Earl Rogers (1869 near Buffalo, New York - February 23, 1922 Los Angeles, California) was a successful American trial lawyer.
He was the son of a Methodist minister who went to California when Earl was still a small boy. He was admitted to the bar in 1897. One of his clerks was Buron Fitts
. Rogers appeared for the defense in 77 murder trials and lost only three. He astonished medical experts on the witness stand with his technical questions. His expertise was so complete that he became a professor of medical jurisprudence and insanity in the College of Physicians and Surgeons
as well as a professor at the University of Southern California Law School
. In "The Case of the Grinning Skull", Rogers introduced the skull of a victim to prove that what appeared to be a fracture resulting from a violent blow from a blunt instrument was, in fact, the result of carelessness by the autopsy surgeon. His client walked free.
Ten years after his death, impressed with accounts of Rogers’ cases, attorney and author Erle Stanley Gardner reincarnated Rogers as the character Perry Mason. Earl Rogers's life is recounted by his daughter Adela Rogers St. Johns, who was his sidekick for most of his legal career, in her book Final Verdict (Doubleday, 1962).
William Alford, 1899
In 1899 a plumber named William Alford shot Jay E. Hunter, one of the town’s leading attorneys, and the bullet that ended Hunter’s life set the course of Rogers’s. Called upon to defend Alford, the young lawyer faced a seemingly hopeless case: Alford had been armed with a pistol, Hunter only with a cane, and the plumber’s insistence that he had fired in self-defense after the attorney had cudgeled him to the ground was refuted by the coroner’s testimony that the bullet had driven downward through Hunter’s body. The trial was going against Alford when Rogers rose to make the sort of melodramatic demand that would become his hallmark: he called for Hunter’s intestines to be brought into the court. The prosecution protested vehemently, but eventually the grisly exhibit was produced, and Rogers got an expert witness to confirm that in fact the bullet had traveled upward: to have followed the course it did, Hunter would have had to be bending over—undoubtedly plying his cane just as Alford had claimed. Alford went free and Earl Rogers found himself famous.
Charles F. Mootry, 1899
Charles F. Mootry had met his wife when she was dancing in a seedy Los Angeles cabaret called the Club Theater, and married her with the intention, he told his friends, of putting her to work as a prostitute. Soon he took up with another woman and started saying that he wanted to get rid of his wife. Then he shot her—or so it seemed to everyone in the courtroom in December 1899. Neighbors testified that they had heard the couple quarreling before the gunshot, and Mootry’s contention that his wife had committed suicide was, to say the least, unconvincing. Moreover, Mootry was not an attractive witness. He chewed gum constantly, leered at the jury, and once when two women he knew entered the courtroom, he beamed, clapped his hand to his mouth, and yelled out, “Oh, Mama!” Things didn’t look so good for Charles Mootry. On the other hand, he had gotten Earl Rogers to defend him, and Rogers was working on the jury with a ruthless skill and audacity that nobody else in the country could approach. Rogers was not talking about his client. He was talking about marriage. Remember, he told the first juror, “those unforgettable days when you courted your girl in that little Illinois town … the thrill of that moonlit Sunday night when you sat holding hands on the steps of the First Methodist Church of Chillicothe.…” On he went, by turns lulling and compelling, through the courtships of every juror, and ended by gesturing to Mootry and saying how much he must have loved his wife to take her from stage to altar: “And, brethren, men who love greatly, no matter what their moral or social degree, do not slay those they love.” Mootry and his wife weren’t quarreling: she was going deaf, and Mootry had to shout to make himself heard; in fact, it was that very loss of hearing that so depressed her she took her life. It all sounds preposterous, of course. But it didn’t when Earl Rogers was saying it. The jury acquitted Mootry on the first ballot. Afterward Mootry came over to Rogers and stuck out his hand. The lawyer recoiled. “Get away from me, you slimy pimp,” he said. “You know you’re guilty as hell!”
Griffith J. Griffith, 1903
Colonel Griffith J. Griffith
, the namesake for Griffith Park
, was tried for the attempted murder of his wife.
He defended heavyweight boxing champion Jess Willard
on charges of second degree murder.
He defended United Railroad chief Patrick Calhoun
on charges of corruption and bribery of public officials.
The Catalina Island murder
Rogers is also remembered for the defense in the Catalina Island
murder case. At the Metropole Hotel, a colorful gambler and cardsharp named Yeagar, known as "the Louisville Sport", was murdered during a cardgame. Alfred Boyd was one of three men in a room playing poker. Upon hearing the sound of gun shots, a bartender entered the room, and saw two men and the dead body of the third, bleeding over the Ace of Spades. Johnson, the third man at the table, ran from the room yelling "He shot him, he shot him!" and handed Boyd's gun to the bartender. The first man on the scene and almost-witness bartender Jim Davin thought there was no question that Boyd was the killer. Boyd was charged with the murder, and Rogers won his acquittal after getting Johnson effectively to confess under masterful cross-examination.
