Leopold And Loeb Essay, Research Paper
Social reaction to school massacres and inexplicable acts of violence among the teenage population in the late twentieth century flooded television news programs and media broadcasting almost on a monthly basis. Many Americans questioned why such seemingly healthy and established children would want to harm themselves and others around them. Several psychological and moral issues arise from this question. Despite legal efforts to differentiate between adult and adolescent crimes, many argue that children who commit such heinous mass murders should be tried as adults and put to death for their inexcusable and fatal acts of violence. In 1924, the murder trial of two Chicago teenagers sparked an equal amount of public outcry. For no apparent reason except for pleasure and curiosity, Nathan F. Leopold Jr., age nineteen, and long-time friend, Richard A. Loeb, age eighteen, brutally murdered fourteen-year-old Bobby Franks by beating him to death with a chisel. In the state of Illinois at that time, there were two crimes punishable by death?murder and kidnapping for ransom. Leopold and Loeb committed both of these offenses, but, despite the law, Leopold and Loeb were sentenced to life in prison. The principal reason why Leopold and Loeb were not executed was primarily due to the fact that they had a very influential defense attorney, Clarence Darrow, who was able to convince the judge that capital punishment was morally wrong.
Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb first met at the University of Chicago. Leopold was fifteen years old and Loeb was one year younger. The relationship between the two was unusual. They argued often. At one point in their relationship they each threatened to kill one another. Despite their quarrels and hostile bickering, they somehow never lost their friendship. In time, Nathan and Richard involved themselves with petty crimes such as throwing stones through car and house windows and turning in false reports to the police. Eventually the boys had more serious intentions.
Leopold and Loeb began planning their ?perfect crime? in 1923, nearly a year before the kidnapping and homicide of Bobby Franks.
?It was to be the perfect crime . . .The victim would have to come from a family wealthy enough to pay a sizable ransom without flinching. They [Leopold and Loeb] were not even averse to considering the kidnapping and murder of one of their own fathers, but rejected the idea for the practical reason that they would be under too close a scrutiny. For the same reason, they rejected making Loeb?s younger brother the victim?(Grant 173).
After trying to contemplate a worthy victim for many hours, the boys decided that they would just randomly choose someone who happened to be in the wrong place at the right time. Driving along the street in a rented car (even though they each had a car of their own), Leopold (in the drivers seat) and Loeb (in the back seat) spotted Bobby Franks, a distant cousin of Loeb, walking home from school. The two boys pulled over beside Bobby and asked him if he wanted a ride home. ?Bobby willingly got into the back seat of the car with Richard. Loeb suddenly pushed him onto the floor and with a terrific force brought a chisel down on his head. Blood spurted all over the back seat. Three more times Loeb smashed the chisel into the boy?s head, until there was no doubt he was dead?(Aymar 359). The boys drove the body to Hammond, Indiana with the wrapped body in the back seat. At a deserted spot along the Pennsylvania railroad tracks, Leopold and Loeb poured hydrochloric acid over Bobby?s face, penis, and a scar to make identification difficult. Next, they stuffed the body into a waterlogged culvert and fled home to Chicago.
Before the murder, Leopold and Loeb had prepared the ransom note in advance. In the note (which was later sent to the Franks? residence by special delivery), the boys asked for ten thousand dollars. They were very specific in their demands and clearly stated the details of delivery. However, things did not go as smoothly as Nathan and Richard anticipated. The day before the father of Bobby Franks could deliver the money, his son?s body was found in the culvert. Eventually, the police made a thorough investigation of the evidence. They recovered the chisel used in the murder, the typewriter used to write the ransom note, a pair of unique eye glasses dropped at the site, and had conflicting alibis of both Nathan and Richard. The eyeglasses, which had a special hinge on them, had been sold to only three individuals. One was a lawyer who was out of town at the time of the murder. Another was a woman who had worn her own pair to the police station when asked to come in to be questioned. The third pair was sold to none other than Nathan Leopold, Jr. Furthermore, the details, times, and circumstances of the crime did not match up with the alibis of Nathan and Richard. ?When the two were confronted with this incriminating evidence, Loeb broke down and confessed. After that, Leopold had no other choice but to confess as well?(David 29-30). On June 6, 1924, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were indicted by a grand jury for the kidnapping and murder of Bobby Franks.
