The ‘perfect’ murder of a genius boy

  The death penalty is the most severe punishment, with the purpose of directly depriving the criminal of his life, so it is called capital punishment. In human history, the death penalty has been used to punish those who commit heinous crimes, so as to achieve the deterrent effect of punishment. However, with the rise and development of the European Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries, enlightenment thinkers re-examined the death penalty system, and more and more voices appeared to abolish the death penalty. The classic work “On Crime and Punishment” by Beccaria, the originator of modern criminal law, “turned out” and pushed the abolition of the death penalty into a huge human rights movement.
  Today, most developed countries have abolished the death penalty, and the United States, as the most developed economy, still retains the death penalty, but the discussion on whether to abolish the death penalty has never stopped, especially when major vicious cases occur, the attitude towards the death penalty will change. The people were divided into two distinct camps.
  In the history of the United States, there was a sensational case that combined three eye-catching elements: genius boy, perfect crime and murder art. Originally, it was a sure thing that the two criminals were sentenced to death, but the lawyer’s brilliant defense not only reversed the fate of the two, but also triggered a profound reflection on the death penalty, which happened in the 1920s. Illinois v. Leopold The Murder of De and Loeb (hereafter referred to as the Leopold case).
Murder as “art”

  On the evening of May 21, 1924, the Franks received a call at their Chicago home from a man calling himself “George Johnson” who said they had kidnapped their son, Robert Franks, but did not harm him. Ask them to wait for further news tomorrow. In fact, earlier in the day, seeing that Robert had not returned for a long time, his father Jacob Franks had called the Chicago police and asked the police to help find his son.
  On the morning of May 22, they received a letter typed out. Although its content was well-spoken and courteous, the Franks felt no warmth at all. The kidnappers demanded a ransom of $10,000, and detailed requirements for payment methods, such as old unmarked banknotes, and put the money in white paper-wrapped, wax-sealed boxes. The letter told them to wait for the next instructions. They received another call from the kidnappers that day, saying that a taxi would take Jacob to a grocery store.
  Just as the anxious Franks were preparing for the ransom, the police called to report that the body of a child had been found near Wolf Lake, south of Chicago, and asked them to confirm whether it was Robert. Although the body was naked and disfigured by hydrochloric acid, the Franks were grief-stricken to discover that this was their son. The police quickly identified the suspects, who were two talented teenagers called “rich and handsome” – 18-year-old Richard Loeb and 19-year-old Nathan Leopold.
  Richard Leob, the youngest graduate in the history of the University of Michigan, went on to study at the University of Chicago after graduation. His father was the vice president of Sears Roebuck, the second largest retailer in the United States. Loeb especially likes to read detective novels and is obsessed with crime stories. This hobby has also profoundly affected his way of thinking. He believes that as long as he uses a genius method of crime, there must be a “perfect” crime that no one in the world can solve.
  Nathan Leopard also came from a wealthy family. He was proficient in 15 languages. He entered the University of Chicago to study law at the age of 15. At that time, he had been admitted to Harvard Law School and was a recognized genius. He is also an ornithologist with a keen interest in birds and has published research papers in core journals. In addition, he is a fan of Nietzsche, especially his “superman” philosophy. The “superman” in Nietzsche’s eyes is by no means a mediocre person in life, but transcends self and others, and is an absolute powerhouse and a natural ruler; “superman” is not bound by existing laws and customs, and he is It is the creator of the value system, the measure of truth and the criterion of morality.
  In Leopold’s eyes, both he and Leber are “superman” in Nietzsche’s philosophy, and “superman” can kill people “legally”, especially those “cowardly, mediocre” ordinary people. “Superman” is the law, which can judge the life and death of the world. They also believed that murder was a crime for the majority and a privilege for the few, and that the superior could “reasonably” kill the inferior, with “superman” undoubtedly being the “minority” and the “superior.” They had been involved in several thefts and arson cases before and went undetected. But such a small case can no longer satisfy their “superman” character, so they want to practice the crazy idea of ​​”taking murder as art and the dead as works”.
  From the perspective of family environment and educational background, both of them were born with a golden key, received a good education and possessed a high IQ. Leber was outgoing and lively, while Leopold was reserved and quiet, but the two became good friends soon after they met, and there is even evidence that they were a gay couple.
  On the afternoon of May 21, 1924, the two were driving a rented car to search for targets on the street, and they happened to meet Robert’s distant cousin, 14-year-old Robert. Robert is a tennis fan, and they lured him into the car on the pretext of identifying a tennis racket. Loeb first hit him hard with a chisel, then suffocated him by stuffing rags and tape into his mouth. After killing Robert, the pair dumped his body in a drain in a sewer on Chicago’s south side, took his clothes, mutilated his appearance, and washed blood from his car.
  When the two committed the crime, there were no witnesses present, so how did the police find out that the two of them were the murderers?
Imperfect “perfect crime”

