We, as people, are inherently fallible. Mistakes, embarrassment and hurtful actions abound in our lives, often translating into intimacy with the criminal justice system.
Indeed, the criminal justice system connotes failure, poverty, alcoholism, dysfunction and any other negative sentiment associated with crime. I firmly opine that many of these notions stem from popular rhetoric espousing the compartmentalization of offenders. A criminal conviction, in society’s mind, equates to a lower status. Felons are often deprived of many rights, including the right to a concealed carry, the right to vote, and the right to participate in many jobs.
Yet in my experience, most “crimes” lack violence. Very rarely are they committed against a complete stranger. I find that as a criminal defense attorney, I can feel sympathetic because I know the facts, and oddly, most situations precipitating crimes are exactly that – situational. I could rattle off countless cases that would make you seriously second-guess your perceptions of offenders, as the circumstances surrounding those acts are ones that you and I face. Love, fear, rejection, greed, recklessness, passion, carelessness – the very same characteristics that induce crime permeate our lives.
This theme of this blog comes at an eve when I could not feel stronger about the wrongness of society’s blanket ignorance to its own fallibility. Tomorrow, a case I worked on closely will come to a close, as the jury deliberates and seals the fate of a 20-year-old boy. His earnestness and good-nature is almost palpable. He speaks with the grace and respect that comes from being raised by conservative, church-going grandparents. A multi-sport letterman, he exemplifies many of the talents gifted to an elite athlete, as well as the virtues imbued by strict coaches. As a student at Akron U, he celebrated his youth as only a college kid can: alcohol, parties, class, girls and crappy cars. A brief jaunt around a college campus on a Friday night will show the pervasiveness of these activities.
This young man is indicted for murder, felonious assault and tampering with evidence in connection with the death of a Kent State student in November. From the onset, the news media jumped on the story: 2 black thugs killed a beautiful, former all-american white athlete by stomping him! Completely unprovoked, like savages, they beat him until he was lifeless. The first time I heard the news, I was enraged that this would happen at my alma mater. How could two boys be so heartless, I asked? My feelings were strong: these kids were demons.
Then, the attorney for whom I worked was retained by one of the boy’s family, and I was thrust into a case that I never wanted to be a part of.
You see, my job at the firm was quite unique. I interviewed people, mostly witnesses and complainants [often termed "victim"]. In this capacity, I found a niche and a knack to decipher lies from truth. It is a fairly simple skill: one need only ask collateral details about a story. Unless a person is extremely clever, it is unlikely he thought of every possible angle from which I will question. But the truest indicator has always been my instinct and “read” on people. Meeting many people from all sectors of society, with an open mind and sensitivity, has offered me a lot of practice in determining the truly nasty from the merely fallible.
And I unequivocally state that Ron was truthful in his testimony. Yes, he was drunk. Yes, he let his emotions, hormones and inebriation take over when he got in a late night brawl with other drunk students. But I don’t think he killed someone or did anything that you or me have ever done or contemplated. Fierce questioning by us always led to the same story – that his friend Adrian inflicted the blow that killed Chris; that he never stomped Chris. [DNA evidence was no where on his shoes.] I just don’t believe the 20-year-old, sheltered, soft-spoken rube that Ron is could exhibit the sophistication necessary to tell such an elaborate, flawless lie. But more than that, I just don’t feel like Ron is different from me and you, despite the outcry from the general public that he is. No, Ron is nothing more than an fallible college kid, judged by a public blind to its own flaws.
I hope tomorrow will prove that last part wrong.