August 7, 2019
I may have written about this a few years ago, but no matter.
I was mindlessly leafing through old copies of Vermont Supreme Court decisions (yes, that’s actually something I do), when I came across a case from 1928. What drew my attention was the name of the attorney representing the defendant. Clarence Darrow. In 1928, Darrow was almost certainly the most well-known attorney in the country. What the heck, I asked, was Darrow doing arguing an appeal before the Vermont Supreme Court?
It turns out that his son Paul had been a student at Dartmouth around the turn of the century, when his horse was involved in a tragic accident, resulting in the death of a young boy. Paul gave the boy’s mother a note telling her that if she ever needed help, the Darrow family would be available. Some 20 years later, she got her chance.
Her nephew, John Winters, had been convicted of a particularly heinous murder and had been sentenced to death. Could Mr. Darrow help?, she asked.
Darrow, then 71 and on the cusp of retirement, traveled to Montpelier for the oral argument. The Vermont Supreme Court’s gallery was packed, and the Court opened the doors to the courtroom so that those who could not fit in could nevertheless hear the proceedings.
In a 3-2 decision, the Court reversed the conviction. Winters was found guilty after a second trial — in which Darrow was not involved — but this time was given a life sentence.
See the kind of stuff you can dredge up just skimming through old law books?