  On the morning of May 22, a railway maintenance worker passed near the sewer where the body was thrown, and immediately called the police after finding a body. A pair of horn-framed glasses were found when police surveyed the scene. It was this pair of glasses that made the police follow the map and confirmed that Leopold was suspected of committing the crime. It turned out that Leopold’s glasses accidentally fell off the scene when the two were throwing their bodies. This pair of glasses had a very expensive hinge device. At that time, only three people in Chicago owned such glasses. The police quickly locked three people based on this clue. After confirming the alibi of the other two, Leopold became the biggest and only suspect.
  The police came to Leopold’s home and asked him about the glasses, who happened to be there. Leopold lied that he had previously observed birds in the area where the bodies were found and that he had taken pictures near sewers. Leopold didn’t realize that he had lost his glasses, so he said that the glasses were kept at home, but he could not find them after pretending to look for them. The police suspected that the two were involved in the murder and brought them back to the police station for questioning.
  Police also asked about the activities of the two men on the day of the incident. Leopold said that the two of them drove their car for a ride in the morning, went to eat in the city at noon, and then went to the south to observe birds. The two must have colluded in advance, and Loeb also confirmed Leopold’s claims.

  There is no breakthrough in this clue for the time being, but the police also have another important piece of evidence, which is the kidnapping letter sent to the Franks and his wife. Experts identified the letter as being typed on an Underwood hand-held typewriter. Police learned that Leopold and his classmates had used the typewriter to print exam materials. The police carefully checked the kidnapping letter with the test materials and confirmed that they were from the same typewriter, which Leopold’s servant also said he had at home. But Leopold denied that he had such a typewriter, and the police searched Leopold’s home and found no typewriter.
  Then the police found another major clue: Leopold’s driver said the car was taken for repairs on the day of the incident. The lie of the two driving out for a drive is self-defeating. The police followed the clues and found the car rented by the two people, and found blood on the car that had not been cleaned. In the face of overwhelming evidence, the two had to plead guilty and confessed to the detailed process of killing Robert.
  The case was very newsworthy. After the media coverage, it caused a huge sensation in the society. The public was shocked and indignant at the unmotivated and extremely cruel murders of Leopold and Loeb, and mainstream public opinion demanded two sentences. death penalty. Prosecutors also claimed it was “the most complete case ever faced by a grand jury” and vowed to send the pair to the gallows.
life-and-death defense

  After the case was prosecuted, the families of Leopold and Loeb knew their chances of life were slim, so they hired Clarence Darrow, one of the best lawyers in America at the time. Dan Nuo was hailed as “the greatest defense lawyer in American history” by later generations, and is a well-known figure in the American legal circle. The basic rights of people at the bottom of society. But Leopold and Loeb were clearly not vulnerable, and their families chose Dano because he was a staunch abolitionist. Danno believed that the death penalty originated from the primitive and backward idea of ​​homomorphic revenge, which was obviously extremely inhumane and barbaric in the world of the 20th century and should be abolished. Given the sensational level of the Leopold case, Danno could use it to publicize his opposition to the death penalty, which is probably his deep consideration for taking on the case.
  But even a great lawyer like Danno knew the case was tricky. Leopold and Loeb have already pleaded guilty, and the chain of evidence is true and complete. It is impossible to overturn their confessions, let alone that he never thought to do so. Because Dan Nuo knew very well that trying to defend the innocence of the two was nothing short of a fantasy, and he could only find a way to let the court sentence them to avoid the death penalty.
  Denno first applied for a jury-free trial, so he only needed to defend against the judge, because in the jury system of the common law system, the juror decides whether the defendant is guilty by finding the facts of the case, and the judge has to deal with the law involved in the case. problem, and is responsible for the specific sentencing work when the defendant is guilty. In this case, since there is no acquittal defense, there is no need to set up a jury, and in the presence of 12 jurors, the behavior of the two defendants may be more likely to cause public anger, further worsening the public opinion situation of the two . Because judges have received professional legal training and have rich legal practice, they are more calm and rational, and will not be disturbed too much by the emotions of the public.

