November 10, 2007

"I am pleading for the future; I am pleading for a time when hatred and cruelty will not control the hearts of men."

Harold Schechter, author of "The Devil's Gentleman: Privilege, Poison, and the Trial That Ushered in the Twentieth Century," picks five books that describe great murder trials.
1. "The Murder of Helen Jewett" by Patricia Cline Cohen (Knopf, 1998)....

2. "Dead Certainties" by Simon Schama (Knopf, 1991)....

3. "The Minister and the Choir Singer" by William M. Kunstler (William Morrow, 1964)....

4. "Compulsion" by Meyer Levin (Simon & Schuster, 1956).

In May 1924, self-professed Nietzschean supermen Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, the pampered sons of two prominent Chicago families, set out to prove their intellectual superiority by committing the "perfect crime." They abducted and killed Loeb's 14-year-old cousin, then stuffed his nude body into a drainpipe. Despite the supposed brilliance of their plan, they were arrested less than two weeks later. The highlight of their prosecution--which had been immediately (and rather prematurely) trumpeted as "The Trial of the Century"--was the summation by their lawyer, the formidable Clarence Darrow, who delivered an eloquent 12-hour attack on the death penalty. His clients were convicted but spared execution. In "Compulsion," Meyer Levin's 1956 best-selling account of the case, the author thinly disguised the story for legal reasons, producing what many critics consider the prototypical "nonfiction novel"-- a genre that Truman Capote would take credit for inventing a decade later.

5. "Kidnap" by George Waller (Dial, 1961)....
Kind of a harsh stab at Truman Capote, but don't you want to read "Compulsion"?

Alternatively, we can dig out the old DVD of "Rope" and watch it one more time. That's always great fun:



And can you imagine a lawyer today subjecting the jury to a 12-hour attack on the death penalty? Can you imagine the lawyer being considered brilliant and eloquent for doing so? Can you imagine a jury today getting roped in by a lot of high-flown talk about the death penalty after hearing evidence of a brutal, senseless murder? Frankly, it's outright unfair to decide who gets the death penalty based on what the lawyer said about the death penalty in general. All that brilliant talk would be equally applicable in any capital trial.

Here's the text of Darrow's summation, helpfully divided into titled sections. From the final section:
I have stood here for three months as one might stand at the ocean trying to sweep back the tide. I hope the seas are subsiding and the wind is falling and I believe they are, but I wish to make no false pretense to this court. The easy thing and the popular thing to do is to hang my clients. I know it. Men and women who do not think will applaud. The cruel and the thoughtless will approve. It will be easy today; but in Chicago, and reaching out over the length and breadth of the land, more and more fathers and mothers, the humane, the kind and the hopeful, who are gaining an understanding and asking questions not only about these poor boys, but about their own,--these will join in no acclaim at the death of my clients. These would ask that the shedding of blood be stopped, and that the normal feelings of man resume their sway. And as the days and the months and the years go on, they will ask it more and more. But, your Honor, what they shall ask may not count. I know the easy way.

I know your Honor stands between he [sic] future and the past. I know the future is with me, and what I stand for here; not merely for the lives of these two unfortunate lads, but for all boys and all girls; for all of the young, and as far as possible, for all of the old. I am pleading for life, understanding, charity, kindness, and the infinite mercy that considers all. I am pleading that we overcome cruelty with kindness and hatred with love. I know the future is on my side. Your Honor stands between the past and the future. You may hang these boys; you may hang them by the neck until they are dead. But in doing it you will turn your face toward the past. In doing it you are making it harder for every other boy who in ignorance and darkness must grope his way through the mazes which only childhood knows. In doing it you will make it harder for unborn children. You may save them and make it easier for every child that some time may stand where these boys stand. You will make it easier for every human being with an aspiration and a vision and a hope and a fate. I am pleading for the future; I am pleading for a time when hatred and cruelty will not control the hearts of men. When we can learn by reason and judgement and understanding and faith that all life is worth saving, and that mercy is the highest attribute of man.
Think of the children!

