Massacres and Inexplicable Acts of Violence Among the Teenage Population
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Social reaction to school massacres and inexplicable acts of violence among the teenage population in the late twentieth century flooded television news programs and media broadcasting almost on a monthly basis. Many Americans questioned why such seemingly healthy and established children would want to harm themselves and others around them. Several psychological and moral issues arise from this question. Despite legal efforts to differentiate between adult and adolescent crimes, many argue that children who commit such heinous mass murders should be tried as adults and put to death for their inexcusable and fatal acts of violence. In 1924, the murder trial of two Chicago teenagers sparked an equal amount of public outcry. For no apparent reason except for pleasure and curiosity, Nathan F. Leopold Jr., age nineteen, and long-time friend, Richard A. Loeb, age eighteen, brutally murdered fourteen-year-old Bobby Franks by beating him to death with a chisel. In the state of Illinois at that time, there were two crimes punishable by death—murder and kidnapping for ransom. Leopold and Loeb committed both of these offenses, but, despite the law, Leopold and Loeb were sentenced to life in prison. The principal reason why Leopold and Loeb were not executed was primarily due to the fact that they had a very influential defense attorney, Clarence Darrow, who was able to convince the judge that capital punishment was morally wrong.
Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb first met at the University of Chicago. Leopold was fifteen years old and Loeb was one year younger. The relationship between the two was unusual. They argued often. At one point in their relationship they each threatened to kill one another. Despite their qu...
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...ged the judge to make a judgment reflecting the most appropriate and principled decision possible. On September 10, 1924 the judge was ready to rule. Two issues determined his sentence—age and humanity. The judge sentenced both Leopold and Loeb to life in prison, recommending no parole.
Clarence Darrow had won the case for his two young defendants. He was able to emphasize humanity over evidence, and influence the judge that a wrong cannot correct wrongdoing. The state of affairs surrounding the murder of Bobby Franks was presented by Darrow as secondary evidence. He primarily focused on the issues of morality, sympathy, and the inhumane nature of capital punishment. Darrow was able to shift the responsibility and guilt of the crime from Leopold and Loeb to the judge by emphasizing that he alone would bear the guilt and burden of the sentence.