In Leopold’s eyes, he and Leber were both “supermen” in Nietzsche’s philosophy, who could “legally” kill those “cowardly, mediocre” ordinary people.

On January 17, 2017, local time, in Washington, the United States, people gathered in front of the United States Supreme Court to organize an anti-death penalty march. Twenty-three states in the United States have abolished the death penalty, while the federal government and 27 states still retain the death penalty.

After the case was prosecuted, Leopold and Loeb’s families hired Clarence Danno (center), one of the best lawyers in America at the time.

A pair of glasses made the police follow the picture and confirmed that Leopold was suspected of committing the crime.

  On August 22, 1924, the case was formally tried. Although the prosecution and defense also had a fierce confrontation, when it came to Dan Nuo’s final defense, the entire courtroom almost became Dan Nuo’s one-man show. To be able to persuade the judge, Danno used the courtroom as a rostrum for personal preaching, giving a long speech. The whole speech was high-spirited and powerful, sorting out the ins and outs and key points of the case; it was also emotional and touching, which made people feel sympathy for the two defendants. As the saying goes, criminal defense lawyers always make people see the best side of bad people, divorce lawyers always make people see the worst side of good people, Dan Nuo, through his eloquent expression, makes judges see that more behind the case should be included. Considering the complex factors, some scholars have commented: “Few trials can be as tearful as the 1924 murder of Leopold and Loeb.”
  First, Danno pointed out that the wealth and age of the defendant should not be neglect. “If we fail in this case, it’s not because of lack of money, it’s because we have it. The most serious obstacle we have encountered is money. Sometimes poverty is a good thing.” In other words, the two Instead, the family background of the defendants aroused public hatred of the wealthy, which led to a wave of calls for their death sentences. It would be obviously unjust if the defendant was sentenced to death because of the wealth of the defendant’s parents.
  Danno also specifically checked the death penalty records in Illinois, and a total of 90 people were executed by hanging in history. None of the death row inmates were under the age of 23, while the two accused were 18 and 19 years old. If the judge does not follow the precedent and insists that the defendant be sentenced to death, Danno said in a mixed tone of pleading and questioning: “You will have to ignore all the precedents of the past, you will have to ignore the progress of the world, you will have to ignore all the Human emotions and compassion are out of the question. But I know that this courtroom is full of those human emotions.”

Stills from the films “Blood of the Door” (1959) and “Reaper of Souls” (1948) based on the Leopold case. The Leopold case has been adapted into novels, movies, musicals and other literary works.

