Ossian and Gladys Sweet, along with their family and friends, were tried separately from Ossian's brother
Henry, who was accused with killing bystander
Leon Breiner. (The following information is used with permission from Doug Linder.)
The Trial of The People of Michigan v. Ossian Sweet et al.
Arthur Garfield Hays, as part of the legal defense team with Clarence Darrow, made the opening statement.
His argument was based on the idea that every citizen has the right to protect his or her home and property.
Each person has the right of self-defense if he or she perceives a threat to life and property.
Clarence Darrow interrogated seventy-one witnesses called by the prosecution, including neighbors, bystanders, and police officers who were present at the time of the shooting. The prosecution team attempted to prove that everyone inside the Sweet home that night were the aggressors, and that by their actions an innocent person was deliberately killed and another wounded.
In his summation to the jury, prosecutor Robert Toms attempted to reinforce the idea that the trial wasn't about solving the racial issues of the country, but about punishing those guilty of killing an innocent man. While his approach was one of "reason," he subtly played on the fears and racial bias of the all-white jury. Clarence Darrow's summation asked the jurors to identify with those accused in this case. In the end, this approach succeeded in moving the members of the jury to see the humanity of the case, and with it the question of true justice.
The jury deliberated 46 hours but was unable to reach a verdict. Judge Frank Murphy declares a mistrial and releases all defendents on bail..
The Trial of The People of Michigan vs. Henry Sweet
Although it is quite clear that shots were fired from the Sweet home the night of September 9, 1926, the prosecution's challenge was to prove that Henry Sweet was intent on taking a life that night. Doug Linder offers commentary on the closing arguments in the case on his web site.
From excerpts published on Douglas Linder's web site, we learn that:
"The state's theory was briefly: that either Henry Sweet fired the shot which killed Leon Breiner or that he aided and abetted the man who did. That if he did aid and abet some one or more of the persons in the house who caused the death of Breiner, his act would be their act and their act would be his. "
A "observer's account" of the trial can be found here. A portion of the moments when the jury reached its verdict are described on this page:
"Suddenly, at one minute to five, came a loud knocking on the jury door. There was n inpouring from the halls. In the excitement no one could locate that engaging, ever sociable person, Frank Nolan, the clerk. Judge Murphy, in a voice raised for him, put his head into the courtroom and said sternly: "Don't bring that jury in until we are ready for them." People continued to gather swiftly until the room was more crowded than on any day of the trial. A wait, while throats tightened. In desperation, another clerk was secured. Henry Sweet, his hands pressed together, stood for a moment, his face to the wall. His chin quivered. At last--the jury door was unlocked, and the men in single file, marched in, headed by the foreman. The regular question was put: "Have you gentlemen in the course of your deliberations reached a verdict in the case of Henry Sweet? And if so who will answer for you?" And then (from the Cunard Anchor Lines man): "We have and I will." Stillness that pressed and hurt. With an effort, Small cleared his throat. "Not Guilty,"" he said, and his voice broke.
Toms, incredulous, asked to have the verdict repeated. And then, in the emotional relief, there were sobs, laughs, warm congratulations. Few eyes were dry. Even that cool, unemotional man, Mr. Chawke, was unable for a moment to speak. Tears rolled down the checks of Clarence Darrow and of Henry Sweet. "