Tuesday, July 29, 2008

An Update on My Friend

Earlier this month, I told you all about my friend "Jim" from high school who had shown up at the CJC looking for me after a six-year absence. If you will recall, Jim had some serious mental issues that had arisen from years of drug use, and had now manifested in a deep sense of paranoia. The target of Jim's paranoia was his father.

I had called Jim's dad after Jim left the CJC and just let him know what was going on. For all I knew, Jim's dad could have been looking for him. Jim's dad was keenly aware of all of Jim's problem, but like me, he had no idea what to do about it. He was frustrated and saddened, and had no idea why his son had so much hatred for him. He also had no clue as to what to do to help his son.

I talked to him for awhile about civil commitments and mental health warrants, which I know virtually nothing about. I told him to talk to a family lawyer, or even a psychiatrist about what could legally be done about Jim.

Jim's dad called me last week and told me that Jim had shown up at his home, demanding that he (Jim's dad) accompany him to the police department to take a polygraph examination about the plot against Jim's life. Jim's dad obliged him, and they went to the police station.

Once they explained the story to the police, Jim was taken away to a psychiatric hospital for a 72 hour observation. For some reason, the hospital released him in about 12 hours.

Yesterday, I got another call from Jim's father.

Jim's father had been closing up his business for the evening and was the only person there, when Jim showed up at the lot.

"Either you're going to die tonight, or I am," Jim told him. Jim's dad tried to walk away, but Jim attacked him and assaulted him. He was able to call the police and Jim, yet again was arrested.

This time, there's a Class A Misdemeanor of Assault-Family Violence charge against Jim.

Jim's father has no desire to see his son punished for attacking him, but he doesn't know how to protect himself or help his son anymore. Sadly, it's getting thrown to the criminal courts to deal with, and nobody has ever really given the criminal system a Gold Star for dealing with the mentally ill.

But at this point, I don't know that any of us have any other options in mind. Hopefully, Jim will get sent away for an evaluation, and maybe somebody will force him to get some help. This time he doesn't have the option of walking away from the psychiatrist like he has apparently done in the past.

We shall see. For now, I'm just glad that nobody was seriously injured.

That's a blessing in and of itself, because inside of Jim's car, the police found a hammer that he had purchased a few minutes before arriving at his father's business. Thankfully, he left it in the car.

I'll keep you posted as things develop.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Bibles, Witnesses, and Corroboration. Oh my!

Mark Bennett's post last week about the "One Witness Rule" question during voir dire has (as I could have predicted) evolved into an argument about whether or not "one witness" to a crime should ever be legally sufficient in a court of law. Grits for Breakfast went all Biblical with the argument by pointing out that Moses, Jesus, and the Apostle Paul couldn't be on a Harris County jury because Biblical passages require at least two witnesses on every dispute.

Now, I will freely admit that I'm no Biblical scholar (I will sit back and wait for Pro. Victims to chime in for that), but it has been my experience that every time a person has cited the Bible as their moral authority for a position, someone a lot smarter than me can find a quote from the same Good Book that contradicts it. Or, at least, they can point out dozens of other Edicts that come from the Bible that seem beyond ridiculous in this day and age. Quite frankly, I usually stay away from the Bible when in the courtroom, because I'm not as well-versed with it as I should be.

That being said, Grits and I got into a discussion over what to do in cases where there was truly only "One Witness".

MY QUESTION: But what's the alternative really? Not allowing one witness cases? Those delayed outcry kiddie cases are just banned without a confession?
GRITS' ANSWER: I'd say yes, with the caveat that there are other ways to corroborate (contemporaneous admissions to others, childhood medical records, etc.) besides a confession. But kids don't always tell the truth and adults don't always accurately remember their childhood.

He posted more than that, and you can read it here. I don't want to fill all of this post by rehashing what's already been said. Suffice it to say that Grits has some genuine (and legitimate) concerns about faulty testimony, recollections, and some later exonerations.

So do I. So does everyone who is or has been a prosecutor.

The idea of just being freaking wrong for believing that "One Witness" scares that hell out of us all.