From Meyer Levin's book — which you can search inside at Amazon:
When someone asked if Nietzsche's superman philosophy justified murder, Judd perversely replied, "It is easy to justify such a death, as easy as to justify an entomologist impaling a butterfly on a pin."

The room became quiet. Danny Mines of the News said, "We all had a little Nietzsche in college, Steiner, but that doesn't mean you have to live by it."

"Why not?" Judd demanded. "A philosophy, if you are convinced it is correct, is something you live by."

We all studied our menus. "The herring is excellent here," Judd announced to McNamar, "but I suppose you don't like herring — you aren't Jewish."

Throughout the meal he continued to flash his erudition and against my will, I was being pushed by the others, set up as the antipode — for I too was a university graduate at eighteen.
Hmmm... Do you like novelization?

If not, read the confession of Nathan Leopold:
When we planned a general thing of this sort was as long ago as last November I guess at least, and we started on the process of how to get the money, which was the most difficult problem. We had several dozen different plans, all of which were not so good for one reason or other....

The next problem was getting the victim to kill. This was left undecided until the day we decided to pick the most likely-looking subject that came our way. The particular case happened to be Robert Franks. Richard was acquainted with Robert and asked him to come over to our car for a moment. This occurred near 49th and Ellis Avenue. Robert came over in the car, was introduced to me and Richard asked him if he did not want to help him.....

"Richard who?"

Richard Loeb. He replied no, but Richard said, well, come in a minute. I want to ask you about a certain tennis racket. After he had gotten in, I stepped on the gas, proceeded south on Ellis Avenue to 50th Street. In the meantime Richard asked Robert if he minded if we took him around the block, to which Robert said, no. As soon as we turned the corner, Richard placed his one hand over Robert's mouth to stifle his outcry, with his right beating him on the head several times with a chisel, especially prepared for the purpose. The boy did not succumb as readily as we had believed so for fear of being observed Richard seized him, and pulled him into the back seat. Here he forced a cloth into his mouth. Apparently the boy died instantly by suffocation shortly thereafter. We proceeded out to Calumet Boulevard in Indiana, drove along this road that leads to Gary, being a rather deserted place. We even stopped to buy a couple of sandwiches and some drinks for supper....
ADDED: Leopold and Loeb pleaded guilty, and Darrow's harangue was directed at the judge. Here's Judge Caverly's opinion, which rests not on a general opposition to the death penalty, but on the youth of the defendants:
It would have been the task of least resistance to impose the extreme penalty of the law. In choosing imprisonment instead of death, the court is moved chiefly by the consideration of the age of the defendants, boys of eighteen and nineteen years.

15 comments:

rhhardin said...

Darrow's summation doesn't stand up very well to somebody who thinks that the death penalty is neither retribution nor deterrence, but marks the place society accords the voice of the victim, a voice that is missing.

Pogo said...

For a short while in my life, in order to make sense of things at the time, I undertook extensive study in the matter of evil. The answer was surprisingly banal, a twist on Tolstoy: "All evil people are alike; each good person is good in their own way."

In the movie "Insomnia", Lt. Dormer says to murderer Walter Finch (Robin Williams) “you’re what I do. You’re no more a mystery to me than a block toilet is to a plumber.” That's what I learned about evil. The good is far more fascinating.

George said...

Nowhere in nature is there the slightest evidence of kindness, of consideration, or a feeling for the suffering and the weak, except in the narrow circle of brief family life.
-Clarence Darrow, The Story of My Life

TitusWK said...

Mr Skeffington is currently on TCM.

Bette Davis tour de force.

I absolutely love this movie.

Paul Zrimsek said...

Leopold and Loeb were tried before a judge, not a jury. Only the fact that Star Wars was still 53 years in the future kept Darrow from resorting to the Chewbacca Defense.

Richard Fagin said...

I seem to recall that Scopes was convicted under the Tennessee statute banning teching of evolution, notwitstanding Darrow's defense. Darrow was wonderful at preaching to the choir, but perhaps he wasn't all that persuasive to the unconvinced.

