Sunday, May 14, 2017


"In 1962, President Kennedy proclaimed May 15 as National Peace Officers Memorial Day and the calendar week in which May 15 falls, as National Police Week. Established by a joint resolution of Congress in 1962, National Police Week pays special recognition to those law enforcement officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty for the safety and protection of others." National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

Bradford and Union Counties got an early start on National Police Week by holding their memorial for the fallen officers of those two counties on May 11 at the First Christian Church in Lake Butler, Florida. It was a very solemn, moving ceremony in which not only the fallen officers but also their surviving family members were honored. I won't detail everything that was done at the ceremony, but I will say that I was especially moved by the BCSO Color Guard's presentation of the U.S. Flag, the playing of Taps on the trumpet, and the playing of Amazing Grace on the bagpipes.

Sheriff Brad Whitehead had asked me to speak at the ceremony, sending the invitation through my cousin, Deputy Sheriff Todd Hanlon. I immediately accepted, feeling honored to have been thought of to deliver such an address. My feelings of being honored soon gave way to feelings of apprehension. Despite the fact that I was a trial lawyer for 32 years, I am somewhat lacking in social skills, and one of my greatest deficiencies is a propensity to say something inappropriate on solemn occasions. 

I frittered away several weeks trying to think of the right thing to say, and I finally decided to approach the task as I would the giving of an opening statement. In the giving of opening statements and making of final arguments, I am a disciple of the great Roman trial lawyer, Marcus Tulius Cicero. Cicero posited that the advocate should always write his speech out word for word before giving it, but never read the speech. I don't know how many final arguments and opening statements I wrote over the years, but I'm pretty sure it somewhere above 200. I once mentioned that I had to leave a meeting early to write a final argument, and one of the lawyers there asked me "When did you start writing out your final arguments?" He knew that in my early days I always flew by the seat of my pants. My answer: "When I got tired of losing cases." I wish I had read Cicero at the beginning of my career as a trial lawyer rather than toward the end. But I digress.

I wrote my speech, and then I tried it out on various family members, getting their feedback. After each critique of my speech, I rewrote it. This is something else I always tried to do as a trial lawyer. When I finally had the last draft of the speech down, I printed it out in large type and highlighted key words. I would have the speech there on the pulpit when I delivered it, but I would not look at it unless I needed minute details like dates or unless, as sometimes happens, I drew a complete blank. Even after I had the speech in almost final form, the revision process never stopped until I got behind the pulpit and began speaking. For example, my research had identified 16 fallen officers from Bradford and Union Counties. When I got to the church and studied the agenda, I learned that there were actually 25 fallen officers, so my last revision was to change the number 16 to the number 25.

The resulting speech was very close to what I had written, but there were omissions and additions as I felt moved to expand on some points and completely forgot others. Here, then is the final draft of the speech I gave. It is not 100% identical to the speech I gave, but it is awfully close to it:


In the current political climate, where it is so popular to criticize and even demonize law enforcement officers, I am frequently reminded of a sign I saw in a police department squad room some 40 years ago. It read “We, the willing, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much for so long with so little that we are now qualified to do anything with nothing.” That little sign exemplified the law enforcement officer’s job—long hours, inadequate equipment, poor working conditions, microscopic paychecks, separation from family, and little appreciation from the public. Things have really changed in the past forty years. Now the officer’s job consists of—long hours, somewhat better equipment, slightly improved working conditions, small paychecks, separation from family, and outright hostility from much of the public.

One thing hasn’t changed at all over the years, though, the spirit of self-sacrifice that lives in the heart of every good officer. When disaster strikes, when others run away from danger, the good officer runs toward danger. As I speak these words, somewhere in this great country an officer is risking life and limb in the execution of his or her sworn duty. This willingness to face danger in service of community exacts a great cost—sometimes the ultimate cost. I have seen this cost firsthand. In my 32 year career in the criminal justice system I handled seven cases where officers lost their lives in the pursuit of their duties. Many of these men were my friends. I knew them, I knew their families, and I learned to appreciate the unimaginable suffering caused by such losses.

One of my first cases came in the early morning hours of July 6, 1976, when I received a call from the county jail saying that two deputies had been killed. As an Assistant State Attorney in a small county, I frequently got after-hours calls, but never one like that. I got up and started dressing, then stopped. It couldn’t be. It had to be a prank call. I started to call the jail to make sure, but decided it would be better to just go on down. When I got to the jail, I saw the sheriff standing in the doorway and I knew it was no prank.  In short order I was on the crime scene looking down at the bodies of two officers. Two good men, two good friends, shot to death by a man who didn’t want to get his probation revoked. It would be no exaggeration to say that was the worst night of my career as an Assistant State Attorney, and its memory haunted me for years.

