Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Defense of Dr. Ossian Sweet by Clarence Darrow

The Defense Counter Attacks

Both Hays and Darrow made opening statements. Hays  was succinct. The prosecution had presented the following case: Eleven people were in the house. They had firearms. There was shooting, and undoubtedly, some of it came from the house. None of those assertions proved a conspiracy to commit murder, Hays said.

"Every condition in the house was consistent with a lawful purpose. There were no lights because the people in the house feared they would be killed from the outside. There was no furniture because they had not moved into the house. There was food cooking on the kitchen stove because every man must eat, and because none of them could have gone outside to obtain food.

The whole case stands or falls with the proof or failure to prove a conspiracy to commit murder."

(Quoted in Vine, 2004)

Hays summarized the case on the simple principle "of a man's right to protect his home as his castle."

But Hays went further than simply reducing the case to a matter of self-defense. Hays presented cases from Michigan and other states, precedents that established (in the case of Pond v. People) " a man who is assaulted in his own house need not retreat in order to avoid slaying his assailant." Dramatically, he asked four of the defendants to rise, essentially introducing them to the jury. Ossian and his two brothers, Otis (the dentist) and Henry (a Wilberforce college senior) stood, proud and dignified. Next, Hays had Gladys stand, an attractive and refined woman. "These are four of the defendants, and the first fact in our case of which we shall expect you, Gentlemen, to take notice is that they don't look like murderers."

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