But the idea of banning a "One Witness" case from Jump Street is over-reactionary and foolish. And even if the Rules of Evidence were to be re-written so as to require corroboration, how much corroboration is enough?

If a witness testifies that when she was thirteen years old in 1993 that her father sexually abused her, would calling her mother as a "corroborating witness" to say, "Yep, in 1993 my daughter was 13-years-old" be sufficient?

Or would we require more?

Should Mom be saying "Yep, in 1993, when my daughter was 13, I distinctly recall my husband walking into her room completely naked and telling me he was about to have sex with her."

What I'm getting at is "how much corroboration is enough" for those who would whine and complain about the fact that One Witness' word can convict somebody? It's a slippery slope.

Don't get me wrong. I understand where Grits and Mark are coming from. I really do. They are thinking about the cases of the eyewitness identifications on a stranger on stranger case. Or (as Grits points out) the McMartin pre-school case where even multiple children made outcry against a person they knew.

I get the point, but I strongly disagree with the idea that One Witness cases should be barred.

They should be tried, and they should be critically reviewed by twelve members of the community that don't have a dog in the hunt. Jurors that are keenly aware that one witness testimony is fallible, but have an open mind as to whether or not that one witness is telling the complete truth.

The bottom line is that this is what the jury system is all about. By all means, defense attorneys should be able to do everything in their power to break apart the One Witness' story, go after the failings in their memory, attack their motivations. Pick them apart, if you can.

But denying them their day in court? I don't think so.

Ultimately, a One Witness case is much more difficult for a prosecutor to prove than it is for a defense attorney to defend.

If you are going to bar the One Witness case, you might as well throw the entire jury system in the garbage, right along with all the Criminal Laws. If One Witness' testimony can be fallible, couldn't twenty witnesses'?

Of course the Criminal Justice System has flaws in it, but [by analogy] as Winston Churchill once said of democracy:

"No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time. "

So quit whining. Man up and go try your cases. You've got a lot to work with on any One Witness case.

And in the end, whether there be One Witness or One Hundred, may Justice be done.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Condolences

Our condolences go out to Harris County's First Assistant District Attorney, Bert Graham, on the loss of his father, Herbert Graham, this week. The Houston Chronicle wrote an article about Mr. Graham, and he sounded like an amazing man. It is always incredible to hear about couples that were married for 71 years. That's just astounding to me.

Bert has had a rough past couple of months. His brother passed away in December, quickly followed by the scandals of the Office, and his parents' ill health. In the middle of all this, he took over as leader of the District Attorney's Office and guided the prosecutors through a pretty tumultuous time until Ken Magidson took over.

This whole year Bert has exhibited grace under pressure and been a good leader at the same time.

Bert, your dad sounded like an incredible man.

I bet he was pretty damn proud of his son, too.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Children at the Courthouse

Okay, one of the things that really bothers and upsets me that I see at the CJC is the presence of children there.

It isn't that I don't like children. I adore kids.

But it breaks my heart to see them at the courthouse. A five-year-old doesn't need to be made aware that Daddy or Mommy broke the law. Parents should be a child's hero for as long as a parent can convince them to.

Kids damn sure don't need to see their parents taken into custody.

And don't get me started on all the germs floating around that place.

It happens every day. You will see the wife of a defendant toting along their small children to court, so that she can be present during his court proceedings. I know the common answer to this will be "well, they probably couldn't afford a baby sitter". I agree that is, most likely, true, but dammit, those mothers should put a priority on babysitting their children at home rather than babysitting their husbands in a courtroom.

It is also a semi-common trick for defendants to bring their children to court on the days that they know they are going to plea and go into custody. They then proceed to "hide behind" their children and insist that they can't be taken into custody because there was nobody there to take care of their kids. Unfortunately for both them and their children, that tactic rarely works.

Kids don't need to see that.

I once tried a 19-year-old gang leader who had ordered the murders of three different rivals in his gang. One of those murders (of a fifteen year old boy) had been carried out. Right after the Judge sentenced him to Life in prison, I walked out into the foyer and his one-year-old boy waddled up to me and smiled.

I felt like shit, quite frankly.