?As Leopold and Loeb?s trial approached, citizens cried out for the death penalty. Frightened for his son?s life, Richard?s father, Jacob Loeb, visited the nation?s most famous defense attorney, Clarence Darrow?(Leibowitz 72). After contemplating the circumstances surrounding the case and moral issues involved, Darrow accepted Loeb?s request to represent and defend both boys in the murder trial. Because of family affluence, Nathan and Richard were able to obtain the leading and most prominent defense attorney of the time.
Darrow examined the specifics of the murder, reviewed the testimony of Leopold and Loeb, and assessed the facts of the case. Due to overwhelming evidence against the two boys and their confessions to the murder, Darrow decided (a day before the trial) that he would make a surprise yet sorrowful maneuver. Knowing he could not win the case if Leopold and Loeb pleaded ?not guilty,? the boys were to plead ?guilty? to the kidnapping and murder charges, guaranteeing them a sentence of either life imprisonment or death by execution. The next best thing Darrow could do for Nathan and Richard was ensure that the boys did not get the death penalty.
Another tactical move by Darrow was to request a trial without a jury. That is, the judge alone would determine the sentence. The judge agreed with Darrow that a non-jury trial would be more appropriate. Before the judge made his decision to eliminate the jury, the prosecution felt confident that they had an emotionally influential case. ?They [the prosecution] knew that any jury would react with horror at the bloody details of the crime, because a jury is made of ordinary emotional people. The members of the jury would be deeply affected by the testimony, and they would be likely to vote for the death penalty?(David 32). Now, the prosecution had to almost entirely redirect their course of action. No longer could they rely on the sentiments of a jury.
Now that the judge would determine the sentence of Leopold and Loeb, Darrow had to contemplate other issues. Without a jury, the insanity plea could not be used. Darrow needed to prove that Leopold and Loeb were mentally impaired at the time of murder and indeed unaware of their actions throughout the scheme of events. Darrow had to convince the judge that Leopold and Loeb committed the murder because of their mental conditions and immaturity. ?Never before had evidence of a defendant?s mental condition been offered to lessen a sentence. Such evidence had heretofore been used exclusively to show that a defendant was insane, not responsible for his actions, and thus not subject to punishment?(Higdon 164). In order to prove that Leopold and Loeb were mentally ill, Darrow consulted the best psychiatrists in the world including the head of the largest mental institution in the country (St. Elizabeth?s in Washington) and the President of the American Psychiatric Association. These physical, neurological, educational, social, and mental studies of the two boys became the foundation for the defense (Aymar 362-363).
Along with psychiatric testimony to support the veracity of Leopold and Loeb?s impaired mental conditions, Darrow pointed out several moral and ethical reasons why the boys should not be sentenced to death. In a provocative tone of voice, Darrow brought to the forefront the consequences of sentencing Nathan and Richard to death. He said, ?If these two boys die on the scaffold, which I can never bring myself to imagine,– if they do die on the scaffold, the details of this will be spread over the world. Every newspaper in the United States will carry a full account. Every newspaper in Chicago will be filled with the gruesome details. It will enter every home and family?(UMKC). In such an ominous manner of speech, Darrow urged the judge not to plague America with such gruesome details of the crime. He continued this point further by emphasizing the inhumanity involved with the death penalty.
?Do I need to argue to your Honor that cruelty only breeds cruelty? ?that hatred only causes hatred; that if there is any way to soften this human heart which is hard enough at its best, if there is any way to kill evil and hatred and all that goes with it, it is not through evil and hatred and cruelty; it is through charity, and love and understanding?(UMKC).
Darrow tried vigorously to persuade the judge that the death penalty was an inappropriate sentence to an inappropriate crime.
