in the case of
PEOPLE V. HENRY SWEET
In the RECORDERS COURT
THE HONORABLE FRANK MURPHY
Monday, May 10th, 1926
[Closing arguments in the trial of Henry Sweet took place over three days. On the morning of the first day, Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Lester Moll presented the prosecution case. He was answered in the afternoon by Thomas Chawke, co-counsel for the defense. The entire of Tuesday was given over to Clarence Darrow's seven-hour argument. Wayne County Prosecutor Robert M. Toms then delivered a rebuttal on Wednesday.
[Moll presents a clear account of the prosecution theory of the case, which downplayed the level of antagonism toward the Sweets and argued that there was no sufficient reason for the Sweet family having fired out onto the crowd of whites surrounding their home. Moll asserts that Ossian Sweet and his "associates" were never in actual danger and in fact were never really afraid; and he strongly suggests that Dr. Sweet organized an attack, perhaps for political or ideological reasons.
[What is noteworthy, however, is that although Moll's argument was supported by much physical evidence and numerous eyewitnesses (most of whom, Darrow would later argue, were lying), Moll seems often rather defensive in advancing it, doubtless because he was fully aware that Darrow would structure his closing argument around the polarizing issue of racial prejudice. Indeed, it is not improbable that Darrow had by this point thoroughly intimidated Moll. Moll's closing largely develops, not as a positive presentation of his own case, but instead as a refutation of the defense case: the Sweets cannot successfully justify their acts.
[As a consequence, Moll does not generate his own coherent "story"of the case, a central narrative structure that makes sense of the actions both inside and outside the Sweet house; nor, beyond frequently referring to the "brief" that he bears for the dead victim Leon Breiner, does Moll use a striking image to focus and organize his argument. This is the more curious because in the first Sweet trial the prosecution had made use of a vivid and disturbing analogy. Arthur Garfield Hays, the noted civil rights litigator who was Darrow's co-counsel in the first trial, quotes this argument in his autobiographical Let Freedom Ring (1928) 213: "Suppose four person were riding down Woodward Avenue [in Detroit] in an automobile with the curtains drawn, a thing they could lawfully do. Suppose that they had been riding together in the car for at least three hours; suppose that suddenly volleys are fired from four sides of the car, one shot killing a bystander; suppose that on the car being stopped four weapons are found hidden under the cushions or in the pockets of the car; suppose that when arrested none of the four men said a word about the shots except that the driver stated that there would be no more shooting. If we put the Sweet house on wheels, we have exactly the same situation."
[This analogy draws on contemporary gangster violence during the Prohibition era. The concept of the Sweet gunfire as a sort of "stationary drive-by shooting" was well suited to capture the prosecution's understanding of the case against Henry Sweet. But neither Moll nor Toms uses language remotely this forceful in the second trial. As an advocate, Moll struck some contemporary observers as stiff and "tight-minded,"maybe even bigoted towards the defendant. Still, it should be plain that he was not without some persuasive powers.
[The text of Moll's speech is drawn from an informal transcript
made by the NAACP, a microfilm copy of which is in the Burton Historical
Collection of the Detroit Public Library. The excerpts that I give
come from the beginning and conclusion of the speech, while the middle
argument is mostly just summarized; the text below represents about one-third
of the original speech. I have corrected spellings and punctuation,
and also changed the paragraphing. — Prof. Bruce W. Frier, Law School,
The University of Michigan.]