I know it wasn't my fault that the little boy's father had made the decisions that he had, and I know logically that Life was the appropriate verdict. But I felt so guilty for having received that little boy's smile, when I had just argued for (and gotten) a life verdict. My friends in the Office told me that I had probably done the kid a favor, and maybe they were right.

But it sure didn't feel that way, and as long as I live, I won't forget that little boy and that sweet smile.

I'm sorry for the rant, folks, but I had to get it off my chest.

Kids belong on playgrounds and at school.

Not in a Criminal Courthouse.

Kelly Siegler Writes Again

Kelly Siegler authored another post on the Women In Crime blog website (which if you haven't read yet, you should. It is really really good.)

The topic, I'm sure will generate a lot of conversation, because it stands for the rarely asserted position that prosecutors aren't too aggressive, but, in fact, often not aggressive enough. Now, I'm sure that this proposition will have Mark Bennett, Grits for Breakfast, and PJ spitting coffee on their latest edition of the ACLU Newsletter.

Critics of prosecutors (especially those prosecutors in Harris County) are much more fond of pointing out how prosecutors will attempt any hurdle just to convict, but there is a flip side to that tired old argument.

Sometimes prosecutors are reluctant to take on cases where they are going to have difficulty proving that case. One of my friends who is a prosecutor seemed to take offense at that premise, but I think that everyone who has ever been a prosecutor would have to admit to pleading out a case for less than it was worth because it was going to be very difficult to prove on occasion.

Now before my more Liberal Friends start screaming: "Well you should be reluctant to try cases that you can't prove!", think about it for a second in terms of the truly serious cases. Not the misdemeanor thefts -- the sexual assaults, the murders, the injury to a child cases.

These are the cases that Kelly was talking about. The ones that prosecutors really should be bending over backwards to try to prove if they believe the Defendant is the person responsible for the crime. And, no, my Liberal Friends, there is nothing wrong with working hard to make those cases. There's nothing wrong with re-examining and re-investigating those minute details while trying to get a conviction. It's a lot of leg work, but it's that kind of leg work that was the motivation for a lot of us to become prosecutors in the first place.

And who knows? Sometimes that kind of leg work pays off. If you don't believe me, just ask David Temple.

I think an implied message also exists in Kelly's posting, and that is that sometimes victims' families, and even the detectives themselves will have to keep on kicking and screaming to get a case accepted and put before a jury.

That message may be even more relevant as we are about to have an elected District Attorney who has never tried a criminal case as a prosecutor. Sometimes the victims may need to keep kicking and screaming to get their day in court when a case seems, on first glance, to be impossible to prove.

But that's just my take on it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I Hope the Message Gets Past the Spam Filter

Employees at the Criminal Justice Center got the below e-mail today from the folks in charge of building maintenance:

RE: Official Notification – FIRE ALARM TESTING – Criminal Justice Center

Simplex-Grinnell will be conducting fire alarm TESTING on Wednesday, July 23 from 10:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. in the Criminal Justice Center, 1201 Franklin St. Please disregard all alarms. In the event of an actual emergency, you will be notified by Facilities and Property Management by e-mail and/or P.A. system. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

Which prompted the following e-mail response from Pro. Victims:

Seriously? Really? If there is a real emergency, some one will send me an email? Or they might also use the PA? I wonder who we trust to not cross the wires on that issue. Maybe after the smoking pile of rubble stops burning, FPM will all look around and say - I thought YOU were sending an email. No, I thought YOU were using the P.A.

An email, for God's sake? REALLY????


I can't help but imagine the scene in the courtroom:

ATTORNEY: Hey Judge, it's really hot in here and I smell smoke.
JUDGE: Oh, everything's fine. If there was a fire, I'm sure someone would have e-mailed me.

The level of safety in the CJC has become a colossal joke, but as my Mom always said: "It's all fun and games until somebody gets hurt."

Brilliance!

I had decided this morning that I was going to write some tongue-in-cheek piece this evening about the Criminal Justice World if Left to the Devices of my friend, Mark Bennett. However, before I could actually jot down a single idea, I was upstaged and outclassed by a commenter on Mark's Blog who posts under the name of Tarian.

