Historian in the Cellar
LAW, SOCIETY AND HISTORY: ESSAYS ON THEMES IN THE WORK OF LAWRENCE M. FRIEDMAN, Robert W. Gordon and Morton J. Horwitz, eds., 2006
38 Pages Posted: 29 Nov 2005
In 1981 Lawrence Friedman and Robert Percival published The Roots of Justice, their study of the criminal justice system of Alameda County between 1870 and 1910. Working in the sooty port town of Oakland, they unearthed records of prisons, press, courts, and cops. Then they reconstructed the entire criminal justice system, from curbside police discipline to flashlit courtroom morality plays.
In honor of the book's twenty-fifth anniversary, this essay follows a short distance in its trail. It reopens the murder trial of Hugh Cull, mentioned by Friedman and Percival in a brief footnote. Cull killed his wife in front of their seven-year-old daughter, but won acquittal when the trial judge deemed the girl incompetent to testify.
The case turns out to be much more than another acquittal staked on a legal technicality. Unraveling its elaborate plot requires close attention to Lawrence Friedman's writings - not only Roots of Justice, but also his later studies of marriage and divorce in this era.
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