There exists nothing new under the sun, said King Solomon in Ecclesiastes 1:9. Just trip back in time almost 100 years ago to an infamous “affluenza” case. In 1924 to be exact, a pair of cocky teenagers were on trial for their lives. Enter the famous anti-death penalty attorney Clarence Darrow – hired by the wealthy parents — who would set out to prove that his clients, the child murderers Leopold and Loeb, were “diseased, both physically and mentally,” therefore not responsible for their actions and not deserving of swinging from a rope.
“Experts” for the defense were brought in claiming Darrow’s clients suffered from stunted emotional growth due to their privileged lives. Darrow would also claim (thru his experts) that the pair had physical and mental deficiencies. That’s a hard sell considering both child-killers graduated high school at the age of 15 — both at the time of the murder had previously graduated from the University of Chicago — but it worked. Or at least that’s one theory of how Leopold and Loeb fell into the legal-pit and emerged without so much as the smell of smoke upon them.
The other theory being that the deciding judge (no jury for this) on this case saw the now 20 year olds sitting before him as simply mischievous little toddlers who needed just a time-out in the corner, aka prison.
Clarence Darrow had saved the day, saving Leopold and Loeb’s necks from the gallows; his clients received only a sentence of life in prison, a mere pittance for mutilating and murdering a child. It was said of these two that they were bound by neither law nor morality, code words for “affluenza”. It never ceases to amaze me that in today’s courts of law, perpetrators can so skillfully be portrayed victims by their attorneys. I wonder if one of Darrow’s own children had been a mutilated-murdered victim, if he would have been so anti-death penalty.
Today I see that spirit of snake oil salesmanship is still alive and well under the sun. The public — and judges — are still gullible. Here in Texas, in 2013 to be exact, Ethan Couch was a very drunk 16-year-old who was speeding and driving illegally (on a restricted license) when he plowed into a group of people standing on the side of the road, four died. The case became a topic of national conversation because, despite the severity of his crime, he got off with a simple slap on the wrist, called probation, thanks to his defense team -– successfully once again winning a case based on the effects of “affluenza” for a defense.
This defense of “Affluenza” is a shame to us. Have we not progressed enough in the past one hundred years to see the brutal truth? To discern right from wrong, without apology? Apparently the proverbial “wool” still can be pulled over our eyes.
Image: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Germany license. Flag of Germany.svg; Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-12794 / CC-BY-SA 3.0