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Darrow Pleads Clemency for Young Slayer

February 21, 1934
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Clarence Darrow, veteran crusader against capital punishment, has sent a message to Governor Lehman asking that the death penalty against Benjamin Mallow, seventeen-year-old Brownsville slayer, be commuted to life imprisonment, the Jewish Daily Bulletin learned yesterday from John E. Brandfon, attorney for the youth.

Answering an appeal from Brandfon, Darrow’s secretary wrote that “Mr. Darrow is nearing his 77th birthday, is in very unsettled health, and has entirely retired from the field of court work.” He agreed, however, to write Governor Lehman, in the hope that this “may influence the situation somehow.”

Mr. Brandfon, who was assigned by the court to the defense of the Brownsville boy, told the Bulletin that the main reason for the appeal to the Governor is the boy’s youth. Throughout the trial, he said, he was under the impression that the boy was eighteen. It was only after sentence had been handed down that Mallow’s real age was discovered. He was only sixteen at the time of the crime, it was later revealed.

“Under our law, even a seven year-old child can be executed for murder in the first and second degree,” the attorney explained. This law should be changed, he said, so that minors could not be made responsible to the extent of capital punishment for their crimes, just as they are not made responsible for contracts or any other legal documents. “If their judgment is not to be respected there,” he demanded, “why should it in cases of murder?”

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