Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Defense of Dr. Ossian Sweet by Clarence Darrow

Jury Selection

The Jury
The Jury

As Darrow and Hays prepared for the trial, and the very important process of selecting a jury, they realized that the trial centered on a fairly simple issue. Did Dr. Ossian Sweet and his fellow defendants conspire, in a premeditated way, to kill one or more of the innocent spectators present that September evening at the corner of Garland and Charlevoix? Or were Dr. Ossian Sweet and his companions in that arts-and-crafts house, fearing for their lives, defending themselves against a mob? The prosecution would present witnesses and arguments that this was a case of first-degree murder. The defense would counter with the contention that an ever increasingly restive mob threatened the well-being of the home's occupants and that these defendants were guilty of nothing more than self-defense.

Jury selection was not an easy task. An original list of 150 potential jurors was quickly exhausted. An additional 65 were drawn from the voters' rolls and still no jury was formed. After almost a week, conditionally accepted jurors filled the jury box, and Judge Murphy announced that he would send police into the streets to bring forth additional potential jurors.

Darrow saw the potential of the moment and declared to the judge that those seated in the jury box were acceptable, thereby indicating his confidence in the fairness of the 12 tentatively selected men. Hays questioned them, rejected a Klan member with his single question, "Is any man in this box a member of the Ku Klux Klan?" Darrow approached Judge Murphy and said that the 11 remaining jurors were satisfactory, and that he would accept the next, and final, candidate at face value if the prosecutor, Mr. Toms, would do the same. Once more, Darrow had moved to win the jury's trust. The trial would now begin.

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