  Second, Danno implored the judge not to sentence the two to death. He said that sentenced to death would neither bring Robert back to life nor discover true justice, on the contrary “cruelty can only breed cruelty” and “hatred can only lead to hatred”, and only kindness, fraternity and understanding can resolve this endless cruelty and hatred. “If the two were sentenced to death,” Dano asked, “is this a glorious day for Chicago? Is this a glorious victory for the state’s attorney? Is this a great victory for American justice? Is this a glorious victory for American justice? Glorious manifestations of Christian spirit, kindness, and tolerance?” So he appealed to the court: “I am praying for the innumerable descendants, not so much for these two children. Those descendants may not Will be as well protected as these two children, who may fall helpless in the storm. It is for them that I am thinking, and it is for them that I beseech this court not to go back there Cruel, barbaric past.”
  Finally, Dan Nuo analyzed the mental state of the two defendants in detail, explaining that the two actually suffered from different degrees of mental illness, which led them to commit such a brutal crime. He first mentioned the psychiatrist’s diagnosis, and found that the two defendants were different from ordinary people in that they had no “emotional reaction”. Even when they talked about those very scary things, their expressions did not change in the slightest. They also lacked “moral shock,” which is apparently highly unusual. Danno then recounts the psychological impact of their childhood experiences on them.
  Loeb was severely disciplined as a child by his governess, who then forced Loeb to study hard “as if he had to put plants in a greenhouse”, hoping that he would reach the highest level of perfection. Growing up in such a stressful environment, Loeb lost the free nature that children should have enjoyed. In order to escape the control of his tutor, he learned to lie and play truancy, and even became obsessed with detective novels and immersed himself in crime stories all day long, which also led him to form a stubborn idea: “There is always a place in the world that no one can detect. The perfect case, there is always a case that the detectives can’t start.” Danno also pointed out that Loeb had a strong interest in the story of Charlie Rose’s kidnapping, which also planted a seed in his heart. – He’s going to carry out a seamless kidnapping and murder case.
  Danno concluded that the behavior of the two of them can be explained from childhood. They kill like an instinct, just in pursuit of novel experiences and excitement. “When childhood dreams and childhood hallucinations are still wandering in a person When you don’t go, when a person is growing physically into an adult, psychologically still a child, and still has the emotions, feelings, and hallucinations of a child, you can say that it is these childhood dreams and hallucinations that should affect the person. responsible for his actions.”
  Danno’s brilliant defense clearly moved the judge. The court handed down the verdict on September 10, 1924, and Loeb and Leopold were sentenced to life in prison and 99 years in prison, respectively. The subsequent fate of the two was also dramatic. Loeb was killed by his fellow inmates while serving his sentence in 1936, and Leopold was paroled in 1958 and moved to Puerto Rico to continue his education and work in bird research. He also married a local widow and eventually died of a heart attack in 1971.
Thinking inside and outside the case

  Nearly a hundred years have passed since the Leopold case, known as the “Century Case”, but inside and outside the case, there are two important issues worthy of consideration and discussion, and this discussion still has strong practical significance.
  Inside the case is the question of whether the death penalty should be abolished. With the improvement of human civilization and the in-depth development of legal practice, the abolition of the death penalty has become a grand political, social and cultural movement, and more and more countries have abolished the death penalty. Beccaria, mentioned at the beginning, raises a powerful question about the legitimacy and rationality of the death penalty. Camus also considered the death penalty as an “abhorrent demonstration” in “Contemplation of the Death Penalty”, and its deterrent effect was very limited.
  Of course, each country’s national conditions, social conditions, and people’s conditions are very different. Whether or not to abolish the death penalty should be adjusted according to local conditions and times. For example, the United States and Japan still retain the death penalty, but there is no doubt that the abolition of the death penalty will be an inevitable trend. Reversing the trend of the times. In his final defense, Danno also looked forward fondly: “I pray for life, understanding, kindness, friendliness, and infinite compassion for all human beings, and I pray that we can conquer cruelty with kindness and hate with love. I know, The future is on my side.” Today, more than 100 countries and regions in the world have abolished the death penalty, which also verifies what he said “the future is on my side”.
  Beyond the case, it’s a question of whether lawyers should defend “bad guys”. In the Leopold case, where two defendants brutally murdered a 14-year-old child without any motive, Danno was undoubtedly defending the so-called “bad guys”, an approach that must have left many feeling Confused or even strongly opposed. Is a lawyer’s vocation to uphold justice and become the incarnation of an angel, or to perform his duties, even if he sometimes has to be the devil’s spokesman? In the author’s opinion, in the field of law, it is not the only duty of lawyers to do justice for the heavens, and their most important duty is to provide good legal services to their clients. Only in the “cooperation” of the roles can the desired results be achieved. The court is the place where justice is realized, but justice cannot be realized by itself. Only in the process of confrontation and game between the prosecution and the defense can the truth be discovered. Of course, this kind of truth is the truth of legal fact, not the truth of objective fact. The two are sometimes the same, sometimes they are quite different or even completely different.
  Moreover, many cases are often not so clear, and the parties are not black and white. At this time, the prosecution and defense should perform their respective duties and do their best to defeat the other, which is the best respect for each other, the court, and the law. This is similar to what was revealed by Mandeville’s paradox and Adam Smith’s theory of selfishness. That is, only private “bad morals” can achieve public interests. Looking at it from the perspective of moral philosophy, the commercial society and market system where individuals are selfish and profit-seeking by corporations certainly do not have moral legitimacy. Undoubtedly a “romantic whim”.

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