|"We Come Here Armed with Facts"|
|"Shots, One of Which Caused the Death of Leon Breiner"|
|"Find the Necessity for a Killing"|
|"I Am Not Ready to Forget Leon Breiner"|
|"The Power and the Duty of the Law Gave Him Protection"|
|"They Will Bring in Everything But the Facts"|
|"The Lack of Necessity for the Taking of Human Life"|
|"A Group of People That Was Well-Behaved, Orderly and Neighborly"|
|"You Men Are Affected by the Presence Here of Mr. Darrow"|
|"How Glad They Are to Get Away from the Shooting"|
|"Why Was Henry Sweet So Fearsome That Night?"|
|"I Am Putting the Case of Leon Breiner Right on Your Doorstep"|
Introduction: "We Come Here Armed with Facts"
MR. MOLL: May it please the court, gentlemen of the jury, much
has been said during your attendance here upon this trial as jurors concerning
problems of color and of race prejudice and of intolerance, and I am going
to ask you and urge upon you at the outset to treat those matters and discussion
of those matters as something entirely incidental to the main issue, an
issue formed by the allegations of the State of Michigan that Henry Sweet
and his ten companions, on the night of September 9th, is guilty of felonious,
willful and deliberate killing of Leon Breiner with malice aforethought,
and formulated in addition to that charge by the State, by the denial of
Henry Sweet, so far as this case is concerned, of each and every allegation
in the charge.
Now, I want to urge upon you also, at the outset, that we are trying an issue here which centers around the charge of murder, and we are not trying anything else. Everything that has crept into this record, extraneous to matters which bear upon the guilt or innocence of Henry Sweet, with reference to the charge or the crime of murder, I say is incidental and should be scrutinized by you very, very carefully, for any positive value that it may have in aiding your deliberations of whether or not Henry Sweet is innocent or whether he is guilty of one of the most heinous and vicious crimes on the statute books.
Now, I am not going to mince words here. I claim at the outset that those of us on this side of the table are parties to no frame-up. We appear here without any vindictiveness. We are perfectly tolerant of the situation that we have been trying here for two or three weeks, but we come here at this time to urge you to keep in mind the main issue of this case and to arrive at an ultimate verdict that is based solely on the facts. We make no other claim to you except the claim that we come here armed with facts, armed with facts that we expect will prevail. Now, we propose that this jury is going to ascertain whether we can all do our full duties, we as prosecutors, you as jurors, simply because there has been interjected into this record matters of intolerance, matters of social prejudice, matters of racial dispute and disorders.
Now, we come here solely with these facts, and if I impress nothing on you in the course of my argument to you, I want to impress that you are going to eventually base your verdict solely on facts. Now, this may impress you as rather academic. It may impress you as rather a poor opening, but my defense of that statement is that I am not going to attempt any oratory. I am not going to try any persuasion. I am not going to try any flattery. I am going to give you my version of the facts, and if your version of the facts is not my version at the conclusion of this case, there will be no criticism offered by me because the responsibility is no longer mine or ours. It is yours. Now, we have done our part, I claim, when we have given you the facts without reservation, without any ambiguity, bearing upon the issue in this case, namely, the question of the guilt or innocence of Henry Sweet relative to the charge that the State brings against him.
"Shots, One of Which Caused the Death of Leon Breiner"
There were eleven occupants of the Sweet house on the night of September 9th. Now, without mincing words, the State claims that each and every one of the occupants of that house took a hand willingly, and deliberately, and feloniously, in the killing of Leon Breiner. Now, that is just as plain as I can make it. But, we claim with reference to this case, that Henry Sweet took either an active part in the killing of Leon Breiner by firing the fatal shot that killed Breiner, or that if he did not fire the shot that actually killed Leon Breiner, he aided and abetted by his act and by his thought and by his conscience, the one who actually did fire that fatal shot.
Now, that is the theory. We start out with the proposition that there was shooting from the Sweet house. There was a variable number of shots fired from 15 to 30. Now, one of those shots killed Leon Breiner. There can't be any doubt of that. I don't think it will be disputed by the defense that one of those shots killed Leon Breiner. So we start out with the proposition that from a house in which were eleven occupants, came shots, one of which caused the death of Leon Breiner.
We don't claim absolutely to fasten on Henry Sweet the responsibility for the firing the one bullet that passed through the body of Breiner, but we do claim that Henry Sweet either fired that shot, or that he aided and abetted, by word and deed, whoever it was, one of the occupants of that house who did actually fire that shot. Now, is that a reasonable proposition? You may have some quarrel possibly with that theory, based on what might be your understanding of the law, namely; that a man can be responsible only for his own acts. Now, that is true in part, and it is not true. A man is certainly responsible for his own acts, the consequence of which he has the right to anticipate, and in addition to responsibility for his own overt acts, a man is responsible for the acts of another, in the commission of any crime in which he aids and abets by word or act, the commission of the crime by that other. Now, is that plain to you?
