I’ve read a lot of literature about how terribly inaccurate eyewitness testimony is. They talk about all sorts of experiments and tests that they’ve done to show that you just can’t rely on it. One of the prime examples that is always trotted out to show how unreliable eyewitness testimony can be is tests of people’s memory about where they were and what they were doing when JFK was assassinated. According to the scientific testing, people really don’t remember where they were, their subconscious mind just invents a memory when they’re asked. Apparently my subconscious mind invents the same memory over and over. I was sitting in English class when the shooting was announced, and I can remember it vividly because some idiot sitting in the back of the classroom piped up and said what a good thing it was that the president had been shot. That much I know happened. My subconscious may have invented the next two details. He didn’t get anybody else to agree with him. We just sat there looking at him as if he had three heads.
Another tragedy that I have a vivid recollection of is 9-11. I know exactly what I was doing, and I’ve got documentary proof. I was trying a First Degree Murder case. I found out about the attack during a recess in the proceedings. I walked into the bailiff’s office and they were watching the news reports on TV. I don’t recall if it was a replay or if I saw the live feed of the second plane hitting the tower. Years later I was at a continuing legal education event when the speaker said that a mistrial was declared in every murder case being tried in Florida that day. I spoke up and corrected the speaker. Not every case mistried. The one I was trying didn’t, and we trudged on to finish the trial the following day, or maybe the day after.
I vividly recall two homicide cases that were extremely hard to try, not because of the complexity of the cases, but because of things that were going on not related to the prosecutions. There was the murder case I tried while running a fever of 102. I was too young and too dumb to ask for a continuance, so I just went right ahead and tried it. Then there was the murder case I was trying in another town where I got food poisoning, and the judge gave me a day’s recess to recuperate. He sent me word that after one day's recess the trial would continue with or without me. I got up out of my sickbed, got another assistant state attorney to drive me to the out-of-town courthouse, and finished the murder trial. Neither of those cases were easy to finish, and I didn’t perform at 100% in either of them, but I did manage to get good verdicts in both of them.
As difficult as it was to finish the trials of those two cases, the difficulty was nothing compared to how hard it was to finish that murder trial on 9-11. The crime was atrocious, the defendant was odious, the death penalty was more than appropriate, but it all seemed so trivial and insignificant when compared to the tragedy that was playing out in New York while we were trying the case. I don’t know for a fact why the jury’s death recommendation was only 9-3, but I suspect that the three who voted for life without parole were having some of the same thoughts I was about the magnitude of our case compared to the magnitude of the crime that had just been committed in New York.
I didn’t know any of the people who lost their lives that day, but the grief I felt was just as intense as the grief I have felt at the death of family members, and working through that grief took just as long as working through the death of a family member. Notice that I didn’t say it took me a long time to get over it. That kind of grief is not something you ever completely get over. It’s something you never forget, no matter what the “memory experts” say. It’s something we as a nation should never forget. I hope and pray that we don’t.