Absence of Alienists and the Hypothetical Question Distinguishes Frank Trial

Another in our series of new transcriptions of contemporary articles on the Leo Frank case.

Atlanta Georgian
August 9th, 1913

By O. B. Keeler

There are two things about the Frank trial that entitle it to distinguished consideration.

Thus far not a single alienist has been called to bat, and only the common or domesticated type of the dread Hypothetical Question has appeared.

In most of our great murder trials, the alienist is the last resort, or one of the latest resorts. Usually he is introduced by the defense; anywhere from four to eight of him.

The prosecution promptly counters with an equal number of wheel inspectors.

The defense (Vide Thaw case) generally proves to its own satisfaction that the defendant was crazy when he did it, but since has recovered his equilibrium, his alibi and all the rest of his scattered personal effects.

The four to eight experts for the State differ slightly with this finding.

They All Agree.

They report that to the best of their several and collective knowledge and belief, which is considerable, the defendant is the happy possessor of one of the sanest little noodies they ever had the pleasure of sitting on. They say there is practically no chance that any such carefully geared aggregation of mental sprockets ever slipped a cog.

But they add that, if the defense insists on the accused having been non compos at the time he did it, he most assuredly is in the same condition at present, or more so.

In short, the State contends that the defendant either should be hanged or remanded to the solitary upholstery for the rest of his life, according to which is most highly objectionable to the defense.

Vide Thaw case ad lib.

One Notable Exception.

There is only one case on record where a corps of alienists employed by one side agreed with those hired by the opposition.

It seems that the accused person without any advice or suggestion from his lawyers broke out all over with shockingly acute symptoms of dementia soon after he was arrested.

The defense ordered out the alienists.

They reported that the accused unquestionably was insane-remarkably insane.

Then the prosecution recruited its experts to the full war strength and ordered them to advance with caution.

To the intense surprise of everyone, including the defense, they reported that the prisoner was crazy beyond the shadow of a peradventure. They said he couldn’t be any crazier without coming apart.

Well, that just about settled it. What prosecution could, hold out against the combined forces of two sets of alienists? It was the first time on record that the warring experts had agreed.

And this time they were both wrong.

Inside of a year the record-holder for craziness-sprints middle distance and Marathon-had got himself out of the bat factory and was enjoying life in a more congenial time that had no extradition provision in the treaty, if any.

The Hypothetical Question.

The hypothetical question is used rather more frequently than the alienist, because it is less expensive and embarrassing, while offering no more than a even break to the other side and confusing the jury fully as much as the most complicated alienist explosions.

When the h.q. is sprung by the defense, an expert of considerable pedigree is propped up in the witness chair and compelled to listen with the jury and such of the iuditors as can stay awake, to a detailed relation of incidents beginning some time before the birth of the accused and extending to the date of the crime with provisions and qualifications to fill our four hours and a half and eleven columns of “six point.”

Then the expert says:


After which an expert for the other side listens to the same recital, repeated.

And he says:


What the jury says never gets into print.

* * *

Atlanta Georgian, August 9th 1913, “Absence of Alienists and Hypothetical Question Distinguishes Frank Trial,” Leo Frank case newspaper article series (Original PDF)