April 26, 2017

For anyone who wishes to read the circumstances of ten notorious trials of the twentieth century – the Lindbergh baby kidnaping case, the O.J. trial – TRIALS OF  THE CENTURY offers good stories and historical context.  But for anyone interested in learning from the conduct of the trial – what words were used in an opening statement, what questions made a cross-examination sizzle or fail – this book is a great disappointment.

The authors almost never quote from trial transcripts.  Consider the case of Richard Speck, an itinerant who massacred eight nurses in a single night.  The closing argument of defense counsel, fabled as an expert in defending against the death penalty, is described as follows:

Gerry, with his enviable record on the line of never yet having lost a defendant to the death penalty,  could in closing only attempt to elevate the thirty-minute alibi offered by [two witnesses.]

Similarly, describing the scientific testimony in the O.J. Simpson trial, the reader is told only that “much of the expert testimony was incomprehensible…”

Lawyers can learn to improve their skills from both the successes and failures of their predecessors and colleagues.  TRIALS OF THE CENTURY offers neither.  Alan Dershowitz’ back-cover blurb that “[t]he stories tell us as much about the history of each decade as they do about the trials themselves[]” is overstated – the stories tell the reader too much of the history and too little about the trials.