Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Creators: What Does It Take To Be The 'Trial of the Century'

Matthew T. Mangino
May 28, 2024

This week we can expect a verdict in New York v. Donald Trump. This might be the most important criminal trial in the history of our country — a former president and current frontrunner in the race for another shot at the White House is on trial in Manhattan accused of falsifying business records to cover up a tryst with a porn star.

We have heard talk in the past of "trials of the century." The People v. Simpson generated some renewed interest with the recent death of O.J. Simpson. In 1994, the football Hall of Famer's ex-wife, Nicole Brown, and her friend Ronald Goldman were stabbed to death outside her home in Los Angeles. After more than a year of mesmerizing television coverage, Simpson was acquitted.

The Simpson trial riveted the nation. Every moment of the trial was televised on cable news channels. News programs and talk shows analyzed every facet of the trial. The same is not true for New York v. Trump. The lack of cameras has contributed to a lack of interest.

The criminal prosecution of a former president seems to have generated less interest than the 2022 civil trial involving Johnny Depp and his ex-wife, Amber Heard. According to Axios, from April 4 to May 16, 2022, news articles about the trial had generated more social-media interactions per article in the United States than the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion on abortion, Elon Musk's acquisition of Twitter, and the Russian invasion of the Ukraine. Live streaming is the difference between the incredible interest in Depp's trial and the ho-hum view of Trump's trial.

The 20th century had more than one "trial of the century." In fact, exactly 100 years ago, there was a murder trial splashed across newspapers nationwide.

Two men accused of murder, and their names have withstood the test of time even without livestreaming.

In 1924, Nathan Leopold Jr. and Richard Loeb, two wealthy University of Chicago students, rented a car and stocked it with tools to commit the "perfect crime." They drove to a nearby Chicago park and waited for the perfect victim. They found Bobby Franks.

The two young men lured the 14-year-old Franks into the car. They were subsequently accused of murdering and mutilating Franks for the thrill of the kill.

Although the prosecution of Leopold and Loeb was heralded as the "trial of the century," the case was not really a trial at all. Renowned criminal defense attorney Clarence Darrow changed the young men's pleas from not guilty to guilty and focused his efforts on preventing their execution.

Darrow chose to focus on saving the lives of Leopold and Loeb, his two young sadistic clients. Darrow asked the judge, "Why did they kill little Bobby Franks? Not for money, not for spite; not for hate. They killed him as they might kill a spider or a fly, for the experience. They killed him because they were made that way."

He continued to argue, "Kill them. Will that prevent other senseless boys or other vicious men or vicious women from killing? No!"

Darrow's condemnation of the death penalty concluded, "Your Honor, what excuse could you possibly have for putting these boys to death? You would have to turn your back on every precedent of the past. You would have to turn your back on the progress of the world. You would have to ignore all human sentiment and feeling — you would have to do all this if you would hang boys of 18 and 19 years of age who have come into this court and thrown themselves upon your mercy."

Leopold and Loeb were saved from the death penalty and sentenced to life in prison. Trump is not facing the death penalty, but maybe the death of his political ambitions. Can his lawyers save the life of his campaign?

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book "The Executioner's Toll, 2010" was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.

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