Stalin - The Great HelmsmanText Box: . . . Vyshinsky’s final speech, closely edited by Stalin, lasted several hours. It included legal submissions in which the prosecutor argued, rather redundantly, that circumstantial evidence alone would have made a conviction inevitable. But he knew better than to end with anything as prosaic as the facts or the law. Instead, he invoked the moral authority of a spectral horde of dead workers and soldiers. “I am not the only accuser!” he chanted. “I feel that by my side stand the victims of the crimes . . . on crutches, maimed, half alive, and perhaps legless. . . . I do not stand here alone! The victims may be in their graves, but I feel they are standing here beside me, pointing at the dock, at you, accused, with their mutilated arms, which have mouldered in the graves to which you sent them!” Flanked by phantom legions of the undead, more necromancer than lawyer, he was impelled to a familiar conclusion. “These heinous criminals . . . deserve only one punishment – death by shooting!”
             The speech culminated in protracted applause from the courtroom audience and as show trials go, events could hardly have ended on a more ringing note. Others, however, did their best to sound one. Ilya Braude, a lawyer for the defense who would still tremble years later at the mere mention of Vyshinsky, admitted that he found himself in an “exceptionally difficult position.” Although formally required to represent the railway wrecker Ivan Knyazev, he had not been able to hear his client’s testimony without imagining the “crash of wrecked cars and the groans of dead and dying . . . men.” Braude would later earn a medal from Stalin for his contribution to the trial.
             Ulrich and his fellow judges sat into the early hours to hear such speeches. Hope still sprang in the breasts of the defendants, and all but one asked for their lives to be spared. The exception was Alexei Shestov, a salaried police officer who had been planted in the dock to lend ballast to the state’s case. In anticipation of promotion after the trial, he had performed magnificently and now refused to beg for mercy, claiming just one desire: “to stand with . . . calmness on the place of execution and with my blood to wash away the stain of a traitor to my country.” He would, needless to say, have his wish granted. At three o’clock in the morning, the judges returned with death sentences against all but four defendants. Shestov was not among the exceptions.

The Moscow show trials