Tarian's post, which incorporates pretty much every Blogger and Commenter on both Mark's blog and on mine, is witty and nothing short of brilliant. It targets the commenter known as "PJ" who is probably one of the most Liberal and anti-State commenter in the Blawgosphere. Even though I'm certain that Mark probably disagrees with 99.99999% of the post, he had to admit it was well done.

If you haven't seen it yet, check it out here.

Sheer brilliance.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Congressman Ted Poe

Former Judge and Active Congressman Ted Poe had a scare when a plane that he and fellow Congressmen were flying on had a mechanical failure during flight today. Thankfully, everything turned out okay and nobody was hurt during what must have been a terrifying experience.

When I was promoted to Felony Two, my first assignment was in Judge Poe's court, and that's a fact I'm very proud of. Although I was scared to death of him, I liked being in that court and trying cases in front of him immensely. It's a fantastic conversation piece to be able to say that I tried my first murder case in front of THE Judge Poe.

I'm happy that everything turned out okay today for him and the other passengers.

But I have to wonder if he is going to order a sign to be painted on the plane saying: "I'm a Bad Plane. I take unexpected nose dives. Stay away."

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The One Witness Rule as Gamesmanship

Mark Bennett did a post on the "One Witness Rule" last week, describing the prosecutorial question to a jury as "sneaky", "unfair", "inelegant", and "gamesmanship".

Here's how the "One Witness Rule" question generally poses itself in voir dire in it's raw form:

"Assuming that one witness and one witness only testifies, and they cover all of the elements of the offense, and that witness proves the elements to you beyond a reasonable doubt, the law says that you can convict. Can you follow that portion of the law?"

One of Mark's descriptors is that the question is inelegant. Boy, he got that part right. It is a tough question for a juror to wrap their mind around. And dammit, us Texans are known for our freaking elegance, if nothing else.

But I disagree with him that the question is "sneaky", "unfair", or "gamesmanship".

The question is, very often, an important one to a case, and, contrary to his post, it is often applicable, even if the case has 58 witnesses.

Because, often times, there is only one witness on the case that makes it. One of Mark's posters points out that the Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Child case is a prime example of where the One Witness Rule comes into play. Sure, you can bring in a police officer, maybe even a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (if you're lucky), and perhaps an outcry witness.

But the crux of the case is going to be that one witness: the child.

I've had cases where I've put children on the stand, and they've been amazing in both their courage and their descriptiveness.

And I've had those juries hang. And those jurors that wanted to acquit have told me "Yeah, we believed her, but we really wanted some DNA evidence."

No kidding. I would have loved some too, but as any lawyer who practices criminal law will tell you, we don't make the facts.

Prosecutors do have to identify those jurors who won't convict without the scientific evidence or a corroborating witness, because that's often times all we've got. That makes the question important, and there's nothing unfair about asking it.

What Mark doesn't mention is that most prosecutors will give a hypothetical or two that illustrate what the One Witness Rule means. Often times, it goes something like this:

Let's say that after jury selection, you go back out to your car, and there's the Court Reporter with a gun. She robs you of your purse and takes off. The cops show up and you tell him everything. Here you were in Harris County. A person you know came up with a gun and robbed you of your purse. You were in fear for your life. You know it was the court reporter, because you've been looking at her for the last three hours. You've covered all the elements, but the cop tells you, "Well, without another witness, a fingerprint, or a video tape of the offense, we can't file charges." Do you see how the "One Witness Rule" works? So, making the assumption, that you believe the witness beyond a reasonable doubt as to all the evidence, can you convict? Or are you going to require something even more than that?

Mark is right that it can become difficult for a juror to understand, but that's why prosecutors spend so much time on it, if the case necessitates.

It can many times be the most critical question that a prosecutor can ask on a given trial.

I will give you an example of what was, without a doubt, the most difficult case I ever took to trial, and it involved one witness.

A lady was walking to the bus station from a parade in Midtown and got lost. A man fell in beside her as she walked and began talking to her, under the guise of helping her find the bus station.

"Come this way," he kept telling her. "It's just a little bit further."

Ultimately, he shoved her into a vacant lot, where he violated her at knife-point in pretty much every way a woman can be violated. She remembered the paw print tattoos across his chest, but she never saw his face. He fled, with her purse and check book.