"Find the Necessity for a Killing"
So, to go back, it is the claim of the State that Henry Sweet either fired the shot that was fatal to Breiner, or, if you are not satisfied from the testimony in this case—not from what you may think, or may conclude—if you are not satisfied from the testimony in this case, that he aided and abetted, any one of those other ten occupants of that house, who were armed, and who fired, according to the evidence. Now, do we need offer any apology for that claim?
On the other hand, it is the claim of Henry Sweet and it is the defense interposed with reference to all defendants, that the shooting, if there was a shooting, and they deny that there was a shooting, was justifiable, because in self defense; justifiable, if you please, because it became necessary, or apparently necessary to Henry Sweet and to the occupants of that house to take a human life to protect their own lives.
Now, do you realize the claim of the State? Do you realize and do you understand the claim of the defense? We claim that there was a deliberate, willful, felonious and premeditated act on the part of someone, Henry Sweet or any of his ten companions, to take the life of Leon Breiner with malice, and we claim that there was nothing and there is nothing in this record from cover to cover that justifies the claim of self defense. They claim—now let me repeat this to you—that it became necessary; now, necessary or it became apparently necessary from facts as they occurred that night for one or all occupants of the Sweet house to take a life to protect his or their lives.
And I am going to ask you to find the necessity for a killing. I am going to ask you to find justification for the taking of Leon Breiner's life. If you find justification from the facts as they existed on the night of September 9th—and I will go farther than that—or from the facts as they appeared to Henry Sweet to exist that night, from what he saw or heard, or from what he felt honestly in his own mind, then your deliberations are through. You have found the necessity for the taking of Breiner's life, you find that the spilling of his blood, and the sacrifice that Breiner made became necessary to the preservation of life of the occupants of that house, for the preservation of their security, for the preservation of their legal right, and their constitutional privileges.
Now, is that a fair proposition to ask you gentlemen to participate in? Are we attempting to sell you on anything that doesn't exist? Have we attempted to sell you on prejudice, or on intolerance, or on anything extraneous, outside of the main issue here? Have we brought vindictiveness into this court room? Have we brought or attempted to bring racial prejudice and hatred along with us on this side of the table? Now, you are the judges of that. I claim we have not. I claim we have made a fair attempt to represent the state, to represent Breiner, if you please, and to represent Breiner's family, if you please, and to represent every other law-abiding citizen of this commonwealth.
"I Am Not Ready to Forget Leon Breiner"
The prosecutors often say that they carry no brief for the deceased. They feel, I suppose, as most of us do, that when the deceased meets his death, he is soon to be forgotten. I do not share that point of view. I carry a brief in this case, and I bring it forward, men, on behalf of Leon Breiner, and when I carry my brief to you on his behalf, I carry it to you on your own behalf, and on behalf of myself and every other man, woman, and child who lives in this state. I am not ready to forget Leon Breiner. I am not ready to let his memory pass, and I am urging you men to determine the question of whether of not his life is to be a sacrifice on the altar of Henry Sweet's rights and privileges, or whether or not, or whether, I should say, the taking of that life was not an act of villainy, of wantonness, and of pure malice, without any justification?
They haven't talked murder to you, have they? They have evaded the issue here and they have squirmed in their seats every time testimony was produced here concerning the shooting and the killing and the death of Leon Breiner. They don't like the charge. They like the picture of progress. They like to point to your automobiles careening up and down Charlevoix and Garland Avenues [the intersection in eastern Detroit, where the Sweet house was and the shooting occurred: ed.]. They want you to smell the gasoline fumes. They want you to see traffic officers in their blue uniforms directing the traffic, but they want you to forget the fact that bullets came out of the Sweet house, one of which passed through Leon Breiner, and snuffed out his life like that, and another one of which passed through the body of Haugberg [Eric Haugberg, seriously wounded in the shooting: ed.].
