Earl Rogers

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Earl Rogers
Earl Rogers c.1911 crop.png
Earl Rogers, about 1911
Born (1869-11-18)November 18, 1869
Buffalo, New York
Died February 22, 1922(1922-02-22) (aged 52)
Los Angeles, California
Occupation Lawyer

Earl Rogers (November 18, 1869 – February 22, 1922) was an American trial lawyer.


Earl Rogers was the son of a Methodist minister. When he was still a small boy, his father went to California.

Rogers 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).

His cases[edit]

William Alford, 1899[edit]

Rogers defended William Alford from a murder charge by demanding that the victim's intestines be brought into the courtroom, where he had an expert witness testify that the path of the bullet confirmed Alford's story.

Charles F. Mootry, 1899[edit]

Rogers defended Charles F. Mootry from a charge of murdering his wife by appealing to the jurors' own feelings about their wives. After the trial, when Mootry tried to congratulate Rogers, he turned away from Mootry and said, "Get away from me you slimy pimp, you're as guilty as hell and you know it." [1]

The Catalina Island murder 1902[edit]

Rogers is also remembered for the defense in the Catalina Island murder case. In the early morning hours of August 13, 1902 at the Metropole Hotel, a colorful gambler and cardshark named William A. 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 gunshots, a bartender entered the room, and saw two men and the dead body of the third, bleeding over the Ace of Spades. Harry 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.

Griffith J. Griffith, 1903[edit]

Colonel Griffith J. Griffith, the namesake for Griffith Park, was tried for the attempted murder of his wife.

Patrick Calhoun 1909[edit]

Patrick Calhoun was grandson of John C. Calhoun and was president of the United Railroad Company. He was charged with bribing the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in exchange for granting the overhead trolley franchise to his company in the wake of the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. Rogers defended Calhoun, but during his trials and all related trials of United Railroad Company's general counsel Tiery Ford, Rogers didn't call a single witness or introduce any evidence, arguing that the prosecution simply hadn't made a case against the defendants. On June 20, 1909, the Calhoun jury was deadlocked, with the final jury vote at ten for acquittal and two for conviction. He was not retried.

Morrison Buck, 1906[edit]

In 1906, he made one of his rare appearances for the prosecution and used his medical expertise to send Morris Buck to the gallows for the murder of Chloe Canfield, wife of Charles A. Canfield (1848-1913).[2]

Clarence Darrow, 1912-1913[edit]

"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’ 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 drawn 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 for health reasons. The second bribery trial ended in a hung jury, with several jurors holding out for a conviction.

Rogers’ biographers have speculated that his 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 forgo 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."[3]

The actor Robert Vaughn played Rogers in the episode, "Defendant: Clarence Darrow" (January 13, 1963), of the CBS anthology series, GE True, hosted by Jack Webb. In the story line, Darrow, played by Tol Avery, and Rogers argue passionately over legal procedures in the landmark case.[4]

Jess Willard 1913[edit]

He defended boxer Jess Willard on charges of second degree murder stemming from the death of his opponent John "Bull" Young from a blow to the head in the ninth round of a boxing match on August 22, 1913. On January 13, 1914, a jury found Willard not guilty. Willard later went on to become heavyweight champion of the world.

Charles E. Sebastian, 1916[edit]

Rogers successfully defended Los Angeles Police Chief Charles E. Sebastian, who later became mayor, against a charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.[5] 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.


  • Snow, Richard F. (February–March 1987). "Counsel for the Indefensible". American Heritage Magazine 38 (2). 
  • St. Johns, Adela Rogers, Final Verdict, (Doubleday, 1962)
  • Trope, Michael Lance, Once Upon a Time in Los Angeles: The Trials of Earl Rogers, (Arthur H. Clark Company, 2001)
  1. ^ Michael Lance Trope, Once Upon a Time in Los Angeles; The Trials of Earl Rogers, The Arthur H. Clark Company, 2001, p. 63.
  2. ^ Cecilia Rasmussen, Tale of Wealth, Murder and a Family's Decline, The Los Angeles Times, August 20, 2000
  3. ^ Bradford, Glenn E., “Who's Running the Show? Decision-Making in the Courtroom in Civil and Criminal Cases,″ Journal of the Missouri Bar (May/June 2006)
  4. ^ "GE True: "Defendant: Clarence Darrow", January 13, 1963". Classic Television Archive. Retrieved March 1, 2013. 
  5. ^ http://articles.latimes.com/2005/may/08/local/me-then8

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