No DNA was recovered.

The investigating officer tracked down the checks which were almost immediately being used in forgeries across town. He busted his butt working on the case and linking it up to a suspect. He finally identified a person, whom he tied to the victim's checks. That person was put in a live line up, and the second the victim saw him, she collapsed in her recollection.

The case was beyond brutal, and about two weeks before trial, the police officer who filled in all the gaps on the case died. All the work he had done to provide the link ups died with him, too. They couldn't be proven up without him.

So I was left with my One Witness.

The Defendant had offered to plead to 25 years TDCJ and never asserted actual innocence during the negotiation phase. But he was a true habitual, and the facts were horrific. I gave the option to the victim, telling her that the case would be difficult and nothing was guaranteed. I let her guide me, and she wanted him to go to trial.

I spent the vast vast vast vast vast majority of my voir dire on One Witness. I had plenty of knowledge that left me no doubt whatsoever that I was trying the right person for the case, but what I had in the way of admissible evidence was just one extremely brave woman.

In the end, the voice recognition and the tattoos on his chest were enough for the jury, and it was one of those days where it felt really damn good to be a prosecutor.

The point of the story (other than reliving a Glory Day moment in trial) is that the One Witness Rule is important.

Really damn important.

Sure, you can call it "inelegant", but "sneaky", "unfair", and "gamesmanship"?

I don't think so.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

My AHCL Email Account

Awhile back I finally created an e-mail account that would give readers an opportunity to write in if they didn't want to post something publicly. I am glad I set up the e-mail because it has facilitated a great many conversations and explanations.

Unfortunately, I'm very bad about responding to all the e-mails I get "off blog". I don't mean to be rude by my tardiness, but sometimes other things just get in the way. Every couple of weeks, I go through the inbox and try to answer those questions that I can.

That being said, I also receive several questions that I can't answer for varying reasons, which is why I'm writing this particular post. I hope that people will still write in when they don't feel comfortable posting.

Here are some of the things, however, that I can't answer or do when somebody writes in:

1. Answer a Question about a Federal Case-my realm is the Harris County Criminal Justice Center which deals with the Laws of the State of Texas. If you are asking me about who did what on a Federal case, you might as well be asking me to translate something into Chinese. I have great respect for the Federal system, obviously, but I don't know Federal Procedure, much Federal Law, and very few Federal Prosecutors.

2. Give Legal Advice-let's say in the off-chance that I did happen to be a prosecutor, I can't be giving a person charged with a crime legal advice. Big no no.

3. Recommend an Attorney to Hire-I've got many many friends in the Defense Bar whom I like and respect. Harris County has got some of the best criminal defense attorneys in the universe. I'm not going to pick one and tell you that you should hire them. Also a big no no. I will give the general warning that if you are charged with a criminal case, you would probably be much better off with an actual criminal lawyer than your Uncle Elmo's divorce attorney, however.

4. Try to Get Vic Wisner to Change His Wardrobe-better men and women than me have been trying this for years and have failed. There are some missions that are just too impossible. I would advocate that you try getting in touch with the people who run Extreme Makeover, however.

5. Look Up Information on an Old Case for You-another big no no. If you want to suggest a case for public discussion that would be interesting for the blog, please let me know. But if you want me to find out what ever happened on Uncle Elmo's DWI case from 1992, I'm not going to do that.

6. Give you an E-mail address or Personal Contact Information for a Prosecutor or Defense Attorney-the bottom line is that if you can't find them by Googling them, don't look for me to be your search engine.

7. Predict What a Specific Judge Will Do Given a Certain Set of Facts-first of all, I'm not Nostradamus, or even Karnac, for that matter. As an attorney, I often don't know what a judge is going to do on any given case. I know what I hope they will do, and what I think they should do, but that often is completely unrelated to what they actually will do. I think that making a prediction can occasionally border on legal advice, and there's something about it that just feels fundamentally improper.

8. Send You an Autographed Picture of Myself-okay, so nobody has actually ever asked me to do this, but I can dream, can't I?

