From the NPR Story on the trial, “In the Leopold and Loeb trial of 1924, attorney Clarence Darrow achieved what many thought impossible. He saved the lives of two cold-blooded child-killers with the power of a speech.
Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were teenagers living in a wealthy Chicago suburb when they were arrested for murder. Loeb had recently graduated, at 17 years old, from the University of Michigan, and planned to begin law school in the fall. He was obsessed with the idea of the perfect crime. His neighbor, a brilliant young man, Nathan Leopold, was a law student and a believer in Frederick Nietzsche’s concept of the “superman” — the idea that it is possible to rise above good and evil.” (Read more about the crime here.)
Clarence Darrow’s argument, also from the NPR article,
“The trial reached its climax with Clarence Darrow’s closing argument, delivered over twelve hours in a sweltering courtroom. Darrow admitted the guilt of his clients but argued that forces beyond their control influenced their actions. Law professor Phillip Johnson describes Darrow’s argument this way: “Nature made them do it, evolution made them do it, Nietzsche made them do it. So they should not be sentenced to death for it.” Darrow convinced the judge to spare his clients. Leopold and Loeb received life in prison.”
Think about this. If we are mere molecules in motion, then there is no “voluntary” action. We are reacting to forces in our brains and we are not “responsible” because we could not “decide” to do otherwise.
The whole framework of Criminal Justice fails if we do not have the will to obey the law.
This was a lightening bolt out of the blue in 1924. It is not so surprising in 2022.
Lawyers often make arguments today that criminals had no “choice” in the matter. Are they really strict materialists? Or are they merely following Darrow’s lead and giving their clients the best defense they can by grasping an any explanatory straw.
The result is the same. As personal responsibility goes down, personal accountability drops as well. And brazen crimes go up.
We explore these themes in this week’s Movie Night. We will watch Rope by Alfred Hitchcock and will discuss these themes afterward.
We rightly crave justice. But what does justice mean in mere material universe? Our craving for justice is a compass pointing to an ultimate Judge who wrote the law into our hearts. And we can be comforted that those who seem to escape justice in this world will eventually stand before the Just Judge of all.
That is a terrifying concept, so don’t fear. You can boldly approach the Just Judge on that day because Jesus has turned the throne of Justice into a throne of forgiveness.
“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”Hebrews 4:16 ESV