Leopold and Loeb did nothing to assist their defence; both gave extensive interviews to the press about their plans, following the publication of their confessions in the newspapers on 5 June 1924, and even assisted the police in amassing irrefutable evidence against them. Always protected by their family’s wealth, neither seemed to appreciate the gravity of their condition. Prior to the trial, whilst in jail, they enjoyed a comfortable existence, with food and drink brought in from restaurants, and news stories abounded of million dollar sums paid by the family to secure Darrow’s services.
Given the evidence against them, Darrow took the decision to plead both defendants guilty to the charges, rather than the expected not guilty by reason of insanity, in order to avoid a jury trial that would almost certainly result in their execution. Darrow thereby engineered a trial before a single judge, Judge Caverly, which began on 21 July 1924.
Darrow trounced the prosecution’s assertion that the crime was motivated by money, and shrewdly blocked their attempts to introduce any additional evidence: the defendants had, after all, pleaded guilty.
Building the defence case, he made extensive use of the testimony of forensic psychiatrists, known in those days as ‘alienists’, to impress upon the judge the unique psychological natures of each defendant, and how the combination of the popular, dominant Loeb, and the submissive, but brilliant, Leopold, led almost inevitably to the creation of the monster that viewed murder as an academic exercise. Both defendants fascinated the psychiatrists with what they termed their ‘king/slave’ relationship, and Leopold, especially, seemed to enjoy the exploratory sessions, providing a large body of testimony that Darrow used skilfully, playing upon their youth in mitigation of the death penalty. Professional psychiatric opinion determined that Loeb, in all likelihood, was the instigator of both the murder plot and the fatal blow to Bobby Franks.
The speeches made by Darrow during the case were considered the finest of his long and distinguished career, and his impassioned defence produced the best result that could be hoped for, given the circumstances: on 24 September 1924 Leopold and Loeb each received a life sentence from Judge Caverly for the murder, rather than the dreaded death penalty, and an additional 99 years each for the kidnapping. The judge further urged that parole should never be granted. Even the parents of Bobby Franks were persuaded from the pursuit of the death penalty, which they had initially advocated in the press.