On 11 July 1963, police raided Liliesleaf Farm, arresting those they found there and uncovering paperwork documenting MKs activities, some of which mentioned Mandela. The Rivonia Trial began at Pretoria Supreme Court on 9 October, with Mandela and his comrades charged with four counts of sabotage and conspiracy to violently overthrow the government. Their chief prosecutor was Percy Yutar, who called for them to receive the death penalty.Judge Quartus de Wet soon threw out the prosecutions case for insufficient evidence, but Yutar reformulated the charges, presenting his new case from December until February 1964, calling 173 witnesses and bringing thousands of documents and photographs to the trial.
With the exception of James Kantor, who was innocent of all charges, Mandela and the accused admitted sabotage but denied that they had ever agreed to initiate guerilla war against the government. They used the trial to highlight their political cause. At the opening of the defences proceedings, Mandela gave a threehour speech. That speech which was inspired by Castros History Will Absolve Me speech was widely reported in the press despite official censorship, and has been hailed as one of his greatest speeches. The trial gained international attention, with global calls for the release of the accused from such institutions as the United Nations and World Peace Council. The University of London Union voted Mandela to its presidency, and nightly vigils for him were held in St. Pauls Cathedral, London. The South African government generally deemed Mandela and his codefendants violent communist saboteurs, and on 12 June 1964, justice Quartus de Wet found Mandela and two of his coaccused guilty on all four charges, sentencing them to life imprisonment rather than death.