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Berrett-Molway Trial: 1934

"boys, You've Been Picked By Five People", "that Rare Element In Murder Trials"

Defendants: Louis Berrett and Clement F. Molway
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyers: Charles W. Barrett, Charles E. Flynn, John P. Kane, and Frank Tomasello
Chief Prosecutors: Hugh A. Cregg, Charles E. Green, and John S. Wilson
Judge: Thomas J. Hammond
Place: Salem, Massachusetts
Dates of Trial: February 12-27, 1934
Verdict: Not guilty

SIGNIFICANCE: The Berrett-Molway trial is a classic case of mistaken identity. It proved that eight eyewitnesses who had been in close proximity to the "defendants" for two hours could all wrongly identify them, pushing them perilously close to the electric chair. The trial wiped out the jury foreman's firm belief in capital punishment.

Arriving home on Friday, January 5, 1934, Boston taxi driver Louis Berrett, 29, found a stranger in the hallway outside his apartment. The man grabbed him. Suddenly the hall was filled with strangers pointing guns at him and asking who he was. At gunpoint they backed Berrett into his kitchenette. Then one showed a police badge and Berrett recognized him. "I had seen him before," he said later. "A taxicab driver gets to know a lot of cops."

Next, the police wanted to know where Clement F. Molway was. Molway, 22, was a taxi-driver friend of Berrett. The police sought him, they said, in connection with a holdup. "I knew he was a good kid from a respectable family," said Berrett afterward. He told the cops they were crazy, that Molway "was never mixed up in any holdups," and that he would go to police headquarters with them if it would help Molway.

At headquarters, Berrett soon found himself and Molway booked. Next, handcuffed, they were driven to Lynn, Massachusetts, where the chief police inspector asked Berrett for a statement of where he had been from Sunday night to Wednesday night of the preceding week. Only after Berrett had signed a five-page statement that the chief wrote out did the chief tell him there had been a holdup and murder at the Paramount Theatre in Lynn on Tuesday morning. Berrett then insisted on writing a second statement, in his own handwriting, like the first. By the time he was locked in a cell, it was 3:00 A.M. on Saturday.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1918 to 1940