The Life of Gladys Towles Root
The Candy Shakedown
Although Root tried a wide variety of cases she would become most associated with the defense of accused sex criminals. A lawyer commenting on Roots high acquittal rate for sex crime defendants said, Yes, and a few of them even deserved it. Cy Rice in Defender of the Damned gave a most dramatic example of one such instance.
The defendant was a 76-year-old man who had been babysitting a six-year-old girl. The child had accused him of molesting her. He faced the possibility of spending years of his life, quite possibly the rest of it considering his age, behind bars for a crime that inevitably leads to harassment and assault by other prisoners.
When the fair, red-haired girl with blue eyes took the witness stand Roots skillful cross-examination elicited the facts and a Perry Mason-like courtroom confession that freed a falsely accused man.
Are you a good girl, Nancy? Root gently inquired.
Yes, Im a good girl, was the immediate response.
Do you know the difference between good girls and bad girls?
Good girls tell the truth, the attorney informed the young witness. Bad girls tell lies. By a lie I mean a story something they made up that didnt really happen. Will you, Nancy, tell me the truth so you can be known as one of the good girls?
Do you know a man named Tom Blake? Root asked.
You didnt like him, did you?
Was he a bad man? Root pressed.
Yes, he was, Nancy said.
He played with a little girl . . . a little girl about your age, Nancy. And you know what happened to Mr. Blake, dont you?
I I dont remember.
Think, Nancy. Think back.
I dont remember, the child repeated.
He went to jail, didnt he? Root asked. Didnt he?
He went to jail.
Root appeared to suddenly change the focus of her cross-examination. Do you like ice cream? she asked the child.
Yes, maam, she replied. Candy?
I do. Yes.
Does your Mama give you an allowance each week? Root asked.
Does your mother give you some money each week? Money to spend on anything you like best such as candy and ice cream?
Yes, she does.
How much does your mother give you each week?
Fifteen cents, Nancy answered.
Yes, each week.
Do you know an ice cream and candy store near your house called The Sweet Shop?
Do you know Mr. Gordon, the owner?
Does Mr. Gordon tell the truth?
Mr. Gordon, who tells the truth, says that some weeks you spend as much as two dollars buying ice cream and candy in his store. Now Nancy, if your mother only gives you fifteen cents each week for these things, where did all this money come from?
I I dont know, the six-year-old faltered.
Did you find it?
No. I I jut had it.
Nancy, the truth is that you did have it. But you got it from [the accused]. Isnt that right?
The girl burst into tears and the attorney went on: You remembered the man you didnt like Mr. Blake who went to jail for doing something naughty . . . for touching a little girl. So you told [my client] that youd say he did the same thing to you unless he gave you money from time to time.
The girl sobbed harder and Root gave her a handkerchief. The child blew her nose and wiped her wet face.
Thats the truth, Nancy, Root insisted to the weeping child witness. The truth. You know its the truth.
Yes, yes, yes, was the sobbing reply.
Root had a victory in another child molestation case but circumstances surrounding the triumph led to some embarrassment on her part. Root, perhaps inadvertently in this instance, aided a liar. She helped her client walk to and from the witness stand with a white cane denoting blindness. The allegedly abused girl told the court that the accused had pulled up her dress, looked at the tiny pearl buttons on her panties, and was careful not to tear those buttons when he took her panties off. The judge dismissed the case on the grounds that no blind man could have done what she had described. Then the defendant stood and, facing the judge, said to him, Thank you. The moment I came into this courtroom and looked at you, I knew you had an honest face. Roots face instantly turned pink and she whispered to her assistant that she really had no idea.