Wednesday, September 28, 2016


It's always nice when you get some positive feedback on a project which you've sweated blood to complete. Jim and I got our first Amazon review today, and the reader seemed to like the book. 

Sunday, September 25, 2016


On the publication of my seventh (or is it my sixth) book, I got to thinking back over my accidental literary career, how it got started, and how it has progressed. I’d always had a hankering to become a published author, but never thought I'd actually do it. Then I retired from the State Attorney’s Office and things began to fall into place. 

[1] Prosecution Principles: A Clinical Handbook, West Group, St. Paul, MN, 2007.

When I started as a legal skills professor at the University of Florida College of Law, I couldn’t find a textbook on how to be a prosecutor, so I decided to write one myself. It wasn’t hard to throw something together because I had taught a lot of continuing legal education courses on a wide variety of subjects and I had written brief monographs for each subject. It was no trick to simply put the monographs together in the order I wanted to cover the subjects in class, and I had a textbook for my first semester. I made a pdf of the book and gave students free copies of the text. I’m almost never satisfied with something I make, and I keep going back and tinkering with it until I get it as near perfect (for me) as I can. Each semester I improved the textbook. One fine day a representative of West Publishing was giving us a refresher course on Westlaw, the computer research software. During a break, I told her about my plight in being unable to find a textbook and my solution. She said that West might be interested in publishing the book if it were aimed at a national audience. I told her I could certainly rewrite the book and make it less Florida-centric. And so, completely by accident, I got my first book published.

[2] The Last Murder: The Investigation, Prosecution, and Execution of Ted Bundy, Praeger, 2011.

Ever since guilty verdict in the Ted Bundy case, people have been asking me “Why don’t you write a book about the case?” I could write several thousand words on why I didn’t immediately try to write something about the case, but I won’t. I’ll just give two reasons: (1) I felt it was not proper to write about the case while it was still in litigation. (2) I needed to put a few decades between me and the crime before I could bring myself to write anything. I purposely set out to write a book that wouldn’t have a lot of commercial appeal. I wasn’t going to write a lurid, sensational penny-dreadful style book like most of the stuff that is written in the “true crime” genre. I wanted to write an antiseptic, professional analysis of the investigation and prosecution. Despite my best efforts to make the book unmarketable it sold fairly well. The style I adopted for The Last Murder would be the style of every subsequent book I’ve written. Academic, scholarly, and difficult to read unless you really want to learn something about the subject.

[3] Cross-Examination Handbook: Persuasion, Strategies, and Techniques, 1st ed., Wolters-Kluwer, 2011. (co-author). 

I hadn’t been practicing law long before I began to build a reputation as a pretty fair cross-examiner. I was often asked to teach on the subject of cross-examination at continuing legal education courses. (As a matter of fact, I’m going to be lecturing at a CLE on cross-examination in December). I wrote a monograph that I used in connection with my cross-examination lectures, and over the years I tinkered with it. More for my own amusement than with any thought of publication, I wrote a full-length book on the subject. It must have gone through 20-25 revisions. About the time I retired, I was talking to my good friend Ron Clark, Distinguished Practitioner in Residence at Seattle Law School, and he mentioned he was preparing to write a book on cross-examination. I told him I had already written one, and he wanted to read it. I sent it to him, and he invited me to co-author the cross-examination book with him. I said “Why not.” We used some of my work from my unpublished manuscript in Cross-Examination Handbook, but Cross-Examination Handbook is definitely Ron Clark’s book, I'm just a helper.

[4] The Case Against Christ: A Critique of the Prosecution of Jesus, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012.

When The Last Murder came out someone asked me what I was going to write next. Without thinking I said “I think I’m going to write about the prosecution of Jesus.” I don’t know where that came from. I was surprised when I heard myself say the words, but I got to thinking that would be a very good project. I had been engaged in intense study of the New Testament since college, and I had two three-ring binders full of notes on the Gospels. The Case Against Christ turned out to be the hardest book to write of any of the books I have written. As I understand it, publishers expect fiction writers to provide them with completed manuscripts when they’re pitching a book; non-fiction writers give publishers proposals for unwritten books or books in progress. You send the publisher a description of your project, a sample chapter or two, and an annotated table of contents. If they like the book, they’ll give you a contract and give you direction in how they want you to finish the book. Publishers kept rejecting The Case Against Christ, and some of them were downright nasty about it. I took their critiques and rewrote, and rewrote, and rewrote. I lost track of how many rejections I got, but it was more than two dozen. I kept count of the number of drafts—48.  I finally found a publisher, and they seem to have a much higher opinion of the book’s worth than I do—they’re charging $75 a copy for it. This book turned out to be my biggest disappointment. It’s too dry. Chapters 3-6 should be Appendices A-C. It’s written for too small an audience. It’s formatted like a 19th Century Bible study book rather than a modern book. I could go on, but I won’t. I got my son John (who is a lawyer) to read the manuscript, and his assessment summed the book up quite well, I think. He said “The five people who read the book will really enjoy it.” One of these days, I’m going to revisit the trial of Jesus and write a more accessible (and affordable) account.

