Clarence Darrow saves Leopold and Loeb from the gallows in the Roaring Twenties. Gerry Spence takes on the nuclear power industry for the death of Karen Silkwood in a modern-day David and Goliath struggle. Vincent Bugliosi squares off against the madness of Charles Manson and his murderous "family" in the aftermath of their bloody spree. Clara Foltz, the first woman to practice law in California, argues passionately to an all-male jury, defending her place in the courtroom. Bobby DeLaughter brings the killer of civil-rights leader Medgar Evers to justice after thirty years and two mistrials. Aubrey Daniel brings Lt. William Calley, Jr., to justice for the My Lai massacre. William Kunstler challenges the establishment after the '68 Chicago riots in his defense of yippie leaders known as the Chicago Seven.
Each closing argument is put into context by the authors, who provide historical background, a brief biography of each attorney, and commentary, pointing out the trial tactics used to great effect by the lawyers, all in language that is jargon-free for the benefit of the lay reader.
Because the authors chose to include all the courtroom interruptions in the transcript, the Manson summation makes for especially lively reading. Manson and his codefendants repeatedly spoke out of turn during prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi's statement, saying things like "You are going to be eaten up by your own lie" and "Even if I have never been in the Gotham Bank!" Bugliosi's speech is among the most eloquent in the collection, which is why it is so stunning when one of the defendants provokes him so much that he loses his cool and calls her a name that rhymes with rich.
Although the title promises the "greatest closing arguments in modern law," some of the speeches seem to have been chosen because they were connected to important cases rather than because of their own rhetorical merits. However, the cases themselves are interesting, and these transcripts bring them to life better than any summary would. This collection should be of interest to anyone in the legal profession. --Jill Marquis