Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Defense of Dr. Ossian Sweet by Clarence Darrow

Prosecution Grills Sweet

The cross examination was not so friendly. Toms pressed Sweet about the facts that Detroit had had only four lynchings in its history, that the last one had occurred over a quarter of a century before, and that there had been a steady decline in the number of lynchings over the past years. Sweet was able to shoot back that such statistics bode well for the future, but did not change the present in a city where thousands of whites from the south had continued to move to Detroit. With each question aimed at demonstrating that Dr. Sweet and his companions had nothing to fear, Sweet responded with his own statistics and observations that demonstrated that blacks, whether living in the South or in a city of the North, had much to fear.

Prosecutor Robert Toms

Toms grilled Sweet for two days, and throughout his cross-examination, the doctor "stood up under grilling examination with restraint and simplicity," as White reported to Johnson. There was no question that Ossian Sweet had not only held his own, but had presented to the jury a defendant of character.

Moll summed up the prosecution's case for two and a half hours, debunking the defense's arguments that they had fired on the crowd out of fear. There was the arsenal, for one thing, and a curious, neighborly crowd for another. The death of Leon Breiner was a premeditated act.

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