Morrison Buck, 1906
In 1906, he made one of his rare appearances for the prosecution and used his medical expertise to send Morrison Buck
to the gallows for the murder of a wealthy socialite.
Clarence Darrow, 1912-1913
"Perhaps the most famous lawyer-client disagreements recorded in legal lore were the ones which developed between Clarence Darrow
, indicted for attempted jury bribery in Los Angeles
in 1912, and his chief counsel, legendary Los Angeles criminal lawyer Earl Rogers. The case arose out of Darrow’s defense of the McNamara brothers
, labor leaders who were indicted in the 1910 dynamiting of the Los Angeles Times
building in which 21 Times non-union employees were killed. Since the Times was widely considered as the most anti-labor newspaper in the country, it was universally suspected that factions in organized labor were behind the bombing. Eventually the McNamara brothers were indicted and Clarence Darrow was brought in to defend the case. The case gripped the attention of the entire nation. Before the McNamara brothers could plead guilty, however, Darrow himself was indicted by the Los Angeles District Attorney for allegedly attempting to bribe a juror. Darrow ultimately hired famed Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer Earl Rogers as his chief counsel. When the case went to trial, however, Darrow frequently disagreed with his attorney over how the case should be tried. According to the account of Adela Rogers St. Johns, Earl Rogers’ daughter, much of her father’s energy during the trial was given over to trying to convince Darrow and his wife to accept his views on how to try the case. “[W]e had an almost daily row over Darrow’s courtroom behavior and continual scraps about the three lines of defense and which came first so that a lot of the time my father was as restless as a .400 hitter benched in the World Series.” “The drive it took for my father to control Darrow’s desire and insistance (sic) that the defense rest entirely on the conspiracy-frame-up basis was mounting into hot or icy quarrels.” “On several occasions Rogers threatened to quit him flat if he persisted in some course that Earl believed was wrong.” Significantly, Rogers was successful in getting Darrow, the great champion of organized labor, to refrain from making an argument essentially condoning the dynamiting of the Times building and the killing of 21 innocent people. Rogers and Darrow ultimately split closing argument duties. Rogers’s short summary of the evidence was business-like and to the point, emphasizing his own theory of the case that Darrow was too smart to have been involved in a bribery scheme and that he would not in any event have knowingly run across the street at the scene of the bribery and thus draw attention to his presence at the scene of the crime. Rogers gave particular attention to the report of a prosecution witness that Darrow had run across the street waving his hat. “[Earl Rogers] pranced into the corner and took his own elegant [hat] off the rack and began to wave it frantically. We saw it. Plainly. This was to be the visual, pictorial, unbelievable thing a man could not do if he was guilty, re-enacted before the jury.” After all was said and done, Darrow was acquitted in short order after a three-month trial. However, he was later indicted for allegedly attempting to bribe another juror in the McNamara brothers’ case. Earl Rogers began the second case as lead counsel but was soon forced to withdraw from the case due to health reasons. The second bribery trial ended in a hung jury, with several jurors holding out for a conviction. Rogers’ biographers have speculated that Rogers’ continued presence in the case might have controlled Darrow enough to produce a second acquittal. Without Rogers to restrain him, Darrow did what he had wanted to do in the first trial. He attempted to condone the wholesale destruction of the Times employees as a social crime rather than a horrible murder. This plea in his argument to the jury caused several members, according to their story, to hold out for conviction. The jury could not agree and was discharged. It was not until many months later that the second indictment was finally dismissed, based on Darrow’s agreement never to practice law in California again. No doubt the good judgment of Earl Rogers in convincing Darrow to forego his justification argument in the first bribery trial was an essential element in returning the Great Defender to his role as America’s leading advocate for organized labor, the poor and the oppressed. Clearly the most difficult advocating that Earl Rogers faced in the Darrow case was in convincing Darrow not to continually hurt his own case with unappealing – if not suicidal – arguments." Glenn E. Bradford, Who's Running the Show? Decision-Making in the Courtroom in Civil and Criminal Cases, Journal of the Missouri Bar (May/June 2006).
Charles E. Sebastian, 1916
He defended Los Angeles Police Chief Charles E. Sebastian
, who later became mayor, against a charge of illegal sexual relations with a minor. While running for the mayor's office Sebastian became embroiled in a litany of charges but was later acquitted of them all. He did, however, depart City Hall on September 2, 1916, after adverse publicity concerning his personal life arose from the publication of several letters of a damaging nature, and Earl Rogers ran the mayor's office until the appointment of Frederick T. Woodman
as Acting Mayor on September 5, 1916.
- Richard F. Snow: American Heritage Magazine, February/March 1987, Vol. 38, Issue 2
- Glenn E. Bradford: The Missouri Bar, May-June 2006
- Adela Rogers St. Johns: Final Verdict, (Doubleday, 1962)