Fortunately, Haugberg isn't a second sacrifice to the rights and privileges that Henry Sweet and the others claimed for themselves. It is all right to talk about intolerance. It is all right to talk about racial disputes. And sociological problems, if they have any bearing. But we are here, gentlemen of the jury, in solemn deliberation upon the existence of a violation of rights, and the most sacred right to you or to me or to any man or any woman, is the right to live his life.
Now, it has been aptly said that the power and the duty of the law is the protection of human life. Isn't that so? Isn't that the dearest thing we have, and that was ever had? Isn't that what you have all fought for? If there was justification for the taking of life, in the preservation of Henry Sweet's life, then the power and the duty of the law for the protection of human life could be invoked by Henry Sweet. Henry Sweet has the right to say, in the absence of justification, "My life is sacred to me, and I am going to protect my life; if there is any justification of the taking of another life I am going to take that."
MR. CHAWKE: Just a minute. I take exception to the remark of counsel as the violation of the duty which counsel knows is his, calling attention to something that could not be called to the attention—invoking matter which is clearly improper, and I think the court understands what I mean. [Both Moll and Toms try to cast the issue in the trial as Breiner's right to life, a characterization that the defense objects to: ed.]
MR. MOLL: Well, I agree to that, your Honor. I think that the question of protection of human life works both ways.
THE COURT: What is the statement that you particularly take exception to, Mr. Chawke?
MR. CHAWKE: What went before, your Honor. I don't like to object to counsel, but I ask counsel to keep within the record, and I think, what he says, that the Court may agree to what I have particularly in mind.
THE COURT: All right. I will take it up.
"The Power and the Duty of the Law Gave Him Protection"
MR. MOLL: Now, let me go back. We are testing out the question of whether or not there is any truth in the things that the power and the duty of the law is the protection of human life. I claim that as Leon Breiner stood on that street that night, the power and the duty of the law gave him protection. It gave him the same right to live. The power and the duty of the law gave Henry Sweet the same right and security to his life. So the issue comes down to this: Was there a violation of Henry Sweet's rights by Breiner or by others with whom he may have been associated or consorting, or was there a violation of the rights of Breiner to live?
Now, that is a simple proposition. We claim, and we claim it again, and we will claim it again and again, that there is nothing in the facts in this case, nothing in the record to show justification for the taking of Breiner's life. We claim that the power and the duty of the law should be invoked for the protection of that life, and we claim that the penalty for the violation of the power and the duty of the law should fall upon Henry Sweet.
That is not vindictiveness. That is not hatred for the negro by a white man. How we hate to have that word "hatred" and "intolerance" come in here. I see no basis for it. I do not see where this becomes a question of race or color. This issue is clearly defined. It is a question of rights and violation of rights. If Breiner, or those with whom he associated, violated the rights of Henry Sweet and his associates, so that it became necessary to take a life, I have no complaint. Find the homicide justifiable. That is one side of the picture. But if there is no justification, if Breiner had no participation in any attack on Henry Sweet, or his associates, then say Leon Breiner had a right to live and Henry Sweet violated the power of the law when he deprived him of that right.
"They Will Bring in Everything But the Facts"
Now, object to that. Is there anything objectionable in that statement? Is there anything unfair? Is there anything in that statement that they can say is pictured by prejudice or by intolerance or by vindictiveness? No, but they will. They will bring it in. They will bring in intolerance and they will bring in prejudice, and they will bring in everything but the facts. They will bring, I suppose, that Doctor Sweet and his associates, that Doctor Sweet heading his associates, is the second Emancipator of the Negro race. Why, they have placed Doctor Sweet now on the pedestal of a hero. They have placed him on the pedestal of a martyr.
Why, this is martyrdom, his coming into this court room even to testify as a witness; even to come here as a star witness on behalf of his brother in martyrdom. It is beneath the dignity of Doctor Sweet, who assumed the right to live where he wanted to live, and who enforced the right be any means. I haven't any quarrel with his claims that he had the right to live where he wanted to live. That is a right that is your right and my right and Sweet's right and the right of any man or woman in this country, and in this state. But, I won't go farther with him and I won't agree with him that he had a right to live wherever he wanted to live by any means that he chose to adopt.