9. Answer Questions About Appellate Procedure-I'm a trial lawyer, and as Warren "Prime Time" Diepraam once stated, a trial lawyer is "in sales, not customer satisfaction". Probably the greatest asset to the Harris County District Attorney's Office is the incredible Appellate Division. They know everything you could ever possibly want to know about case law and appellate procedure. Compared to the great legal minds in Appellate, I'm just the fat kid in the school yard who eats paste.

10. Represent You-who knows? Maybe some day down the line. But not right now. :-)

Please keep those e-mails coming, though. I enjoy reading them, even if I can't answer some of them.

This Just In from Waynce Dolcefino

Apparently last night's Channel 13 Undercover Report by Wayne Dolcefino revealed this story that you could have only learned from being a loyal viewer of KTRK:

It seems that last month there was a fire of some sort at the CJC.

I had no idea.

I guess Wayne decided that going through the trash behind the Sheriff's Office was getting stale with the viewers so he had to go and report some really old news.

Way to stay on top of things, Wayne!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Bernstein's Article on Clarence Bradford

My buddy Alan Bernstein was back writing on the District Attorney's race this morning with a less-than-complimentary article on former HPD Police Chief Clarence "C.O." Bradford. Now, I personally found the timing of the article a bit odd, since the election is a little less than four months away, but who really knows what goes on in the minds of Chronicle personnel?

The article is certainly not kind to Bradford:

"Bradford is void of experience in criminal court, other than as a crime investigation witness or humiliated defendant."

The article also goes on to say: "The county never has elected an African-American to a law enforcement job." Um, I think Harris County Constable for Precinct Seven May Walker may disagree with him on that point.

But anyway, the article goes on to list his problems with the crime lab and the K-Mart raid and seems pretty much like a slam piece to me.

It does list him as a good administrator, with former Houston Police Officers Union president Hans Marticiuc grading him out as an "A minus/B plus" administrator who did well with managing people.

So the question I guess that I have is what really matters in evaluating Bradford as a potential candidate? With the upcoming Presidential election, most people that I have spoken to seem to think that so many people are going to vote straight-ticket that there isn't even a requirement that a candidate have a pulse.

I've met with Chief Bradford, and personally, I like him.

I think he has some good overall "ideals" about what to do with the Office, but I think he also needs to get some trial experience to know what the people under him will be doing on a day-to-day basis. Having that kind of understanding will help turn his ideals into ideas that may ultimately work out.

One of his most compelling ideals, in my opinion, is the visibility in the community of the elected District Attorney. His ideal is that more trust will be fostered between the community and the Office, which will ultimately lead to more cooperation from witnesses, and more trust from jurors.

It would certainly be nice for the D.A.'s Office to be considered the "good guys" in the eyes of the community.

But the flip side of that is that being the District Attorney isn't always going to be making popular decisions. His idea about explaining himself to the community is a good contrast to the prior arrogance of Chuck Rosenthal, who felt he didn't need to explain himself to anybody.

But he's also got to have the strength to prosecute unpopular causes, if it is the right thing to do. He can still explain it to the community, but he's going to need the knowledge to know how to do so.

What do y'all think?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A Good Man

Remember that guy in high school that you were friends with that was your "bad friend"?

The one who smoked weed (and probably did more) earlier than anyone else? The guy who had actually been to Juvie or Rehab? The one who everyone else thought was so cool because he was the guy who just didn't give a crap what his parents, teachers, or the police thought? The James Dean of your high school? The one that the girls wanted to date to piss off their parents, and the one that guys wanted to be like to show that they could be "bad"?

That guy in high school was my best friend. For the purposes of this post, I'll just call him "Jim".

Although we lost touch a couple of years after high school, and actually had some personal differences that led us to not talk to each other for about eight years, you don't forget the people who held the title of "best friend", no matter how old you get.

Today, after having not seen nor heard from him in eight years, Jim showed up at the Harris County Criminal Justice Center looking for me.

When you practice criminal law, and an "old friend" looks you up out of the blue, the reason for it 99.9% of the time is that they are in legal trouble and want some free advice. And given the fact that I hadn't heard from him in a long amount of time, and the fact that he was never really one to turn his back on any drug in the book, I pretty much assumed that was why he was looking for me.