Of course, the prosecution thought otherwise about the views of the defense on capital punishment, and criticized Darrow?s emotional and persuasive interference with the facts of the case. The prosecution attacked the authority of Darrow?s remarks regarding the morality and decency of the death penalty. The state?s attorney, Robert E. Crowe, stated that, ?The trouble with Mr. Darrow is that he does not know all the facts in this case; he does not know all the evidence?(UMKC). Crowe would make it his duty to forbid Darrow from unethically influencing the judge with non-pertinent information regarding the death sentence. ?Crowe?s choicest remarks were left for Darrow. The real defense in the case, he contended, was Darrow?s philosophy in life, a dangerous softness?(Grant 191). To the prosecution, the death sentence seemed necessary and proper without a doubt. Crowe?s coercive response to the brutal crime committed by Leopold and Loeb was sympathetic toward the Franks family. He told the judge:
?Robert Franks had the right to live. He had the right to the society of the family and his friends and they had the right to his society. These two young law students of superior intelligence, with more intelligence than they have heart, decided that he must die. He [Bobby Franks] was only fourteen?(UMKC).
Crowe was angered by the fact that Darrow tried aimlessly to redirect the initial purpose of the trial. Crowe strongly objected to Darrow?s philosophical defense and, in his opinion, irrelevant material. He saw the case as a murder trial for two cold-blooded killers. Robert Crowe did not view Leopold and Loeb as children who made a one-time mistake or were mentally impaired at the time of the murder but, rather, two privileged young adults who had full understanding of their actions and the consequences that could result. ?The state?s attorney portrayed their crime as a sadistic, perverted act done for money. Leopold and Loeb were the personification of evil. They were conscienceless beings who, sneering and laughing their way through the hearing, reveled in the attention brought to them by their criminal acts?(Higdon 262). In his closing remarks, Attorney Robert Crowe made one final summation of his plea for the death penalty. Crowe simply told the judge that no other sentence was more appropriate for this case than death.
In his closing remarks to the court, Darrow focused on the severe consequences of capital punishment for children at such an early stage in life. ?He [Darrow] reminded the court that there had never been a case in Illinois in which a person under the age of twenty-three had been sentenced to death after pleading guilty?(David 35). With a bitter tone, Darrow said to the judge, ?If your Honor can hang a boy eighteen, some other judge can hang him at seventeen, or sixteen, or fourteen . . .Someday we would look back upon this as a barbarous age which deliberately set itself in the way of progress, humanity and sympathy, and committed an unforgivable act?(UMKC). Furthermore, Darrow explained the significance of the final sentence to the judge himself, as if reminding him to do what is most ethical and appropriate for two young men to endure. Darrow solemnly stated, ? . . .Your honor, if these boys hang, you must do it. There can be no division of responsibility here. It [the sentence] must be by your deliberate, cool, premeditated act, without a chance to shift responsibility? (UMKC). Darrow emphasized that the defense clearly established through psychological testing and analysis that both boys were mentally impaired. If not, he argued, the boys would not have been emotionally or mentally capable of committing such a horrid act of violence.
It was reported that by the end of Darrow?s closing argument, the majority of the courtroom was in tears. It had been a long hard battle for Darrow. He hoped that despite the oddity of the crime itself, the judge was persuaded to take into consideration the ages of both boys involved. Darrow urged the judge to make a judgment reflecting the most appropriate and principled decision possible. On September 10, 1924 the judge was ready to rule. Two issues determined his sentence?age and humanity. The judge sentenced both Leopold and Loeb to life in prison, recommending no parole.
Clarence Darrow had won the case for his two young defendants. He was able to emphasize humanity over evidence, and influence the judge that a wrong cannot correct wrongdoing. The state of affairs surrounding the murder of Bobby Franks was presented by Darrow as secondary evidence. He primarily focused on the issues of morality, sympathy, and the inhumane nature of capital punishment. Darrow was able to shift the responsibility and guilt of the crime from Leopold and Loeb to the judge by emphasizing that he alone would bear the guilt and burden of the sentence.