[Moll next describes the law relating to homicide, in particular self-defense as excusable homicide. He goes on to present the core of the State's argument:]
"The Lack of Necessity for the Taking of Human Life"
If there is justification for the shooting, your deliberations are ended. How are you going to find out whether or not there was justification? Solely from the testimony. Solely from the testimony. Now, if there is any basis of the claim of self-defense, it must arise from facts that the defense claims or that Henry Sweet claims made it apparent that he was in imminent and great danger to life or to property. Now, get that. If there is justification for the theory of self-defense, theory of excusable homicide, it must come from facts which led Henry Sweet or others in that house to believe that they were in great or imminent danger to their own lives or to their property, which led them to believe that no lesser force than the taking of life would suffice for their own protection.
Now, killing your assailant, you will appreciate, is the last resort of a man who is attacked. The law does not excuse killing of another, of an assailant, unless the man who is assailed has exhausted all lesser means of self-protection than the taking of life. So, we will look to those which impressed Henry Sweet, to the greatness and the imminence of his danger, and we will look into his mental attitude with reference to those facts. Now, that is the claim.
The defense claims even though there were facts, or happenings on the night of September 9th, that might not have led you or me to be frightened, that nevertheless Henry Sweet became frightened because he happened to be a negro. And they claim that the negro race has been persecuted and oppressed by the white race to such an extent that Henry Sweet, because of his knowledge of such oppression and such incidents, is in a different mental state, or was in a different mental state, than you or I might have been in on that night, because we are not black. So he claims a lot more latitude than we could claim, and he claims it as a result of matters communicated to him by his brother, Doctor Sweet, the star witness, who became the spokesman for the defense with reference to this mental attitude toward the situation that night, and engendered not by what happened there, that night, but engendered by the history of the negro, which Doctor Sweet assumed the burden of transmitting to Henry Sweet, his collegiate brother. Now, that is the only basis, the Court will tell you, on which that testimony concerning other incidents of racial prejudice have been admissible. . . .
Do you see the situation? So, first of all, I am going to try to take you over the facts which, in my mind, show an absence of justification, showing the lack of necessity for the taking of human life on the part of Henry Sweet or any of his associates in the preservation of theirs. And I am going to show it negatively, and I am going to attempt to show you from the testimony the absence of facts justifying any claims that this shooting was in self-defense, and later on, in connection with the theory of self-defense, I am going to allude again to these incidents concerning which Doctor Sweet, as spokesman for his brother, has testified to.
[The long passage that follows, constituting the bulk of Moll's
closing, is omitted here, but can be summarized as follows: All the
witnesses, both those for the prosecution and those for the defense, did
not testify that the crowd outside the Sweets' house was violent.
Stones were thrown mainly by a small group of young boys, but the actual
damage to the house was minor: at most, two broken windows. This
was a "neighborly, orderly crowd," mostly consisting of curious onlookers
like the victim Breiner. The crowd did not actually enter the Sweets'
property, nor were any of the occupants of the house physically harmed
or even threatened. The Sweets did not ask the police for help at
any time, although they could easily have done so; nor are there any grounds
for asserting that the police stood idly by while violence occurred.
[The testimony of the police officers who entered the house after the shooting shows that Ossian Sweet was in active charge of the people inside the house. He was also responsible for moving into the house eleven guns and large quantities of ammunition. When the shooting broke out, it came simultaneously from five parts of the house, and at least seven men participated in it. The lights in the house had been extinguished. All this is strongly suggestive of a concerted and preconceived plan to engage in violence, even though the crowd outside had not offered any substantial provocation to the Sweets beyond verbal insults.
[The text resumes with the conclusion of Moll's argument.]
Conclusion: "A Group of People That Was Well-Behaved, Orderly and Neighborly"
Now, I am still carrying the brief for Breiner. I still claim that Breiner has a right to be alive and enjoying life today, and I claim there was nothing in what happened to him on Garland Avenue that night; there was nothing that happened where Breiner stood, that would justify Henry Sweet, or any other occupant from snuffing out the life of Leon Breiner, as according to their own witnesses, he was in a group of people that was well-behaved, orderly and neighborly.
