Saturday, November 2, 2013

THE RISKS ASSOCATED WITH BEING A PROSECUTOR


There is a certain amount of risk associated with any calling, including the calling to be a prosecutor. I never worried that much about the risk associated with being a prosecutor, but occasionally I was confronted by the threat of violence. There were a number of death threats made over the years, but I never paid much attention to them and nothing came of them. I do recall one case I tried where a member of the audience came to me during a break and warned me that the defendant’s family was talking about accosting me and beating me up after the trial was over. I wasn’t particularly frightened by the warning, but I decided to take some precautions. After the trial was over and the defendant was on his way to prison, I went back to my office and got my State Attorney issued .38 revolver out of my desk drawer. I dropped it in my pocket and drove home without incident feeling safe and secure. When I got home, I decided to unload the revolver before taking it into the house I shared with my wife and three children. I pulled the revolver out of my pocket, popped the cylinder open, and discovered that the gun was empty.

I once tried another case against two ruffians who had sexually assaulted another man. The case was very contentious, and when I cross examined the defendants I was particularly rough on them. In final argument I raked them over the coals pretty well, and by the time the jury returned the verdict finding them guilty, I could tell that they didn’t like me very much. To my surprise, the judge released the two on their own recognizance pending sentencing. I prosecuted in a rural circuit, and the courthouses were widely separated from each other. I had a trip of some thirty miles down lonely country roads to get home. I drove those thirty miles with the defendants’ pickup truck on my bumper almost the entire distance. I didn’t have my revolver that day, but I did have an axehandle that I habitually carried in my car. I must admit that I was just a little nervous during the trip.

On another occasion I was leaving the courtroom after getting a first degree murder verdict. I had been assisted in the trial by ASA Dana Brady, and we were walking out together. When we got into the hall, I looked toward the elevator at the end of the hall and saw a burly young man standing in front of it with a group of people. He yelled something inarticulate and began down the hall towards Dana and me. The people he was with tackled him and pulled him back. Just about that time the elevator door opened and they pulled him into the elevator. “I wonder what that was all about,” I casually remarked. Dana, who had gone to school with the defendant and knew his family, replied “That was the defendant’s brother, and he was attacking you.”

Then there was the time that I was escorting a victim out of the courthouse when she was attacked by the person she had complained against. The victim ran out the front door of the courthouse and across the park, and I never saw her again. There were no officers around, so I grabbed the assailant and got her stopped. She said something to the effect of “Let me go, I’m gonna put some knots on her head!” That was when I noticed she had what looked like an enormous butcher knife in her hand. I let the woman go, but stood in front of her to block her exit from the courthouse and told her to give me the knife. It seemed like an eternity as we confronted each other on the courthouse steps and I tried to get her to put down the knife. The courthouse was usually crawling with law enforcement officers, but that particular day there were none anywhere. Eventually the woman told me, “Well, if you’re going to carry me to jail, go ahead and do it.” As a Florida Assistant State Attorney, the law recognized me as a law enforcement officer but I was a law enforcement officer without arrest power. I decided that would be no problem because the woman had consented to the arrest, so I told her to come with me. She threw down the knife and I marched her into the Chief Deputy Sheriff’s office, explained to the Chief Deputy that this woman needed to be carried to jail, and if he would watch her a few minutes, I’d go get the necessary paperwork. I went to my office, typed up an arrest warrant, and took it to the judge. When I got it signed, I took the warrant directly to the Chief Deputy and told him to arrest her. Having made my “arrest,” I went to where she had thrown the knife to collect it as evidence. You can imagine my relief when I discovered that she only had a red-handled file and not a knife.

I mentioned that as an Assistant State Attorney, I was recognized by Florida law as a law enforcement officer. That status figured prominently in this next story. I was trying a bodybuilder on misdemeanor indecency charges and had just got a conviction. As I stepped to stand before the bench and ask the judge to impose sentence, the defendant jumped up and suckerpunched me. He loosened a couple of teeth and either knocked me down or tackled me to the floor, I don’t know which. He assumed what the UFC would call the full mount position and began to engage in the MMA maneuver known as “ground and pound.” I fishhooked him with one hand and threw punches back at him with the other, but you can’t throw a very heavy punch lying flat on your back. If I’d had any sense, I would have covered up and waited on the bailiffs to subdue him. By the time they got him subdued and I regained my feet, I had changed my mind about recommending probation. The judge gave him 18 months in the county jail, and when that sentence was over he went to prison for the felony of battery on a law enforcement officer.

I had meant to conclude this post with an account of the one time that I really felt that I was in danger, but the story of that case is a little too long. In my next post I’ll talk about the Wrong Man Murder, why I believed that I was being stalked by gangsters from Chicago, and what I did to neutralize the threat.