Lefty Gilday

The death last week of William “Lefty” Gilday provided another journey to the past. Lefty Gilday was a career criminal, a murderer–a cop killer–, a bank robber, the target of the largest manhunt in the history of New England, a baseball player, a jailhouse lawyer, a relic of the confluence of opposition to the Vietnam war, radical leftist politics, and criminal opportunism. He died at the age of 82 after almost 41 years of incarceration for his role in the murder of Boston police officer Walter Schroeder during a robbery of the State Street Bank in Brighton on September 23, 1970.  He robbed the bank with other members of the Weather Underground, an offshoot of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), which included other ex-cons and two Brandeis students, Susan Saxe and Katherine Ann Power. They robbed the bank to obtain funds for their political activities, netting $26,585. Gilday was arrested five days after the robbery, tried, and sentenced to death. His death sentence was vacated by the 1972 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Furman v. Georgia, which struck down death penalties across the United States. Saxe eluded capture for five years, eventually being tried, convicted, and sentenced to seven years in prison. (Saxe was represented by Nancy Gertner, who later became a United States District Court judge and, among many accomplishments, presided over the copyright infringement trial of Joel Tenenbaum mentioned in the preceding post.) Power turned herself in 1993, 23 years after the robbery, and served six years in prison.

I may have met Gilday when I did legal work in the Massachusetts prisons from 1975-1977, but I’m not certain of it. I met and had ongoing relationships with many notorious criminals, jailhouse lawyers, and larger-than-life personalities in those years. If I did encounter Gilday it was brief and one-off, but he was part of the fabric of that time and place. In the ethos of prison culture shaped by revolutionary rhetoric Gilday possessed cache.  The notoriety of his crimes, status as a prison elder, and skill as a jailhouse lawyer meant one often heard his name inside the joint. He also received frequent mentions in the press: when co-defendant and fellow revolutionary Stanley Bond accidentally blew himself up inside Walpole State Prison, when Suxan Saxe was apprehended and tried, when Power turned herself in.  News of his death, and of his incomplete attempt at remorse when he was near life’s-end, brought it all back.

These articles provide some background:

7 Replies to “Lefty Gilday”

  1. Candelaria

    It’s a pity you don’t have a donate button! I’d most certainly donate to this
    superb blog! I guess for now i’ll settle for bookmarking and
    adding your RSS feed to my Google account. I look forward to
    new updates and will talk about this blog with my Facebook
    group. Chat soon!

  2. Marjorie

    An interesting discussion is worth comment. There’s no doubt
    that that you should write more about this issue, it may not be a
    taboo matter but typically people don’t discuss such subjects.
    To the next! Many thanks!!

  3. Sarah Schmidt

    Hi Professor Randall,

    When reading your blog post, the idea of a
    jailhouse lawyer really intrigued me. I had never heard of that term before so
    I did a little research on it. From my understanding it seems that they are
    prison mates that have some sort of knowledge of law. With this knowledge, they
    give advice and assistance to their fellow inmates. I was surprised to see that
    the Supreme Court has acknowledged jailhouse lawyers. These lawyers are legally
    allowed to help illiterate inmates with filing petitions for post-conviction
    relief if the state does not provide an alternative. However, there are also restrictions
    on formalized advice between inmates. The reason I was shocked to see the
    Supreme Court recognize jailhouse lawyers was because I did not expect that
    they would need to acknowledge their advice because I would see it as illegitimate
    But when reading your blog post and the articles you’ve attached, I understood
    why the Supreme court has to acknowledge it. It is a false assumption to
    believe that inmates are illiterate and unwise. There are so many inmates that
    have an incredible amount of knowledge and Gilday was a perfect example. As
    Jim Pingeon, the litigation director at the Massachusetts Correctional Legal
    Services stated, “he was definitely a leader among prisoners.” Gilday gained
    respect from his fellow inmates and they trusted his advice. A lawyer was even
    quoted saying “Often the clients trusted him more than their own lawyers.” This
    could be seen as trouble for the judicial system. An example may controversy between
    the ideas of the jailhouse lawyer and the main lawyer. I have realized this may
    be the reason that the Supreme Court needs to regulate the rights of jailhouse
    lawyers. Professor Randall, I was wondering if my logic has any truth to it. Thank you!

    • Anonymous

      I met a number of able and articulate jailhouse lawyers. You’d be surprised at the amount of time prison inmates spend researching and discussing their legal cases. A lot of what they file in courts is without merit–the Supreme Court has limited the review of prisoners’ habeas corpus petitionsto manage the flood–but some is quite good.


      David Randall
      Senior Lecturer, Boston University School of Management
      Room 644
      Boston, MA 02215
      617 353 9644
      A Foolish Consistency blog
      Course Materials
      David Randall’s BU Calendar Twitter Feed @darandall1953

  4. Evelyn Ling

    Hi Professor Randall,
    Just out of curiosity, why would someone turn themselves in after 23 years? Does that mean that the government or police couldn’t find her for that long? or was it because of something else? Thanks.

    • Anonymous

      Police couldn’t find her. I don’t know how hard they were looking but, since she was involved in a crime in which a police officer was murdered, I expect finding her remained a priority. I believe Power didn’t want to live her secret life any longer, wondering every day whether she would be apprehended.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.