Can you get away from that testimony? On Charlevoix Avenue there couldn't have been anything. Dr. Sweet on the witness stand doesn't even remember. Mind you, looking out of his windows on Charlevoix Avenue. The only recollection that Dr. Sweet has, and the only justification therefore, that he claims for this shooting, was that he saw of thought he saw, as he went up to lie on the bed, in the front bedroom; went up there with his gun, went up there with the loaded revolver that Paul Schellenberger [a Detroit police officer, and a main witness for the prosecution: ed.] found under the radiator of the front room downstairs.
And he lay on the bed, because, as he told you on the witness stand, it was hard for him to kneel, and lay there for several minutes looking out into this crowd, as he called it, on Garland Avenue. He won't estimate the crowd. He won't place the crowd. He won't give you the territory that the crowd covered. He steadfastly refused to do that under the cross examination of Mr. Toms, who made every reasonable and fair effort that he knew how to get Dr. Sweet to testify to the magnitude of the crowd, the location of it, territory it covered, and would he do it? He absolutely would not. It was his impression. It was the same impression that he had when he told you that the side window up on Charlevoix was broken by a stone when it wasn't broken by a stone at all.
Now, I say that is an occupant of the house, Dr. Ossian Sweet, whose money went into the house, whom I claim had a right to buy the house, where he bought it, and the right to live in it. Dr. Ossian Sweet, an occupant of the house, takes the witness stand, and for one day absolutely avoids the testimony that will show any justification for the shooting of anybody, or even the shooting of a gun up in the air.
Now, is that a fair statement? Can you pin your faith—and I am talking to all of you—I am talking to you individually and collectively—can you men honestly, and can you conscientiously, find anything in the testimony of Dr. Sweet, mind you,—I am talking now of Dr. Sweet, the man whose money went into that house, who had the right to live there, to live there unmolested,—as would justify him or any of his associates shooting anybody? Now, you can conjure, you can imagine, you can conclude, you can guess, or speculate, but, gentlemen, you cannot find anything that fell from the lips of these witnesses to justify that vicious and wanton killing. Can you? I would like to know what it is. That is the thing that I have searched for high and low in this case; giving Dr. Sweet, his wife, his relatives, and his associates, the benefit of every doubt, I have prayed for some enlightenment as to the justification for the taking off of this neighbor across the street. . . .
"You Men Are Affected by the Presence Here of Mr. Darrow"
There is no prejudice in this case. There is no intolerance; oh, sure, there are a lot of things that creep in. There are a lot of things that you will be affected by. I dare say, you men are affected by the presence here of Mr. Darrow, who has taken up this case of Henry Sweet. I don't know whether he comes here as champion of the negro, or as champion of the facts, but if he comes here as the champion of the facts, he is going to go back to Chicago holding an empty sack.
MR. DARROW: Champion of what?
MR. MOLL: The facts. You may be affected by that. You may think the wisdom and the experience and the fatherly advice, and the easy manner, and the grace of Clarence Darrow can cause things to spring out of this case that are not here, but you will find them. You will find them before you leave your deliberation room, and if they are here, I will bow to his sagacity and to my lack of memory.
Now, that is important. I don't say that out of any malice or unfriendly feeling toward Mr. Darrow because I have absolutely none. The ease with which he tried this case has been a surprise and a pleasure to me, the way in which he waives aside points having to do with the issue is an education to me, and the manner in which he built up his defense, and the manner in which he conducts traffic on Charlevoix, is all very enlightening, but, I say to you, and I said what I have, as a warning to you, to look for facts rather than sentiment, and to the transaction as it actually existed rather than the sympathetic veil, or the miasmic mist, that Mr. Darrow is going to throw out.