One of my last cases came in the early morning hours of May 30, 2002, when a young deputy sheriff responding to a burglar alarm swerved to miss children walking in the middle of the dark, unlit county road that I lived on. He lost control, hit a tree, and his car burst into flames. I had watched him grow up in the church I attended, and he was a good friend of my youngest son. You couldn’t hope to meet a finer young man. To say that his family and friends were devastated would be an understatement.

According to the Officer Down Memorial Page more than 22,000 officers have been killed in the line of duty since the founding of our nation. That’s more than 22,000 tragedies like the ones I just described, and 25 them occurred in Bradford and Union Counties. Each of those officers has touched us and continues to touch us in ways that we cannot even imagine. There’s a recent field of science called Chaos Theory which describes something called the Butterfly Effect. According to the theory, an event as insignificant as the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Africa can cause a tornado in Florida, and that tornado in Florida can shake the limbs of a tree in China. Every event causes a chain reaction of events that result in undreamed-of consequences. Let me describe one small Butterfly Effect of the sacrifice of one of those 25 officers I just mentioned. On May 23, 1961, a Union County Deputy Sheriff was shot and killed investigating a domestic violence complaint. An eighth-grader got into all kinds of trouble when he skipped school to go and watch the final arguments in the resulting murder trial. He came away from that trial resolved to be a prosecutor. He made good on that resolution with a 30 year career as a prosecutor. More than a half century later that eighth grader is standing here speaking to you tonight. We should never forget that each one of these officers deserves our eternal gratitude for giving the last full measure of devotion to make our world a safer place, and never forget that their influence continues in the lives of those they touched.  

I want to close by addressing myself to the young officers who are present. I want to give you a challenge: Always remember these fallen heroes who have gone before you; always strive to honor their memory; and always try to conduct yourselves so that your Butterfly Effect will continue the legacy of good that flows from their sacrifice.

Friday, April 21, 2017


I saw today that the Gainesville Sun is running an essay contest to choose a nurse of the year for Nurse’s Week beginning May 6. I clicked on the link to the page containing the full rules for the contest and was disappointed to find that the contest was limited to nurses who were currently working in the nursing profession and the essays were limited to 300 words. That presented two problems. The person I had in mind for nomination is now retired, and 300 words is not enough to describe what an excellent nurse she was and still is.

She set her sights on becoming a nurse at an early age and never wavered from pursuing that goal. In high school she worked nights as a telephone operator to save money for college, and continued to work through two years at Lake City Junior College and Forest Ranger School, now Florida Gateway College. There was an Associate Degree nursing program at LCJC, but she wanted a bachelor’s degree. Upon graduating LCJC she enrolled in the University of Florida and entered the nursing program. Before she graduated from UF she had married, and as soon as she graduated she went took a job at the VA Hospital in Lake City and began working on her P.H.T. (Putting Husband Through) degree from the University of Florida Law School.

Rotating shifts and the strenuous physical labor of being a hospital nurse did not mix well with rearing a young child, and when the second came her husband talked her into leaving her profession for full-time motherhood. I don’t recall how long that lasted, but it wasn’t long. She and her husband disagreed about her going back to work, but they reached a compromise with the agreement that she would try to find a job with reasonable hours and weekends off.

She found that job at LCJC on the faculty of the Associate Degree Nursing Department, where she served for the bulk of her career. Beginning as the most junior and least experienced member of the nursing faculty, when she left the college she was the Director of the Associate Degree Nursing Department.

During the time she taught at the college, her husband had the opportunity to get a P.W.T. degree as she earned a Master’s Degree in Allied Health. I tried to talk her into going ahead and studying to become a Nurse Practitioner, but she was satisfied with what she was doing at the college.

One of her accomplishments while at the college was to put together an A.D.N. to B.S.N. (Associate Degree Nursing to Bachelor of Sciences in Nursing) program at what had by that time become Lake City Community College. I recall how tirelessly she worked putting the program together, and how many obstacles she had to overcome, but she finally got the program in place and began the process of turning A.D.N.’s into B.S.N.’s. More than a few B.S.N.’s today obtained their degree through that program. My only complaint is that she worked the program in conjunction with F.S.U. (Just kidding).

