The worst cross-examination in history?
Members and guests have been given a fascinating glimpse of the historic Nuremberg Trials and the widely-debated cross-examination of Hermann Goering.
Robert Hedrick, a US attorney and an Adjunct Professor at Seattle University, is an avid student of the Trials and has delivered a PowerPoint presentation, From History’s Greatest Trial: The Cross-Examination of Hermann Goering, to audiences in the US and Australia.
He took time out from a conference in Edinburgh on international aviation law and insurance to give his talk to the Faculty.
Mr Hedrick said that some people believed the O. J. Simpson case was the trial of the century but he was clear that the description belonged “hands down” to Nuremberg.
“We had the most significant Nazi who survived the War, Hermann Goering, and more than 20 others…it brought out some great performances and some not-so-great performances by the lawyers involved,” he said.
The US Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson was the lead prosecutor for the US, and his cross-examination of Goering lasted two-and-a-half days, and was followed by another half day by David Maxwell Fyfe, of Britain’s prosecution team.
Mr Hedrick said Goering was a “slippery” witness, who often complained about the translation of questions to buy time to think of an answer.
“Right from the very beginning, Jackson did not control his witness, and the questions went on and on. Jackson seems more interested in the next question he is going to ask than listening to his witness,” suggested Mr Hedrick.
“Maxwell Fyfe had the benefit of watching Goering and Jackson fight it out for two-and-a-half days, and his number one thing was to control the witness…’This witness is not getting out of my grasp.’ He did a really good job.”
Mr Hedrick said Jackson was essentially a corporate attorney who did not have a lot of trial experience, and he was “not of a military cut”, both of which caused him problems in handling Goering.
“He had a team of much better trial lawyers…he should have turned (the cross-examination) over to one of the real guys,” he stated.
“One article said it was the worst cross-examination in history, but what standard do we go by? He could say he got the conviction, he won the case. And in their verdict, the judges found against Goering on points where people think Jackson failed.”