Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Defense of Dr. Ossian Sweet by Clarence Darrow

The Prosecution's Case

Prosecutor Robert Moll
Prosecutor Robert Moll

Prosecutor Moll began his case with witnesses who maintained that there was no mob, only scattered groups of curious onlookers. It was important to establish the numbers of the spectators, since Michigan law defined a threat to one's property as there being more than 12 individuals expressing threats, or more than 30 who were not expressing threats but represented a perceived threat.

The prosecution went quickly to this central point. A number of the police designated to protect the Sweet house were called to the stand. Typical of the testimony elicited from them was that of Inspector Schuknecht, who testified that the onlookers on Garland Avenue that evening were few, orderly, and posing no threat. After Schuknecht and his fellow officers testified, Darrow would quietly challenge them on the accuracy of the crowd's size, and ask such pointed questions as to why the police were there in the first place. If the crowd was small and orderly, why, then, was a police presence necessary? Why had officers blocked the two ends of the street to traffic? The responses of the officers were stammering and confused.

Another line of inquiry by the prosecution was the issue of "premeditation." Prosecutor Moll presented police witnesses that testified to the arsenal within the Sweet house: Eight rifles and four handguns, as well as a supply of ammunition. It was reported that Dr. Sweet tried to dispose of a number of bullets into a waste basket at the police station. Moll was, in effect, establishing that the Sweet household was prepared for violence. On cross examination, Darrow tried to paint a picture of the growing fear of the defendants over the previous two days, when the move into the house had begun amidst a climate of hostility.

A potentially damning piece of testimony was the report by Lieutenant Schultz that Ossian's brother Henry had admitted, during interrogation, that he had fired a rifle from an upstairs window. Judge Murphy disallowed that information, stating that it was undocumented and prejudicial.

After five days, the prosecution rested its case.

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