One incident from the early days of that program exemplifies her dedication to duty, compassion, level-headed good judgment, and coolness under fire. She was leading a caravan of students over to Tallahassee for a class on the F.S.U. campus when they drove up on a horrific wreck on I-10. A prison bus loaded with chained female inmates had overturned. Almost all of the prisoners had been seriously injured, and the injuries had been magnified by the fact that they had been manacled. The wreck had occurred so recently that no emergency vehicles had arrived on the scene. The caravan of nursing students stopped and went into action as first responders rendering whatever aid they could.

With no equipment of any kind, and nothing but their knowledge and their bare hands, she and her students began rendering what aid they could. When E.M.S. personnel arrived they continued to assist until the situation had been completely handled. When it was all over, she called F.S.U. and advised that they would not be coming to the Crisis Management Class that night, they had held their class on the side of I-10.  She later wrote a letter to the Secretary of the Department of Corrections about how the use of manacles in transporting the prisoners had compounded their injuries and cost some of the prisoners their lives. Her plea to unshackle prisoners once they had been locked into a transport bus fell on deaf ears.

She taught hundreds of students over the course of her career, and not a week goes by that we don’t encounter one of her former students. Seeing so many of her former students who have done so well in the nursing profession gives me a sense of great pride that she has made a significant contribution to the betterment of society.

Sometimes seeing former students can be amusing. The lead-in to this story is a little long, but bear with me: Lane (yes, I’ve been talking about my wife) used to have bad migraine headaches. They had come out with a shot for migraines that was very painful to administer, and they had given Lane some syringes to take home. She got a migraine so bad that she couldn’t administer the shot to herself, so she told me I would have to do it. I’d given shots to cows back in my days as a farm boy, but never a shot to a human being. I didn’t want to do it. I also didn’t want her to suffer, so I screwed up my courage and gave her the shot. She screamed. I nearly fainted. I told her the next [expletive deleted] time she needed a migraine shot we’d just have to go to the emergency room.

Sure enough, not long after that she got another bad migraine. I packed her up and took her to the emergency room, and the doctor prescribed a shot. (So far I’ve neglected to mention that this shot did not go into the arm). The job of giving the shot devolved onto the E.R. nurse, a man whom Lane had taught in nursing school. My reluctance to give my wife a shot was nothing compared to his reluctance to give his former professor a shot that wasn’t going into the arm. His hand was actually shaking a little bit as he approached to give it. He somehow accomplished the task of giving her the shot. Lane didn’t scream. And I bit my tongue to keep from laughing because I knew neither he nor Lane would see any humor in the situation.

After she left the college, Lane worked as the Associate Director of Nursing at Northeast Florida State Hospital for a few years before finally retiring completely. In retirement she’s nursed our parents and our children, our grandchildren, and a multitude of other friends and relatives. And when I say nursed, I don’t mean just giving them a Band-Aid and an aspirin—I’m talking about roll-up-your-sleeves, carry-the-bedpan, etc., etc. nursing. More than once I’ve been a bachelor for weeks at a time while she has gone to a distant city to nurse a sick friend or relative. She has accused me of enjoying my occasional stints of bachelorhood, but I’m always glad to meet her at the airport and take her home.

I’ve tripled the Gainesville Sun’s word limit already, and I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of all the good things Lane has done as a nurse. Suffice it to say that she has my vote for Nurse of the Year, Nurse of the Decade, and Nurse of the Century. But then I may be just a little bit prejudiced.

Monday, April 10, 2017


Southern Illinois University Press just sent me the copy for the dust jacket of the book, Prairie Defender, asking me to look it over and see if I approved of it. I read the copy and thought "Dad gum, that sounds like a good book. I'd like to read it." And I really would like to read it again--even though I've read it countless times already getting it ready for printing. That's the way I am with a book I really like, I read it and re-read it numerous times. When I was a kid, I read my grandmother's copy of Swiss Family Robinson until the covers fell off.

I thoroughly enjoyed writing Prairie Defender, and I thoroughly enjoy every re-reading of it. I certainly hope the reading public gets as much pleasure out of it as I do. Here's the copy that's going to be on the inside flap of the dust cover:

According to conventional wisdom, Abraham Lincoln spent most of his law career collecting debt and representing railroads, and this focus made him inept at defending clients in homicide cases. In this unprecedented study of Lincoln’s criminal cases, George Dekle disproves these popular notions, showing that Lincoln was first and foremost a trial lawyer. Through careful examination of Lincoln’s homicide cases and evaluation of his legal skills, Dekle demonstrates that criminal law was an important part of Lincoln’s practice and that he was quite capable of defending people accused of murder, trying approximately one such case per year.

