|21 January 1950
Alger Hiss Convicted of Perjury
|Less than two weeks after the revelation of the “pumpkin papers” in December 1948 Alger Hiss was called before a grand jury, where he once again testified that he never gave any documents to Whittaker Chambers. Unfortunately for Hiss, in April 1949 HUAC investigators produced an old typewriter that had once belonged to him—and which, experts determined, had been used to type the “pumpkin papers.”
Most believed this to be incontrovertible evidence that Hiss had been a spy for the Soviet Union. However, the statute of limitations for espionage was only ten years, and the documents discovered in that hollowed-out pumpkin dated from the mid-1930s. But since Hiss had, under oath, told the grand jury that he had not passed classified documents to Chambers, he could be charged with perjury, and this is precisely what happened. A first trial opened on May 31, 1949, but ended in a hung jury early in July. A new trial convened in November, and this time the jury took less than twenty-four hours to find Hiss guilty of two counts of perjury. Four days later Judge Henry Godard sentenced him to five years in prison.
Hiss entered prison in March 1951, but was released after serving less than four years. For the remainder of his life he insisted on his innocence. He died in 1996, at the age of ninety-two.