Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Defense of Dr. Ossian Sweet by Clarence Darrow

The Trial of Henry Sweet

And they were right. Prosecutors Moll and Toms thought that their best chance for a conviction in this case was to try, first of all, Henry Sweet, who had admitted to firing shots in the general direction of the mob on Garland Avenue.

For this trial, Darrow and Hays added a local lawyer, Thomas Chawke, a tall, imposing attorney who, like Darrow, would defend any one. He had made his reputation by defending local mob figures. Despite this, he was well respected and known for his ability to demolish prosecution witnesses. He demanded a fee larger than Darrow's, but Darrow had no objection. The Great Defender had become dedicated to the cause of civil rights.

Henry Sweet, Perry, Chawke and Darrow
Henry Sweet, Perry, Chawke and Darrow

The trial of Henry Sweet followed the form of the first trial. The prosecution presented witnesses to convince the jury that the shooting of Leon Breiner was unprovoked, the result of a conspiracy. The defense, knowing what to expect after the testimony of the first trial, was even stronger in its refutation of the prosecution witnesses, and argued for self-defense.

A question that had been raised at the first trial, that one Detroit police officer had fired his gun during the rock-throwing confusion, was reemphasized by Hays, creating doubt that the bullet that had killed Breiner had actually come from that officer's revolver. There was, maintained Hays, reasonable doubt.

Once again, Darrow summed up the case. Once again, his eloquence reduced the spectators to tears.

The jury was instructed and began their deliberations. This time, the defense had greater doubts. The case had now focused on a single individual, the modest Henry Sweet. The defense team hoped that they would at least have a verdict of manslaughter.

Surprisingly, the jury returned in an hour and a half. Not guilty of any offense.

It was clear that prosecutor Toms had arrived at the end of his string. There would be no retrial of any of the defendants. The case was over.