"How Glad They Are to Get Away from the Shooting"
We are armed with the facts. We have no apology. We have noted the concern that has been there on the other side of the table when the name of Breiner has been mentioned, and how glad they are to leave the Dove house, and how glad they are to get away from the shooting, and how pleased they are when they are standing with Mrs. Spaulding like sardines in a can over here in the midst of them, five hundred people in front of the school. Oh, that is a pleasure for them. It is great to be in the mass of humanity over on the school grounds, that has been variably estimated at from five hundred to twenty, but they enjoy being there, kicking up the dirt on the school grounds. And they like to walk up to Charlevoix, and they like to walk down Garland, and they like to go with Mr. Spaulding down here in the seething throng on the gas station corner. They like to ride along in the automobile with Mr. Smith whose testimony was read here.
God, how they hate to stand in front of the Dove house. How they hate to have stood in what their own witnesses characterize as a friendly, neighborly, well-behaved and orderly crowd, in the hail of lead bullets that came from the home of their client. Oh, that is a vastly different story. Breiner is dead and gone. We are interested in the proposition that a jury of twelve men in this court of record will give them their due.
Now, let us forget about Breiner. Let us forget about that hail of lead bullets, gentlemen. Let us talk about intolerance. Take a trip down with me to the south. Take a trip with me back through the ages of history; take a trip with Dr. Ossian Sweet and stand by his side in Orlando, Florida when he was a child of seven years old. Register that remote impression of the negro instinct of which you know nothing. Speculate with me, my friends, on what caused the Washington race riot. Speculate with us again, my dear friends, on what happened in East St. Louis. Speculate, oh, you twelve conscientious and sympathetic, sentimental men in this jury box . . .
Get away from the Sweet house. Get away from the question
of justification. We will make this case to order. We will
put in a beautiful historical background. We will have a beautiful
drop-curtain. We will have a beautiful side curtain. We will
have the beautiful music of Mr. Darrow's sweet lullaby, waving aside anything
that bears on malice, and on a felonious homicide. Oh, that is beautiful.
The accompaniment to this case has been beautiful. It has been soothing,
and it has been pleasant until we talk of Breiner, and then the music of
the voice transfers itself to the basso of the funeral march, and they
wind up on the corner by the gas station. They run around the school
yard, and they run around the crowd the other witnesses didn't see, and
they talk about violence the other witnesses didn't see, and they talk
about the disturbance that didn't happen, and they talk about fear that
was never engendered.
"Why Was Henry Sweet So Fearsome That Night?"
Why was Henry Sweet so fearsome that night? He was so fearsome that night that he was justified in the taking of, or the helping to take an innocent life. He was fearsome, not as a result of what happened there; he was fearsome because of what . . . his brother Ossian told him he had seen of heard or read.
Now, I am not joking with you. I am serious. I have never been more serious in my life; and I don't know as I ever will be more serious again than when I comment on the cold facts, that we claim is no justification for the taking of human life. Ossian Sweet tells you that he imparted all of his knowledge, that is, based on his tolerance, race persecution, and oppression, to his brother Henry. Why, he even went down to Wilberforce Academy at Wilberforce, Ohio, in attendance at a football game, and used his spare time in discussing with his brother, whom he hadn't seen since he was a child, the racial situation in Detroit, with the substantial result that he imparted to Henry at that time the defendant in this case, the information or knowledge, I should prefer to call it, that Detroit was an unhealthy place for him anyhow, unhealthy for the negro in the face of testimony that the last sixteen years, the population of this town—the colored population increased 75,000 black souls; very unhealthy in the face of the testimony in the state in which they choose to live, namely, Michigan, where we happen to live, that in the entire history there have been four lynchings, the last one lynched being ... a white man, 37 years ago.
Now, his brother Henry Sweet came back from the academy at Commencement time last year, lived at his mother-in-law's house, with him and his wife–I am speaking now of Dr. Ossian Sweet–, and they discussed together, like Plato sitting at the feet of Socrates, everything that Dr. Sweet had ever read in the "Nation", the "Crisis", "The Defender"' and every colored newspaper or propaganda sheet that he could lay his hands on. And he saw Henry reading "Thirty Years of Lynchings in the United States" in his spare moments, Henry Sweet, who is an athlete, a sharpshooter, who is on the sharpshooting team, or the rifle team at Wilberforce Academy, by the testimony of one of his schoolmates that came here. Now, Dr. Sweet's frame of mind is Henry Sweet's frame of mind.
