Context: In the summer of 70 B.C., Cicero prosecuted Gaius Verres for extortion, misgovernment, and oppression. During his three years as Governor of the Sicilian people, Verres had used all sorts of legal trickery to avoid a fine and the loss of his Roman citizenship. The trial and verdict were tied up with the passage of a bill to take the complete control of criminal courts away from the Senate, and to give it only a third of the total vote. The criminal confessed his guilt by flight from Rome, and the bill passed. Cicero's second speech against Verres occupies five books. Close to its conclusion, he describes the governor's schemes for enriching himself. He would order the crews of ships arriving at Syracuse seized and flung into a prison called The Stone Quarries. Their claims to Roman citizenship ("Civis Romanus sum"), that granted them the right to be tried in Roman courts, did no good. The governor maintained that they were really fugitives from the army of Sertorius, in revolt, or traders with Mediterranean pirates, and confiscated their possessions, which he kept. Cicero tells about the situation:
These methods presently crowded the prison with honest traders; and then those things began to happen of which you have heard from Lucius Suettius, a Roman knight and most excellent man, and of which you shall hear from others likewise. There, in that prison, guiltless Roman citizens were most shamefully strangled. Now at last the cry, "I am a Roman Citizen," the famous appeal that has so often brought men help and rescue among savage races in the furthest corners of the earth, was to hasten the affliction and increase the agony of these men's death. . . .