Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Scopes "Monkey" Trial ... behind the scenes (Part 2)

The publicity-stunt origins of the Scopes trial continued into the trial itself. People supporting the prosecution succeeded in enlisting three-time presidential candidate and conservative Christian William Jennings Bryant, noted for his oratory skills, as a volunteer member of the prosecution team. In response, nationally recognized defense attorney Clarence Darrow, known for his opposition to government overreach, volunteered to join the defense team. Bryant and Darrow’s participation helped ensure national interest in the trial, which lasted seven days.

The trial was the first in American to be broadcast on the radio, and was filmed for newsreels, to be shown in movie theaters throughout the country. To accommodate these efforts, microphones replaced the jury box, and a cornfield outside of town was cleared for an airfield to for airplanes to pick up newsreel film daily.
The circus nature of the trial probably reached its zenith when Darrow put Jennings on the stand, in an apparent effort to show that Jennings’ literal belief in some biblical stories was irrational. The judge later ordered Jennings’ testimony to be stricken from the record, which in effect then prevented Jennings from putting Darrow on the stand.

Curiously, Darrow wanted a conviction so that the issue could be appealed to a higher court for a test of the entire law in question, rather than just a decision on Scopes’ guilt or innocence.  At the end of the trial, Darrow even asked the jury to convict Scopes for that very reason. Scopes, too, wanted a conviction:  “Scopes had urged … students to testify against him, and coached them in their answers,” wrote Edward J. Larson in his book Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion. Indeed, Scopes never testified in the trial, probably because it was less than certain, or at least subject to interpretation, whether he had actually taught evolution in the classroom.
After the trial, the jury couldn’t use the jury room for deliberations because it was filled with newsmen working on their stories. But no matter, because jurors, meeting only about 20 seconds in a hallway, followed Darrow’s request and agreed to a conviction.

Upon appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court, the conviction was overturned, but only because the judge had imposed Scopes’ $100 fine instead of the jury – and without review of the statute as desired by Darrow, Scopes, and others who disagreed with it.

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