If your blog is going to thrive and grow, it has to at some point break out of its original parameters. I have decided to add some context(crime stories) from my days as a criminal defense attorney with the public defender. Some details have been changes to protect involved parties.
“Dead Men Tell No Tales”
One of my first murder cases started out with a very dead, very gay man. Found alone in his apartment, shot once, no other evidence. Last know contact was with his friend, and later suspect. This suspect was an odd fit for the notion of ‘friend’ to the victim. He was a gang banger and very not gay.
Still there was no motive for the killing. Sidenote; motive is NOT something the prosecution has to prove, it just helps if you can establish one.
Few cases have that Ah-ha moment, that is a TV thing. But this case had one, On a hunch, the victim’s stomach contents were analyzed as part of the forensic workup on an unsolved murder. Low and behold there was sperm found in his stomach. Guess whose? Our super machismo gang banger. Ut-oh spaghettiO’s, That put our suspect with victim near time of death, with a hard to explain physical connection. The evidence playing field has drastically shifted in the State’s favor over the last couple of decades.
Guilty verdict. The victim got to testify from beyond the grave.
Next up on Crime Stories – Bad JuJu
When I first started with the office, I was a third year law student earning credit working with the Homicide Task Force. Scrappy bunch of misfits. The kind of folks that still smoked in the office even after the rules had changed. I thought I was Mr. Fancy Man Lawyer, I would take photos home from cases I was working on and put them up around the mirror in my bedroom. Murder scene photos. This was important stuff right?
Wrong, this was the obvious pride induced missteps of a naive wannabe. These were real people, real victims whose lives had been snuffed out. It took me about two weeks to have the epiphany that this was a serious karma violation. Down and came the photos, and up went the seriousness with which I would take the job from now on.
The journey from cavalier to earnest and back again is a wild ride of self exploration. True crime and the Criminal Court system are a perfect milieu.
Next crime stories case – “Independence Verification.”
So my attorney partner for this gang shooting was from Puerto Rico. A close friend I had mentored as a new attorney. Sometimes you double up on counsel at trial in order to give trial experience to a newer attorney. (It is called second-charing).
The cops literally say this guy throw his sub machine gun over the railing after they cornered him in the alley. They recovered the gun easily, loaded with 47 rounds.
During closing statements, my partner keeps referring to the fact that the police did not do an Independence verification. He is using a common trial tactic of repeating your key theme over and over again, but I have no idea what ‘independence verification‘ is. Turns out he meant that they had no ‘independent verification’ (language barrier issue), a weak argument at best.
And Yet, the jury comes back, NOT GUILTY on all counts.
The body language of one juror in the corner tells us everything we need to know. Whether it was her jury nullification or his confusing argument we will never know, but a win is a win.
Sidenote; jury nullification occurs when a jury is convinced beyond a reasonable doubt of the guilt of a defendant in a criminal case but nonetheless votes to acquit him or her of the charges. It can be a big problem in areas where the population has a deep mistrust of law enforcement or does not like the government in general.
Double Sidenote; I gave this defendant some grief when we went back to his holding cell. He was still up for a probation violation, but he would get out of jail soon. I gave him the whole ‘take this opportunity to change’ speech. He thumped his chest and lifted up his shirt, showing me his rockers (stomach tattoo, usually a motto) “Can’t change this”. Sometimes in life an opportunity presents itself and it must be exploited. His suit and tie lawyer lifted up his own shirt, thumped his own rockers (way less common back then) and said “Sure you can.” The look on his face, priceless.
I could keep going but I think I might use this topic for at least one more future post. Maybe TWO. At the end of the day, Law school is very expensive, but at least you get pretty good war stories from the work involved.