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Darrow Clarification

January 05, 1991

As much as I look forward to "Darrow" on "American Playhouse," I also trust that the PBS production will not contain the factual error incorporated in Bill Steigerwald's Dec. 29 article.

Steigerwald reports that the McNamara brothers shocked Darrow and everyone else by suddenly switching their pleas to guilty.

In "Darrow: a Biography" (1979), Kevin Tierney made it clear that after exhaustive evaluation of the evidence, Darrow concluded that his clients couldn't be found not guilty. (He even told James McNamara, "My God, you left a trail behind you a mile wide!") Darrow then made the decision to initiate plea bargaining with the district attorney's office in order to obtain the best possible sentences from the court after entry of the guilty pleas.

One brother, avoiding hanging, received a life term, and the other a 15-year sentence.

Darrow knew that these events would end his illustrious career as a labor lawyer because the labor movement was committed to the exoneration of the McNamara brothers and was not prepared to be identified with violence and anarchy. It was doubly embittering to Darrow that he himself later was tried twice for allegedly trying to bribe a juror. Darrow successfully defended himself.

DAVID J. STILLER, Costa Mesa

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