On 10 October 1934, a New Jersey grand jury indicted Hauptmann on kidnapping and murder charges, and he was extradited to Flemington, New Jersey, where his trial commenced on 2 January 1935. As expected, media interest was intense.
Given the high profile nature of the case, the prosecution was led by the Attorney General of the State of New Jersey, David Wilentz, who outclassed Hauptmann’s defence team at all levels, led by a shambling alcoholic named Edward Reilly.
Wilentz made the most of what was, essentially, circumstantial evidence: the ransom money, the ladder, and the handwriting analysis, and a dubious eyewitness statement that placed Hauptmann near the scene of the crime on the night of the kidnap. The prosecution also called Lindbergh to the stand, who identified Hauptmann’s voice as that which had shouted "Hey, Doctor!" at St Raymond’s Cemetery.
Defence counsel countered all this evidence poorly; the ladder had a dubious chain of evidence providence, none of the crime scenes were ever secure, the eyewitness who placed Hauptmann at the crime scene was almost legally blind, and even Lindbergh would have had a hard time accurately identifying a voice which had spoken two words over a considerable distance. Reilly also allowed the identification of the corpse as that of baby Charles to stand uncontested, despite the irregularity of the identification process.
When Hauptmann took the stand he was skilfully attacked by Wilentz, making a poor impression on the jury, with his inability to adequately explain the money and the handwriting expert testimony.
On 14th February 1935, the jury found Richard Bruno Hauptmann guilty of kidnapping and murder, and he was sentenced to death in the electric chair.
On 9th October 1935, Hauptmann’s first appeal was denied. A second appeal, this time to the US Supreme Court, was similarly denied.
In December 1935, unable to stand the pressure of media scrutiny any longer, and following kidnap threats to their new baby son, Jon, Lindbergh and his wife sailed to England to escape the relentless publicity.
Hauptmann’s wife, Anna, appealed to New Jersey Governor, Harold Hoffman for a stay of execution on 16th January 1936, which Hoffman granted but, following the final denial of clemency by the Board of Appeals, on 30th March 1936, Hauptmann’s execution date was finally set for 3rd April. Hauptmann was offered a last-minute opportunity to have his death sentence commuted to a life sentence, without parole, if he admitted his guilt but he refused to do so.
He died in the electric chair on 3rd April 1936.
Anna Hauptmann continued to maintain her husband’s innocence until her own death, in 1994.
With the Lindbergh family’s ‘defection’ to England, and later Europe, US public sentiment soured towards the former American hero. His pro-fascist sympathies, prior to the Second World War, tarnished Lindbergh’s reputation further, and reinforced the doubt surrounding the circumstantial case built against Hauptmann, in the Lindbergh kidnapping.
A number of authors have presented alternate scenarios to the disappearance of baby Charles, including that a member of the Lindbergh family had killed the child, with Lindbergh concocting the kidnap story as an elaborate ruse.
There has always been doubt about the circumstances surrounding the identification of the corpse: one theory claims that the body was not baby Charles, but another procured and planted by bootleggers, who were tired of having their lucrative business, of supplying liquor during Prohibition, disrupted by constant police searches of the area, following the kidnapping.
A television programme, made in 2005, maintains that while the circumstantial case against Hauptmann was largely credible, it does not conclusively prove that he committed the murder and kidnap, merely that he might have been part of the ‘Cemetery John’ hoax that managed to extract money after the kidnapping. There is still no explanation of how Hauptmann, living in the Bronx, with no connection to the family, knew of the exact location of the nursery, and the last minute change in the Lindbergh family travel itinerary.