On murder

“You can never beat the big one,” old Tom Fagen used to say. He was a grizzled, tough talking criminal defense attorney who was as sweet and easy inside as an Easter bunny. He was talking about murder — the charge. If you are guilty and tried, and if the jury acquits, it makes no difference. You can never beat “the big one.” An evil entity intervenes. The Prince of Demons shall we call him. He attacks with guilt. I have known those who beat “the big one” in court to at last be beaten by their own hand. Suicide it is called. I think it better called the revenge of “the big one.”

I have seen those who have beaten “the big one” end up being murdered by others. I have seen them die the slow self imposed death of piteous alcoholics or drug addicts. I have seen them die desolate, alone, often diseased when the body has given up because the mind could no longer deal with “the big one.”

I know that the psychopaths and sociopaths, those without a conscience, may still trot around, perhaps dying of old age, laughing that they beat “the big one,” perhaps even more than once. But those poor devils were beaten to begin with, their lives a waste and empty as a can. They never were in the race – not even the human race.

But what about the innocents who are charged with murder and acquitted? Once charged, the innocent can never fully recover — the terror of the trial, the helplessness of standing for judgment in such a place of horror as a courtroom where nothing grows, where no one believes you, where if you rise up and scream your innocence you are hauled away where you can scream only at gray walls, and if you sit passively by the judgers, the jury, the citizens, the court gawkers – they all know you are guilty or you would be screaming your innocence.

And you cannot escape the transforming power of fear. At night you awaken and the first thought that creeps into your mind like a poison worm is that you will be found guilty, that they will haul you off in an orange suit to some dark hole where you will rot the rest of your life, where you will never again see your loved ones, never be touched by a loving human hand, never again see the peaceful leaves of fall or the joyous spouts of spring. No greater punishment exists than one imposed on the innocent.

Or, yes, they may order the gurney and the dripping needle for you, the last meal, the media crowded around to watch you die, and the hateful death-penalty ghouls rejoicing in the hallways that one more of their species has been wiped from the face of the earth.

In this world in which all innocence has become the cynic’s delight, there is no innocence. On that rare occasion when the innocent may be acquitted there has been too much pain for too long. The torture of months, perhaps years of terror awaiting trial and then the horror of the trial itself – it is then that The Prince of Demons comes to occupy even the body of the innocent accused. The tortured body and mind have become emptied of life, empty as death. It’s as if you have been murdered by the malicious heat of the murder trial itself. As old Tom said, you can never escape “the big one.” No, never.


18 responses to “On murder

  1. Gerry, as you are aware, the accused is not the only one who can never “beat the big one.” The devastating toll the murder trial takes on the lawyer can not be overstated. The caring lawyer can not sleep at night, can not eat during the day, hell, even bowel movements can come to a stop – not to mention the public scorn.

    Not surprisingly, the legal profession has its problems with drug addiction and alcoholism. The bottom of a beer can or liquor bottle appears comforting to many of us who have suffered the effects of caring for an accused murderer. Perhaps it is a subconscious self-destructive way for us to connect with our clients. The war stories of veteran trial lawyers, and Hollywood create the illusion – the bottle is a necessary part of the great defense lawyer. While the convict sits in jail rotting, the defense lawyer lives another day to boast falsely and make it to 5 o’clock for another drink. No one really wins and beats the big one!


  2. Gerry, your compassion is enormous. You have so taken on your client’s burdens, that you can describe what it feels like to be in that jail cell without actually sitting in it. You can be very quiet at times…I wonder if you are checking in on all those other souls that have needed you over the years. Like Dr. Seuss said in describing the Grinch, I feel like my heart grows bigger when I listen to you or read what you write. Thanks, Gerry.

  3. criminal defense lawye

    A friend tells a story of having her childhood end at age 13. Her father was charged with sexually assaulting a relative who was both a minor and “slow” and he’d been fired summarily. She tells of wrapping packages in her room in anticipation of Christmas, alone, when in the past she and her mother had carried out this tradition together, out in the open.

    But, because of the bail money, the lawyer’s fee and the job loss, she was wrapping empty boxes, wanting to maintain the look of normalcy, the traditions of Christmas, despite the sudden storm.

    A few weeks later, going into the lumberyard with her daddy, the one who could fix anything, who seemed so strong, didn’t seem that way suddenly when the lumberyard’s owner met them just inside the door and said, “we don’t sell to child molesters.”

    Later, the word of the jury’s not guilty verdict made the evening news, and onto the last page of the paper, much smaller than the front page article about the accusations. The job was restored, the family rejuvenated, but the whispers continued. Her father’s innocence had been revealed, but the world didn’t seem that way anymore.

    Like the packages, she looked the same from outside, but was different inside, never the same again.

  4. Criminal Defense Lawyer:

    Thanks for your story. Innocence is never as interesting as guilt, and papers are in the business of selling papers. I have had this experience many times.

    Remember, we are a punitive people. We believe in punishment. When that idea, that longed-for result, is thwarted, we seek other ways to satiate our needs, including, of course, acknowledging innocence with little more than a nod and a wink.


  5. Scout;

    It has been a common belief among criminal defense lawyers that if the lawyer is not a heavy drinker he is not to be trusted.

    I suffered though that misery about forty years ago. I learned that if I was to survive, indeed, to be of any use to my client, I had to stop drinking.

    I can remember fighting through the afternoon looking forward to five o’clock so I could rush down for my evening drinks — double shots with a beer chaser — a man’s drink, right? I haven’t had a drink now for forty years, but that hasn’t reduced my average much.

    Thanks, Scout.


  6. In the minds of too many people a mere accusation is as damning as an admittance of guilt, freely and truthfully given.