Now, they brought in that testimony on the theory that it is similar to communicated threats. Now, there is a legitimate defense proposition of the defense in this case. If I am fearsome or if I am an ordinary man, and I am informed on good authority, Mr. Robert Toms has made threats against my life, and I meet Mr. Toms under circumstances where he becomes my assailant, where he offers me violence, where he threatens me with bodily harm, where he threatens my life, I am at liberty, under the law of this state, to take into consideration not only the fact of Mr. Toms assailing me, what he does at the time, but I am at liberty to take in the fact that there has been communicated to me threats made against me by him. That is a legitimate defense, within certain limitations, upon which the court is going to instruct you.
Now, that is one extreme, if you follow me, and the historical background as far back as you want to go, is the other extreme. So, they didn't find any actual threats, because Dr. Sweet signified on the stand that no threats had been made against him. So they go into the historical background. They take him back to when he was seven years old, and have him relate to you the details of a lynching, the merits of which you know nothing about. I am not an exponent of lynching. I am an exponent of letting the law take its course. I am an advocate of going before a jury of twelve men with the facts, as we are in this case, and letting that jury decide the facts.
Oh, twenty-three years ago, twenty-three years back into his life, Dr. Ossian Sweet went, so he claims, in effect, although he doesn't claim it expressly. He does not claim that he had that in mind on the night of the shooting. You don't know where he thought of it. You don't know where he heard of it. You don't know where he saw it, and if he did see it, and the same is true of what happened on Spokane. He was told what happened. He was told what happened on American. He was told what happened on Stoepel, and he heard it from the lips of one who was prejudiced. He saw the situation through colored complexion.
Now, that is Ossian Sweet. And he, in his testimony, and these gentlemen, in their argument, are going to ask you to transplant from the mind of Ossian Sweet those fears, engendered by what he has seen heard, read, or thought that he had seen, heard, or read into the mind of Henry Sweet, to give him justification for a brutal killing that the facts do not justify. Now, am I right, or am I wrong, if you strip race prejudice and intolerance out of this case, and arrive at your verdict based solely on the facts?
"I Am Putting the Case of Leon Breiner Right on Your Doorstep"
Now, we are going to leave this case in your hands. We are going to ask you not to judge us, not to be harsh with Henry Sweet, or the occupants of that house, not intolerant of a situation for which we are in no way responsible; not intolerant of the fact that we are not all white, or supposedly white, not intolerant of the situation that makes some of our brothers black, but we are asking you to take this situation, gentlemen, as you find it.
Upon moving into Garland Avenue, Dr. Sweet and his associates found themselves in a place where they had a right to live. I do not deny them that. They found circumstances there that we claim amount to no justification for a shooting. They found the stage set, and Breiner found the stage set for what happened and, gentlemen, it is with what happened that we are concerned. It is not whether you have any prejudice. It is not whether you are intolerant. It is not whether you are uncharitable, unsympathetic or sentimental. It is not whether Dr. Sweet and his associates had a right to move into a home of their own; it is what happened there on the night of September 9th. Was there justification for a shooting? Either in what happened, or in connection with what happened because of the frame of mind of Henry Sweet.
Now, let me impress on you, although the State claims that every occupant of the house has the blood of Leon Breiner on his head, we are only trying now before you the case of Henry Sweet. We are trying it on the simple issue of whether his act was wanton, willful, premeditated and deliberate, or whether there was justification by what happened there that night on the corner of Charlevoix and Garland for what we claim to be a very brutal, cruel, and willful fatal killing, shooting.
Now, I am carrying the brief of Leon Breiner, and I am putting the case of Leon Breiner right on your doorstep. We haven't dodged it. You can't dodge it, and alongside the dead body of Leon Breiner I am placing the fate of Henry Sweet. Now, you can judge him, giving both their due, and remember that the power and the duty of the law is the protection of human life.
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