“Do I need to argue to your honor that cruelty only breeds cruelty; that hatred only causes hatred; that if there is any way to soften this human heart, which is hard enough at its best … it is not through evil and hatred and cruelty? It is through charity, love and understanding.” With these words, Clarence Darrow pleaded with a judge to spare the lives of two murderers in one of the most famous trials in U.S. history. Darrow used psychiatric evidence to argue that 19‐year‐old Nathan Leopold and 18‐year‐old Richard Loeb were mentally ill. His goal was to keep the youths from receiving the death sentence, which Darrow strongly opposed. Darrow took three days (August 22–25) in 1924 to scorn the idea of capital punishment. He argued that the death penalty did not deter murderers and urged the court to have mercy on his clients. Leopold and Loeb each received a sentence of life imprisonment plus 99 years.
Clarence Darrow (1857–1938) was the most famous American lawyer of the early 1900s. Clever and eloquent, he earned a worldwide reputation as a criminal defense attorney and was an advocate in the true sense of the word.
He shot to fame in 1894 when he defended the American Socialist leader Eugene Debs, president of the American Railway Union, who had been arrested on a federal charge of contempt of court arising from a strike against the Chicago Pullman Palace Car Company. Although Darrow lost the case, he won a reputation as a champion of radical causes. By the time of the Leopold and Loeb trial in 1924, Darrow had already applied his skill to saving 102 people from the death penalty.
The following year, Darrow defended the right of a biology teacher to teach Darwin's theory of evolution in public school. The so‐called monkey trial attracted national attention because of the participation of two celebrities, William Jennings Bryan and Darrow. Bryan, an unsuccessful candidate for president of the United States three times, was the prosecutor. Darrow framed the case in terms of a broad tolerance of new ideas in education: “If today you can take a thing like evolution and make a crime to teach it in the public school, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private school. … At the next session you may ban books and the newspapers.” Darrow outdueled Bryan but lost the case. Nevertheless, Darrow's powerful advocacy of the cause of academic freedom helped to stem the tide of religious intolerance in the mid‐1920s.