    A mere accusation can destroy someone’s life… along with causing severe harm to the falsely accused one’s family.

    But, the important thing in our legal system is to instill fear into the masses and maximize lawyer’s incomes.

  7. ” a grizzled, tough talking defense attorney … as sweet and easy inside as an Easter bunny.” With those words and what followed you entered ( expanded ? ) the precincts of Charles Dickens.
    I’ve never seen you write like that. Congratulations, 79 and still a creative artist. Wow.

  8. criminal defense lawyer

    Thanks for the reply Gerry and congrats on 40 years clean. My wife, from the story, has 8 years clean. It’s not only the lawyers that have to numb the pain I guess. I lost a friend a few months back and was sad that I never got the chance to explain to him why I liked TLC better than NCDC, which he helped me attend, and greatly admired. I didn’t get to explain the reason, but NCDC lacked AA meetings which changed the spiritual tone considerably. I appreciate you including that as it not only gave people permission not to drink and made the drinkers more respectful, it also prompted a couple people, who’d been either on the fence about quitting or about leaving a spouse who drank too much, to step forward and do something about it.

    By the way, Love is Always the Winning Argument has become a mantra of mine.

  9. Criminal Defense Lawyer:

    I sometimes think that if I were President I might look around to find those successful and wise persons who are recovering alcoholics for members of my cabinet. Such persons know human weaknesses — their own — which they and we must learn about before we truly discover our strengths.


    Thanks for your comments.


  10. George:

    Thanks. It brings me joy that a good phrase can be turned occasionally, and appreciated by at least one person in the universe. Thanks again.


  11. Mr. Spence,

    I only recently noticed your October 10 post. You have perfectly captured the thoughts that go through an innocent defendant’s mind when wrongfully accused, indicted and forced to proceed through the court system.

    Although the accusations against me were not murder (they were five white-collar felonies relating to a local political prosecution which were ultimately dismissed), the thought process I underwent was precisely as you describe. And I am still, six years later, recovering.

    Also, I found Scout’s comment particularly interesting. After my excellent lawyer – Ben Bailey – absolutely eviscerated the local corrupt prosecutor, me sent a letter which said, among other things, ‘there is nothing scarier than representing the truly innocent’.

    Thank you, Mr. Spence, for your lifetime of excellent work.

  12. Paw Paw,

    Thank you for expanding my mind on the topic. I have a client who is taking on the big one and did nothing any of us would have done.

    I can’t wait to show you my the ADA’s scalp when I am done with this one.


  13. Wow, just when I thought I’d exit your site to get some work done, I get sucked into the joys of great cyberspace. Your cyberspace!

    There are some amazing comments here on top of an amazing writer’s writings.

    “The heroes are soon forgotten. The villains last a lifetime,” Richard Jewell told the Associated Press during an interview.

    Here was a classic case of an innocent man being convicted in the media and in the minds of Americans.

    A hero, a man doing his job and doing what was right in his efforts to save the lives of others, Jewell, was persecuted and falsely accused in the 1996 Summer Olympic bombing in Atlanta.

    The real Olympic Park bomber was Eric Robert Rudolph, who also committed other crimes. Only Rudolph’s confession vindicated Jewell. Yet Mr. Jewell wrongly paid the price of guilt until his death.

    What this man, Jewell, lived through I don’t think words can describe. He saved countless lives, yet he was condemned almost before the smoke had even cleared from the scene.

    Jewell had been tried and convicted in the media. He is dead now, and hopefully the Lord has given him peace since the incident. Something I don’t think he could ever of had while here on earth.

    I think if any one knows the history and the impact such as this Jewell story, it is the people who gather here to read your written wisdom, Mr. Spence.

    How many stories like this are out there that we don’t hear about?

    What does society pay for the damage it does to an innocent life as it had to Richard Jewell, or his family? Or those like him?

    As your readers have commented on numerous examples, if it weren’t for lawyers such as you and them, where would America stand… or fall? And at what price would it cost? And who would pay that price?

    When the innocent pay the price for guilt we all lose.

    As a society, we, the people, need to rethink the course of our society’s future if we desire to call ourselves human, as you say, Mr. Spence.

    Isn’t it so grand we can communicate like this, in cyberspace, people so far coming together so near.

    Perhaps that is the only sliver of hope, we have in keeping our society from becoming totally barbaric, is to keep our communication lines open. Lines such as this one where we, the people, can communicate directly with one another.

    Keep your stimulating writing going, Mr Spence. It makes us think, for better or of worst.

  14. Thanks for your comment, Cliff. Made my day.


  15. Pingback: No escape for OJ « Gerry Spence’s Blog

  16. Dear Gerry,
    I couldn’t agree more with your statements about what an innocent person mistakenly and/or wrongly accused goes through in our so-called “criminal justice system.” Even though I am not a lawyer, law student or paralegal, or even a citizen facing such charges, I have still personally witnessed what happens to anyone falsely or mistakenly accused.

    As you said in another of your books, THE SMOKING GUN, the presumption of innocence is a myth. It doesn’t exist, except in people’s hopeful minds. The minds of anyone so accused, that is, and in the minds of their families, friends and loved ones. They too are often despised by law enforcement, and often treated as badly as the accused themselves, just for the “crime” of being their advocates and friends.

    So for those who still believe that “law enforcement does no wrong,” they should read books such as the one I mentioned previously. Believing in such myths can be dangerous to those who are unwilling to open their eyes.

  17. Becky Rosa sued in a civil action over the death of her husband. She will never get over his killing in
    Rock Springs– never.
    The ex Sheriff of Rock Springs did kill Mike Rosa, the reason Becky Rosa sued the ex Sheriff, but there was no book by Becky, on her perspective–death in Rock Springs, and how that hurt a family.

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