It was his knowledge
of ballistics in a noted case in the 1920's that vaulted Leibowitz to national
attention. Harry Hoffman, a motion picture operator, had been charged
with abducting and killing a female motorist after her car had broken down
on a Staten Island roadway. The evidence seemed to point to Hoffman,
and he was convicted, but he was able to win a second trial on a technicality.
When his attorney died, Hoffman appealed to Leibowitz to take the case,
which he did. And after intensive study, Leibowitz was able to prove that
Hoffman couldn't have killed the woman because the trajectory of the murder
bullet showed it came from a righthanded shooter, while Hoffman was lefthanded.
He left the court a free man.
What's Real Intelligence--about the World and Ourselves?,
a discussion of Samuel Leibowitz
& the Scottsboro Case
But, along with persons like Hoffman, Leibowitz also defended career criminals
such as Al Capone and Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll. Trying to justify himself,
he said he felt everyone has the right to a proper defense. But what did
he really feel, trying to free those he knew were doing great harm
to humanity? In Self and World, Mr. Siegel describes a basic
conflict of a lawyer when he writes:
on his part to be useful comes deviously, and sometimes head-on, against
the desire to be comfortable. If he chooses the comfortable there will
be protest within him."
There was protest within
Leibowitz as he got notoriety and big money defending such men as Coll
and Capone. This deviousness was against real intelligence and he
became increasingly reluctant to represent underworld characters, saying
each new case was “a backbreaking chore,” and “the strain had become intolerable.”
Just what the strain was I don’t think he was clear about, but as time
went on the conflict intensified. Writes Reynolds:
slept more than an hour or two during a difficult trial. He [felt] he mustn’t
lose;….[He knew] every district attorney in New York hoped to be the one
to beat Leibowitz in a major case. "
While my life is very different from that of Leibowitz, I too, was in a
fight between wanting to be useful to people and a desire to be liked by
flattering or joking. I would avoid being really interested or deep
about a person’s life. And this was literally taking life out of
me. Once, in a class where I spoke somewhat smoothly about a friend
I care for, Ms. Reiss asked me questions that had me make a more intelligent
choice. "As you think about people,” she asked, “is there a deep feeling,
‘God, I want this person to succeed?' Do you want who you are to really
be engaged in having a person be all they can be?...Do you think you’re
I like to avoid controversy.
She was right and I thank
her for encouraging intelligence in me. It’s made me a more useful, happier
before you really say anything, there is how you think. If you were to
have a conversation with Mr. Jones about what he is looking for-and you
were really thinking of him and what he was hoping for and you were asking
questions from the depth and not giving up—what would happen to you—would
you be more yourself or less yourself?
MP: I think, more.
ER: Does it excite
you? [Can you think] here’s a person I have a chance to add to, and to
be added to by? Do you think that is the most important American
sport?...There’s a kind of good will for another Michael Palmer wants to
Scottsboro Case —A Call for Good Will
In 1931, in the
midst of the Great Depression, the nation's interest was captivated by
the Scottsboro Case—the trials of nine young Black
men in the deep South, facing the death penalty on charges of raping two
white women on a freight train between Chatanooga, Tennessee and Huntsville,
Alabama. A number of black and white youths and the women had all
hopped on the train at the Chatanooga railyards. At some point, there was
a fight and five of the whites were tossed off the train. Authorities in
Scottsboro, Alabama stopped the train, arrested the black youths as the
two women came forth, saying they'd been raped by the defendants.
conclusion click here