I found him on the first floor by the elevators. He looked fine. He seemed fairly relaxed and he looked just like he did in high school. We exchanged greetings and went to a witness room to talk.

"Are you in trouble?" I asked him.

"Nah, man," he said.

"What's going on, then?"

"Man," he said. "I knew you were probably the only person who could help me."

"With what?"

"Man," he said, as serious as he could be. "I've finally figured out that since I was two years old that my dad has been conspiring with the CIA, the Secret Service, and Queen Elizabeth to kill me. They've been injecting isotopes into my body that allow them to track what I do and control me. My dad can even see everything I see through my eyes."

He meant every word he said.

My best friend from high school, in other words, had become severely mentally ill.

And I had no idea of how on Earth to help him.

It's a strange feeling to sit there across from someone that you used to know like a brother and see that the person he used to be is no longer there. His mind rotted away for whatever reason, whether it be hard core drug use, or just genetics.

It's a painful feeling. It's a hopeless feeling. It's a feeling that I wasn't equipped to deal with in any productive way.

So I quickly thought about who I knew that could possibly help me with the situation. Who would be sympathetic, understanding, and helpful.

I thought about it for about ten seconds.

And then I called Mark Bennett.

Mark answered the phone in the hushed tone that told me he'd been in a courtroom when I called. I asked him if he was in the CJC at the moment, and when he said that he was, I told him I needed his help.

He was there in under five minutes.

I introduced him to Jim, and Mark took over from there.

He communicated with my friend in a way of patient understanding that only somebody who had dealt with the mentally ill and understood what they were going through could do. He didn't condescend to him. He was candid with him that what Jim was saying was logically implausible. But he didn't belittle Jim for what his far-fetched thoughts were.

He spoke to him in words that Jim could understand. Ultimately, Mark told Jim that he needed psychiatric help and that "even if a doctor doesn't believe what you are saying, he can probably help make you feel better about coping with it. Wouldn't you like to feel more at ease?"

And Jim did.

I would like to tell you that we walked Jim down to a psychiatric institute where the people took him in and everything was going to be okay.

But I don't know that everything will ever be okay with Jim.

Mark got me the name of a psychiatrist who specializes in dealing with someone with Jim's type of problem. I talked to Jim's dad this afternoon, and passed along the advice that Mark had given me.

Will it help Jim? I don't know. Frankly, I doubt it.

But the point is that when I needed help, and when my friend needed help, Mark Bennett showed up in the blink of an eye. He stepped in where I would have miserably failed, and dammit, it was pretty freaking impressive.

My dad once told me that the highest compliment that one man can give to another is to call him a "good man".

Mark Bennett and I have disagreed over many topics. He's been blasted on his opinions by me and numerous prosecutors on this blog, and on his own.

But folks, let me tell you something.

Mark Bennett is a good man.

Out of the Loop

My posts have been a little few and far between lately because of some personal things going on in my life. I'm working on it, so hopefully I will be back with a little more regularity in the near future.

There were some great articles for discussion this weekend that would have made great posts, but I kind of missed the boat. So here's my discount version:

Story # 1: Rick Casey's column on a visiting judge ordering urinalysis on acquitted defendant: As much as it pains me to agree with Papa Smurf on anything, I have to admit that he's mostly right on this one. What in the hell was the judge thinking?

Long story short: A visiting civil court judge, presiding over a criminal trial orders the Defendant to have a urinalysis while the jury is deliberating. The judge makes her intentions known that she will allow the results to be admissible during the punishment phase, should the jury reach it.

The jury acquits. Judge makes her take the urinalysis anyway, at the Defendant's own expense.

It doesn't take a lawyer, or even an aspiring law school student to realize this is not right.

The big issue on this to me is that somewhere, it should be codified that visiting civil court judges should not be allowed to "visit" in criminal courts. And vice versa. When dealing with civil law and criminal law, it is truly the proverbial "apples and oranges" situation, and what happened with Casey Price most definitely should not have happened. Any criminal judge would have known that.