Of course, Darrow was a "railroad lawyer", which was the 19th century equivalent to today's "ambulance chaser" in terms of public esteem.

Ann Althouse said...

Is "Mr. Skeffington" the one where everyone keeps talking about how devastatingly beautiful the Bette Davis character is — to the point where people can't think straight — and Bette just doesn't look that good so it wrecks the suspension of disbelief?

Christy said...

Back in my high school debate years I found much inspiration from the speeches of Clarence Darrow. Now Richard F tells me he was not worthy! My heart, it breaks.

Jeff with one 'f' said...

Daniel Clowes did a nice meditation on the Leopold and Loeb cas in his graphic novella Ice Haven.

TitusWK said...

That is correct Althouse. And then she gets sick with some disease that only children get and when she returns she is supposed to have aged and lost her physical looks.

The sad thing about the movie is you can't really tell the difference between when she was supposed to be so pretty and when she was supposed to age horribly. They should of done her makeup better.

When she returns from being sick she invites all of her former lovers to her house and they are all mortified by how she looks.

She ends up reuniting with her husband who is now blind. Not sure what the moral of the story is but she is fierce in it.

She is big slut in this movie and I do enjoy seeing a big slut in action.

TitusWK said...

Oh look Michigan at Wisconsin is on ESPN. Go Badgers. Good old Camp Randall and the old field house. Love those old buildings.

Do the men's restrooms still have the "trough" that all the men piss in? It was so demoralizing taking a piss in there. You needed a raincoat to go in there. The piss was flying.

When I was little my dad would take me to the games and I would also check out how I measured up to the other guys in the restroom. I remember you could see everything from that vantage point. That was when the Portage Plumber was around. Whatever happened to the "Portage Plumber"?

Bob said...

Loeb was later murdered in prison. Wikipedia:

At Joliet Prison, Leopold and Loeb used their educations to good purpose, teaching classes in the prison school.[13] In January of 1936, at age 30, Loeb was attacked by fellow prisoner James Day with a straight razor in the prison's shower room, and died from his wounds.[1][13] Day claimed afterwards that Loeb had attempted to sexually assault him; an inquiry accepted Day's testimony, and the prison authorities ruled that Day's attack on Loeb was self-defense.[1][13] That inspired the newsman Ed Lahey to write in the Chicago Daily News, "Richard Loeb, despite his erudition, today ended his sentence with a proposition.

Joe said...

That's a great sentence, Bob.

Well, I don't know that I would go so far as to call the guy "erudite," though. He didn't have a clue as to what Nietzsche was saying.

RC said...

Clarrence Darrow. So, anti death penalty, and pro evolution. As it happens, I believe in evolution and was taught it in school growing up, and I was firmly against the death penalty when I was young too. So, I should be impressed by him, shouldn't I? How is it I find him insufferably obnoxious and unpersuasive? I still believe in evolution, but I can't stand to watch Inherit the Wind, and if I did I'd root for the creationists. As far as the death penalty goes, I've grown indifferent to it. Maybe I just can't stand it's opponents.

Trooper York said...

Her hair is Harlowe gold
Her lips sweet surprise
Her hands are never cold
She's got Bette Davis eyes
She'll turn her music on you
You won't have to think twice
She's pure as New York snow
She got Bette Davis eyes

And she'll tease you
She'll unease you
All the better just to please you
She's precocious and she knows just
What it takes to make a pro blush
She got Greta Garbo stand off sighs
She's got Bette Davis eyes

She'll let you take her home
It whets her appetite
She'll lay you on her throne
She got Bette Davis eyes
She'll take a tumble on you
Roll you like you were dice
Until you come out blue
She's got Bette Davis eyes

She'll expose you, when she snows you
Off your feet with the crumbs she throws you
She's ferocious and she knows just
What it takes to make a pro blush
All the boys think she's a spy
She's got Bette Davis eyes
(Kim Carnes)