Dekle begins by presenting the viewpoints of not only those who see Lincoln as a perfect lawyer whose only flaw was his inability to represent the wrong side of a case but also those who believe Lincoln was a less-than-honest legal hack. The author invites readers to compare these wildly different stereotypes with the flesh-and-blood Lincoln revealed in each case described in the book, including an axe murder suit in which Lincoln assisted the prosecution, a poisoning case he refused to prosecute for $200 but defended for $75, and a case he won by proving that a supposed murder victim was actually still alive.

For each case Dekle covers, he first tells the stories of the feuds, arguments, and insults that led to murder and other criminal activity, giving a gripping view of the seamy side of life in nineteenth-century Illinois. Then he traces the course of the pretrial litigation, describes the trials and the various tactics employed in the prosecution and defense, and critiques the performance of both Lincoln and his adversaries.

Dekle concludes that Lincoln was a competent, diligent criminal trial lawyer who knew the law, could argue it effectively to both judge and jury, and would use all lawful means to defend clients whether he believed them to be innocent or guilty. His trial record shows Lincoln to have been a formidable defense lawyer who won many seemingly hopeless cases through his skill as a courtroom tactician, cross-examiner, and orator. Criminal defendants who could retain Lincoln as a defense attorney were well represented, and criminal defense attorneys who sought him as co-counsel were well served. Providing insight into both Lincoln’s legal career and the culture in which he practiced law, Prairie Defender resolves a major misconception concerning one of our most important historical figures.

Saturday, February 25, 2017


I'm between books right now, just having gotten the proof pages and index for Prairie Defender back to the publisher, and not quite being cranked up to jump on the big research project for my next book (working title--Attorney Generals: Martial Lawyers of the Civil War), so I decided to do a little experiment. I gathered together all the vignettes I have ever written about any of my cases and put them into book form and self-published them on The project took all weekend, and the finished product turned out to be a 130 page paperback and an ebook. Both books are now on sale on the Amazon website. If the book is well-received, I might be motivated to write some more stories about some of my other cases. Here's the table of contents from the paperback:

Introduction, 1
Chapter1: Deciding to Become a Lawyer, 4
Chapter 2: My First Murder Case, 9
Chapter 3: The Ballad of the Blind Victim, 21
Chapter 4: My First Capital Murder Case, 27
Chapter 5: The Wrong Man Murder, 37
Chapter 6: The Risks Associated with Being a Prosecutor, 41
Chapter 7: My Second Capital Murder Case, 49
Chapter 8: Genuine Self-Defense, 55
Chapter 9: Memories of Murder Weapons, 60
Chapter 10: Taxicab Confessions, 64
Chapter 11: Police Shootings, 71
Chapter 12: The “He Ran His Hand in His Pocket” Defense to a Charge of Murder, 77
Chapter 13: The Prosecutor’s Dictionary, 82
Chapter 14: Men Who Kill Police Officers, 87
Chapter 15: Jury Duty, 90
Chapter 16: Jurors and Jury Selection, 94
Chapter 17: Remembering 9-11, 97
Chapter 18: Thoughts on Police Shootings, 100
Chapter 19: The Hard Witnesses, 105
Chapter 20: Friday Night Fights, 111
Chapter 21: Ted Bundy—Celebrity Slayer, 114

Here's a link to the PAPERBACK;
and here's a link to the EBOOK.

Sunday, January 29, 2017


I'm doing a little research in contemplation of writing a book about lawyer-generals in the Civil War. When the war broke out, there were only four generals in the U.S. Army, but there were hundreds of generals on both sides by the time it was over. Where did they come from? The largest number of generals came from a military background. By one historian's count, there were 194 professional soldiers serving as generals for the Union and 125 for the Confederacy. That left a lot of amateurs to fill out the number needed. The second largest number of generals came from the ranks of practicing lawyers. There were 126 "attorney generals" serving Union and 129 serving the Confederacy. 

As I was researching to determine how the "attorney generals" performed in combat, I came across dual account of the Battle of Olustee written by two generals, one Confederate and one Union. Since the Battle of Olustee Festival is drawing near, I thought I would share the story of the battle. This account comes from  Volume 4 of the 1888 work, Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, pages 78-80. First, the account of Major-General Samuel Jones, C.S.A,:

And now for the version of Joseph R. Hawley, Brevet Major-General, U.S.V.: