One of the cornerstones of the Watchtower Society's claims about the 1918 trial of Joseph F. Rutherford and seven other co-defendants, is that the trial was a travesty of justice, where the defendants were railroaded off to prison.
To make their point, the Society has repeatedly stated that Joseph Rutherford and his fellow defendants were "Exonerated" of all charges, and subsequently released from prison fully vindicated. The Society also attributed this 'victory' to Jehovah's hand in matters, restoring the symbolic 'Two Witnesses' spoken of in Revelation, and thereby, reactivating the Kingdom preaching work.
What actually transpired is that the convicted defendants filed a Petition for a "Writ of Error." (Trial Transcript, pages 1-10, parts 1-30 ) The Writ of Error was allowed by the trial Court, Judge Howe, and granted by the District Court Judge Chatfield, whom the Society earlier objected to and had removed from their trial, because they felt he would not be fair to them.
What does this mean? During the course of any trial, the defense attorney will take exceptions and objections and note any errors in procedure and practices customary to common law. If the defendants lose and are convicted, the defense attorney can use these 'errors' as a basis for appeal.
Judge Howe, who presided over the trial of Joseph Rutherford and his co-defendants, was very generous to note defense objections and exceptions, and openly stated in Court several times that he would act to preserve the rights of the defendants, and acknowledged that they could make appeals.
What then is a Writ of Error and how is it processed? "WRIT OF ERROR, practice. A writ issued out of a court of competent jurisdiction, directed to the judge of a court of record in which final judgment has been given, and commanding them, in some cases, themselves to examine the record; in others to send it to another court of appellate jurisdiction, therein named, to be examined in order that some alleged error in the proceeding may be corrected."
That is it! In this case, the Writ of Error was granted, and the case remanded back to the United States Attorney as is customary. The prosecuting Attorney then decides whether he wants to re-try the case, correcting errors or let it drop. Such 'errors' do not mean that the defendants are suddenly 'not guilty' or in any way 'exonerated,' but rather that if the case were tried, less the errors, it might possibly have a different result.
What essentially happened is that the US Attorney decided not to pursue the case, and as a result, in accordance with the Writ of Error, the Defendants were released, and the original charges were not refiled. Double jeopardy does not apply, because this goes to the matter of how the first trial made errors. If they would have had a new trial, that trial would then be treated as the 'correct' trial, and the original trial would be treated as a mistrial.
Were the errors significant, possibly suggesting that the Defendants did not get a fair trial? So far, from reading much of this 1500 page transcript, I have found nothing that jumps out as outrageous or even unfair to the defense. Most all the objections and exceptions taken by the defense were minor.
While I do not have conclusive information as to why the US Attorney backed off and did not pursue a new trial, it appears that after WWI, the nation settled down, and going through this issue again may have seemed pointless to the Government.
There you have it ... Joseph Rutherford and company were NOT exonerated, but simply let off of the hook because of procedural errors.