Guilty or Innocent Harry Hoffman, Sam Leibowitz and Maude Bauer Part 2

About the murder of Maude Bauer, the trial of Harry Hoffman, and the legal heroics of lawyer Sam Leibowitz

Harry Hoffman--A Twin by Circumstances

At Hoffman's trial, William Whittet, a reel-boy at the cinema, said that just before the murder Hoffman had asked him where there was a lonely road where you could take a girl. Whittet had told him about the lane where Maude Bauer's body was found. Sgt. Harry Butts, renowned ballistics expert, testified that Hoffman's gun was the murder weapon. Surprisingly, Hoffman was found guilty of only second-degree murder and was sentenced to 20 years to life at Sing Sing.

On a minor technicality, Hoffman was granted a new trial, but during it his attorney collapsed with a heart attack. A third trial ended in a hung jury, and before a fourth trial could be granted, his attorney died. Then Hoffman's wife left him and married another man. She put their two daughters in an orphanage. Hoffman, now a scant 112 lb., was desperate.

Donations amounting to $25,000 had been spent on his defense, yet it was a penny postcard to Sam Leibowitz that saved Hoffman's life. In 1929 Sam Leibowitz was already a legend at the New York Criminal Bar. He had defended dozens of murderers and never lost a case. It was rumored he could hypnotize a jury. Leibowitz visited Hoffman and was impressed that Hoffman was willing to risk the electric chair again to prove his innocence. "I'll take my chances on being freed or fried," Hoffman said grimly.

To keep Hoffman from frying, Leibowitz had to destroy the positive identification made by Barbara Fahs; prove that the reel-boy, Whittet, was lying; disprove the ballistics testimony of Harry Butts; and convince the jury that Hoffman's pathetic alibis were made up out of excruciating fear.

Leibowitz couldn't hypnotize a jury; his secret was relentless preparation. While investigating Hoffman's case, he discovered that a man named Horatio Sharrett, who fit the description of the murderer, had been stopped by police in his Model T near the scene and at the time of the murder, and then had been released. Curious why Sharrett hadn't been interrogated more thoroughly, Leibowitz learned that Sharrett's brother was a Staten Island politician, and that Prosecutor Fach had personally given him a "clean bill of health." It was just the leverage Leibowitz needed to put that necessary question mark in the jurors' minds.

From the very beginning of the trial, Leibowitz kept alluding to the mysterious Sharrett's presence that afternoon, until Prosecutor Fach was finally forced to put Sharrett on the stand. Spectators expected fireworks when Leibowitz cross-examined. But the sly lawyer simply let the jury take a look at Sharrett, who reluctantly admitted being in the area in his Model T about the time of the murder. With the wedge in place, Leibowitz pounded it deeper.

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