That being said, I think that Paul LaValle including the rookie prosecutor in the law suit is preposterous. The vast amount of rookie prosecutors would try their cases pantless if a judge told them to, because they just don't know any better. Picking on this prosecutor for not jumping up and down when a judge was ordering something is over-reaching, and bullying. Unless you really want to base your legal career on the teachings of Lloyd Kelley, I would spend some time considering how far your law suit goes.

Back off the young prosecutor, Mr. LaValle, and focus your lawsuit on where it should be focused.

Story # 2: Sheila Jackson Lee calls for Inquiry Into Harris County Criminal Justice System. Citing numerous "bad court thingys", Sheila Jackson Lee called for a Congressional Inquiry into the Harris County Criminal Justice system. She cited the Joe Horn "no bill" and the Chuck Rosenthal scandal as reasoning behind the need for an inquiry.

Um, okay.

It would be very interesting to see how exactly this "inquiry" would be set up.

Would it be calling the thousands of inmates who have been arrested and incarcerated in the Harris County Jail to appear before Congress and ask them if they enjoyed their experience?

Would it be hauling in all every prosecutor and Sheriff's deputy to Capital Hill and asking them if they were card carrying members of the Legion of Doom?

Or perhaps, is this, shockingly, Sheila Jackson Lee doing her typical grandstanding once she realized she could make a "bold" statement by denouncing something that is allegedly systematic.

Here's a newsflash for you, Sheila. There are going to be these things called "elections" in November that can potentially make a bigger difference in the way things are run than you ever will. I know that you are probably still sweating how to apologize to your constituents for supporting Hilary over Obama, but anyone with half a brain knows that you are only good for a sound-byte that will, most likely, bring you more contempt than admiration.

Besides, Congress has much more important things to deal with, like determining whether or not Roger Clemens ever used steroids or something of National importance like that.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Guns and the People Who Shoot Them.

I've been pretty quiet about the Joe Horn case and the Grand Jury's No-Bill of him this week, because, quite frankly, I don't think I had anything all that original to say about it. I have absolutely no sympathy for the two burglars that he killed, but I'm also not someone who considers Horn to be a hero. I thought the Grand Jury did the right thing in returning a No Bill (especially when you look at the alternative being an indictment on Capital Murder).

But the things that Horn said on his 911 tape trouble me, and they bring to mind the fact that there are plenty of people in this world who legally own firearms and are just chomping at the bit to get a chance to use them.

These folks scare the hell out of me.

My Dad served three tours of duty in Vietnam as a Marine Corps Officer, and he killed a lot of people. He never really talks about it, but he doesn't shy away from discussing it either. He took me hunting once because he thought every father and son should do that at least once, but I could tell he didn't enjoy the actual act of hunting. We had a great time together, but in the end, he summed up his feelings about hunting by telling me "I feel guilty about shooting at something that isn't shooting back at me."

He also stressed to me gun safety by telling me that he can live with all the people he killed during Vietnam, but he would never be able to live with himself if he harmed someone by accident or by being careless with a gun.

But on the flip side of my father's attitude toward firearms and lethal force are people who are much more prevalent than I'm exactly comfortable with.

You know the ones I'm talking about. The ones who were first in line to get their Concealed Carry Licenses when they first were made available. The ones who have more handguns than they have hands. The ones who carry those handguns everywhere they legally can.

The ones that are just praying for the opportunity to someday get to kill somebody legally.

Those folks scare the crap out of me, and if I base my opinion of Joe Horn off of his 911 call, I think he matched that description.

I use the term "matched" rather than "matches", because I also think that what he did in his front yard turned out not to be as exciting as he probably envisioned it. The gun shots don't sound as dramatic as they do on TV. The blood is real.

And the consequences of having taken the lives of real human beings is one the will always weigh on his soul.

Don't get me wrong. I don't cry a lot of tears for the people that Joe Horn shot. They were bad men -- much worse than what the media or Quannel X would have you believe.

But what if it had been a pair of 15-year-old kids doing a stupid prank? Or worse, kids that just happen to be walking across the yard, but look suspicious?

I doubt that Joe Horn will ever pull the trigger on another human being again, but some of those folks who call him a hero might. Joe Horn is talking about how the shootings affected him.

I hope some of his followers will listen to him.