Thursday, June 23, 2005

Crime and Punishment

Show me a lawyer that has defended a man charged with murder, and I will show you somebody who likely has grave doubts about the death penalty, but not for the reasons you might think.

Although I am a former prosecutor, I have also defended alleged murderers, at trial. One anecdote serves to demonstrate why I am against the death penalty. This particular case I defended played out in one of the most remote regions of the country, and one of the coldest. On about the third day of trial, I awoke from a very little bit of fitful sleep, ate part of a breakfast bar, and prepared (again) my cross-examination of one of the lead investigators in the case. Satisfied that I would be able to score about 3-4 major points on the cross without inflicting any major damage to my client's defense, I set out from my hotel room to make the 3/4 mile trek to the courthouse.

There was about two feet of fresh snow on the ground, and I would guess that wind chill factor on that morning was in the neighborhood of 20 below zero. As I took the uphill slant from my hotel to the courthouse, two full briefcases gripped in frozen hands, ready to puke from the pressure of having a man's life in my clutch as well, I looked to my left to see the prosecutor's caravan pressing toward the courthouse. A freshly painted snowplow forged a path for the caravan to the courthouse: a nice, clean and straight path; a path that whose side-effect was to add more snow to my path; a path, you might say, forged by the brute force of The State.

My opponent the prosecutor was a good man, as was most of his team. He was sitting in the shotgun seat of a pleasingly warm police SUV, two investigators in tow, state-owned audio visual equipment in stowage area. I remember this well because that same audio-visual equipment would deliver the knife through the heart of my client that day, a knife that played his "confession" to the jury. As I put my head down and plowed ahead in my own fashion, I took another glance at the prosecutor.

He smiled wryly my way and nodded ever so slightly, perhaps sensing that he too was in the midst of a metaphor.