer and referred the reporter to the psychoanalytical report. The reporter presented the unfavorable conclusions of this report as though they were opinions uttered by the judge. The defense immediately presented this article as proof of the judge’s partiality and will no doubt use it to try to sustain its recent formal accusation that the judge had “professed a manifest hate for the accused.”

Nevertheless Judge Rivera Vazquez stood his ground and waited until the year provided by Mexican penal procedure for a trial had elapsed. Then he declared the case closed and ordered the prosecution and defense to proceed with the presentation of their conclusions. This presentation would be followed by the decision of the court and the pronouncement of sentence. On the very last day, after which no more proofs may be presented, Jacson handed in the new “version” of his crime. As was to be expected, it played up the self-defense line. After reading his article, says Jacson, Trotsky turning to him said he had written a lot of stupidities and in a contemptuous tone said, “you are nothing more than a blundering military man.” Then, continues Jacson, seeing his hopes of being a writer instead of a saboteur finally dashed to the ground, he reached the end of his endurance. Grabbing Trotsky by the coat he told him that he was the last man he would ruin – and struck him down. Later on in this document, Jacson writes, “I want to make note that Leon Trotsky began to fight and cry out before the blow in order to free himself from the grip of my left hand on his coat, in order, without doubt, to draw his revolver, but I was quicker than he and for that reason he did not have time to use it.” The murderer did not trouble to explain how it happened that he was so well prepared to “defend” himself – with a pickaxe, a knife and a 45. Nor did he say a word about the “confession” letter that shows that he went to the house to kill Trotsky, and was not driven to murder by Trotsky’s “insults.” This latest version was presented 13 months after the crime and can carry little weight in any just court.

And now, again at the last minute, Jacson’s attorney has accused the judge of partiality. After a trial is closed, the prosecution and defense draw up their conclusions. The time allowed for this task is determined by the number of pages in the court record. In this case, the record is unusually long – the psychoanalytical report alone being 1,300 pages. Ostos waited all this time and then, when he should have presented his conclusions, presented his accusation instead. How much time he can gain by this depends upon how quickly the higher court disposes of the issue. At any rate he gains somewhere between one and three months.

Since most confessed criminals believe that their judges are partial against them, there exists a natural reluctance of the higher courts to receive such accusations in good light. It is true, of course, that after being upheld the judge may still excuse himself and turn the case over to another. Given the clear-cut nature of the case there would seem to be little to worry about as long as the judge is at all just.

Nevertheless there is great danger if the case begins to change hands. As Natalia Trotsky wrote in the Mexican press when the “new version” first began to take form:

“If there had not been judges to maintain that Siqueiros assaulted our house only to rob two automobiles which he abandoned a few hundred meters away ... if there had not been judges to maintain that the gangsters of the GPU were not a gang but ‘co-thinkers’ and that the shots fired over our beds were only for ‘psychological’ effects, we would say beforehand: the GPU will fail in its attempt. But Siqueiros, assailant, assassin, incendiary and agent in the service of the GPU, is free. Why not Jacson?“

If the Jacson case leaves the court of Judge Rivera Vazquez, it will go to the First Penal Court – i.e., the court that freed Siqueiros. Undoubtedly the judge of that court could be forced to excuse himself also since he clearly is not impartial due to his handling of the Siqueiros case. But the broader possibilities presented to the GPU if Judge Rivera Vazquez is obliged to step aside are illustrated by the route the case will have to take. And meanwhile much time is gained to organize an illegal escape before sentence is pronounced.

It is known that on two different occasions the GPU had a plan laid to get Jacson out of jail. At times very reliable reports told of the extremely friendly relations between Jacson and the prison authorities – to the point of having drunken parties, music, women in his cell. There is also the distinct danger that the GPU will try to liquidate the case by liquidating Jacson; they no doubt would like to kill him and cast the blame on the Trotskyists. There are reports that Jacson is not any too anxious to run out and place himself in the hands of the GPU for precisely this reason. Last year a member of the police guard around his cell made written propositions to Natalia Trotsky’s secretary offering to kill Jacson for 50,000 pesos; after being turned down once he wrote a second letter discussing openly the terms of the deal. The letters were turned over to the authorities but the policeman disappeared. As to all these indications, however, it can only be said with certainty that the GPU must endeavor in some way to liquidate this two-year-old case, preferably by involving a Trotskyist in order to cover their own tracks. The attempt to find ways and means to organize such a provocation could alone explain the delaying tactics of the legal defense.

The Stalinist and Stalinized press has maintained complete silence over the Jacson case. Immediately after the murder, the Communist Party of Mexico washed its hands of the whole matter, not forgetting, however, to take precautions just in case its disagreeable experience with the Siqueiros case should be repeated; in the Siqueiros attack, it will be recalled, various leading CP members were exposed and indicted for having participated in or organized the assault. Said the CP after Trotsky’s murder:

“If the investigations should demonstrate that some one or several persons, members or sympathizers of the Communist Party – violating our fundamental principles – intervened in the preparation and execution of the attacks against Leon Trotsky, those persons will be expelled from this Party as elements harmful to it, as well as to the working class and to the people of Mexico.”

It has not been necessary for the Communist Party to “expel” any members because of their being proved to have participated in the murder of Leon Trotsky. This time the GPU covered its tracks a little better than in the Siqueiros case – using a foreigner unknown in Mexico and resorting to an individual in place of a mass attack. But Stalinism stands many times exposed in the murder of the Old Man. The GPU assassin’s passport alone is conclusive proof of his origin. The identity of his lies with the Stalinist anti-Trotsky slanders are a political proof of his connections. His fabricated story of his past was torn to bits by Albert Goldman’s interrogation. The abundance of funds at Jacson’s disposal for an expensive lawyer and many luxuries remain unexplained. And if his escape is arranged, it will constitute one more proof that Leon Trotsky’s murderer is in Stalin’s pay.

July 30, 1942, Mexico, D.F.


1. See The Assassination of Leon Trotsky, Proofs of Stalin’s Guilt, by Albert Goldman, Pioneer Publishers, New York,1940.

2. Siqueiros led the machine-gun attack on Trotsky’s house on May 24, 1940. He admitted having participated in the attack and a member of his gang made a full confession, yet the main charges against him, including the murder of the Trotsky secretary, Robert Sheldon Harte, were dropped. For the whole story read The Assassination of Robert Sheldon Harte in the May 1942 Fourth International.

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Last updated on 21.8.2008