Reilly's Choice
Mon Dec 17, 2018 19:37

Hi Bob, So true about Lindbergh's hero status. It's almost like he was the last star of the silent screen; and his stardom continued into the "talkie" era. On the other hand, and for the same reason, I suppose, he wasn't a guy one would want to mess with. His quiet nature had less to do with shyness than disposition. Lucky Lindy wasn't a warm and fuzzy guy, and people knew it.

As to Reilly and his "choice", if that's what it was (more like fear, I suspect), he was on firm ground in not wanting to alienate not only Lindbergh but the jury, the people of Flemington, and the American people. 20/20 hindsight is often perfect, or close enough, as it's easy and safe to look back on events, especially in one's own life, and come up with the perfect choice long after the point where action can be taken.

In the LKC it's rather a slam dunk,--actually many slam dunks--for us; and all this from an eighty years and counting perspective. So easy for us! Yet Ed Reilly was playing it safe, from his unenviable position of of being the lawyer for the man on trial for the kidnap and murder of the young child of the most admired man in America. Anything that might sully, even in a small way, the status, the image of the probity of this most admired of men, many of us wish he'd been more (shall way say) aggressive with, less conciliatory toward.

Of course you could argue that it wouldn't have been Reilly's (or any defense attorney's) goal to make Lindbergh bad, but rather to simply what happened in the Bronx on a particular night two years earlier. Yet this likely is not how it would have gone down, is it? This would have been not only red meat for the prosecution generally but more ammunition for David Wilentz in particular to "take on", as it were, the defense team as a whole; by which I mean personally, as in ad hominem. His summation at the trial's end did just that to Hauptmann, claiming that he not only had a criminal record in Germany but that he'd been a criminal in the U.S. as well.

Aside from Hauptmann's possession of the ransom money, and some dubious "handwriting expert" testimony regarding the issue of whether he wrote the ransom notes and maybe something else,--what, a traffic ticket or two?--there was no concrete evidence, and certainly no police record in Hauptmann's background on this side of the pond, thus David Wilentz was lying about Hauptmann being a criminal in the U.S. I've always believed the defense team ought to have jumped on Wilentz for this. Wilentz had poisoned the "mind" of the jury. He ought to have reprimanded severely for this and made to apologize; to the defense and to Hauptmann.

But as with so many aspects of the LKC, especially the "courtroom part", things that needed to be said weren't said; grieving father Charles Lindbergh was the (virtual) angel, shifty looking and unprepossessing Hauptmann was made out to be if not the Devil, in league with him. All this feels to me more like a morality play than how the criminal justice system should operate, and this is the tragedy of it all, for not only Hauptmann and his family but for American justice generally.


  • lindy and the publicbob mills for forum, Mon Dec 17 11:01
    Lindy's iconic status with the public exceeded anyone else's in public life at the time. What is often overlooked is that the LKC altered the public's (and the law's) view of kidnapping as a criminal ... more
    • Reilly's Choice — jdb, Mon Dec 17 19:37
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