This is an intriguing email. I found it thought-provoking. The author asked me to link some subjects together in a way I hadn't thought of before, and so I've spent the last couple of evenings thinking about how to relate storytelling with my thoughts about perceived prosecutorial misconduct.Interesting - Please relate your views of story telling with your recent posts concerning perceived prosecutorial misconduct in criminal proceedings and put all of that in context to the trials you have either prosecuted or defended. Would also be interested in civil experience.Please be specific to assist us in assessing your analysis. Would you agree that experience is the best teacher? Looking forward to your continued analysis.
The last four years of my military career I was stationed at the US Army JAG School in Charlottesville, Virginia. I taught evidence and trial advocacy in the Criminal Law Department there, taking over for Charlie Rose when he left the JAG School to become the Deputy Staff Judge Advocate at Fort Eustis. (As an aside, Charlie and I have been close friends for close to fifteen years now, ever since we first met at a US Army Trial Defense Services conference in 1998.)
The case involved a false confession to a rape. As a defense counsel, I was able to hire, at government expense, one of the top three confession experts in the United States to assist me. Because my caseload was manageable, I had the time to research and prepare my case, and I prevailed at trial. A few days after the trial, one of the military jurors approached the chief of military justice at the installation and delivered a reprimand for even bringing the case to trial in the first place. Although there was physical evidence linking someone else to the rape (and no physical evidence linking my client to it), the government steadfastly refused to consider the possibility that anyone else could have committed it. After all, my client had confessed! No one confesses to something they didn't do!
Nonetheless, DNA exonerations have opened many peoples' minds to the fact that innocent people can be--and have been, much more often than we would like to believe--convicted of crimes they did not commit. So, what does storytelling have to do with this?
Stories are powerful. They matter. The wrong story, unsupported by or in spite of the facts, can have a powerful impact nearly impossible to overcome.
As an example, last January, a group of law students and I presented a petition for a posthumous pardon to the Illinois Prisoner Review Board for a man named Grover Thompson (link to stories here and prior blog post on the case here).Grover, who was crippled and walked with a pronounced limp, was convicted in 1982 of aggravated battery of a woman in Mount Vernon, Illinois. She lived in a basement apartment and reported that an intruder came through the window, stabbed her while she was getting out of the shower, leaped back up through the window when a neighbor responded to her cries for help, and escaped. She identified the intruder as a black man. Unfortunately for Grover Thompson, he was the closest black man available. Just minutes after the stabbing, someone remembered seeing a black man sleeping in the lobby of a nearby post office. This was Grover. Despite the fact that he had no blood on his clothing and could not physically have either made it into or out of that basement window, he was convicted of the crime and died in a maximum security prison 16 years into his 40-year sentence. Grover always maintained his innocence, from the first time police approached him to his death in prison.