[5] Abraham Lincoln’s Most Famous Case: The Almanac Trial, Praeger, 2014.

The Almanac Trial was far and away the one that I had the most fun writing up to that point in my writing career. By the time I started writing the book, I was beginning to think that I needed write more like the newly emerging genre of “creative nonfiction” than the dry genre of academia. I had a contract to write the book in no time, and I tried hard to be more of a storyteller and less of a dry lecturer. It worked in some places and in other places it didn’t. The critique I got from my daughter Laura was that I spent too much time talking about how I figured out what happened. I felt like I had to do it, though, because some of the things I was saying were so contrary to the conventional wisdom about the Almanac Trial.
[6] Cross-Examination Handbook: Persuasion, Strategies, and Techniques, 2nd ed., Wolters-Kluwer, 2014. (co-author).

You might think I’m cheating by counting a second edition as another book, but we put a lot of work into the rewrite.

[7] The Lindbergh Kidnapping Case: A Critical Analysis of the Trial of Bruno Richard Hauptmann, 2016. (co-author).

When I was still with the State Attorney’s Office, my good friend Jim Dedman, who was with the National College of District Attorneys, asked me if I would like to write a chapter in a collaborative book he wanted to edit about the Lindbergh Kidnapping Case. I had written chapters for a couple of law books already, and I was game to write another one, so I agreed. Jim was busy and I was busy, and things never quite got off the ground until Jim retired, and the project morphed into just Jim and me writing the book. This book was the second-hardest to write, mainly because I knew absolutely nothing about the Lindbergh case before we began and the volume of material on the case is gigantic. I’m still no expert on the shenanigans that went on outside the courtroom, but I’m pretty well versed in the evidence now.

[8] Prairie Defender: The Murder Trials of Abraham Lincoln, in prepublication with Southern Illinois University Press. Projected publication date: late 2017.

To date, this is my favorite book, and I think it is going to be the most marketable. Of all the books I have written it is the least “academic.” Scholarly books have to go through a peer review process where anonymous experts read the book and critique it. You have to have a thick skin to get through the process. One of the reviewers barbecued me because my language wasn’t scholarly enough—it sounded like I was writing mystery stories rather than an academic text. My response to that was “Good.” He didn’t think I had enough footnotes, either. I added some footnotes, but I didn’t change my language. The book is still written in plain English, not “Academian.” I can hardly wait for the publication date. 

[9] Six Capsules: Poisoned Innocence (tentative title, 70,000 words written so far.

When we were finishing up The Lindbergh Kidnapping Case Jim asked me what I was going to write next, and I told him I didn’t know. Jim said “Why don’t you write about the Carlyle Harris case?” Not many people know anything about Carlyle Harris, but back at the end of the 19th Century, he was New York City’s answer to Ted Bundy—a handsome, articulate, charismatic medical student charged with the murder of a beautiful young girl. The case made headlines all around the nation, and it made the reputation of Francis L. Wellman, author of The Art of Cross-Examination. I read The Art of Cross-Examination when I was a senior in law school, and I read it about once every three months for the first two years I practiced law. There is a chapter in the book on the Harris case, so I was familiar with the case to that extent, but I wasn’t aware of all the bizarre goings-on surrounding the case. I dug into the facts a little, and I got hooked. I have written the book all the way through to the verdict of guilty and the appellate opinion affirming the conviction, and I’ve got about three more chapters to go. The case really gets bizarre after the Court of Appeals affirms the conviction. I haven’t started shopping the book around to publishers yet—I’m actually thinking about self-publishing this one. I want to publish a book in the price range of $15-$25. Well, we’ll just see what happens. 

[10] Who Knows? 

Where I’m going to go after Six Capsules is anybody’s guess. I do know one thing. As long as I can, I’m going to keep on writing. I’m never going to be on the New York Times bestseller list, but I’m going to do something that I really enjoy and something that I think is really worthwhile.  

Friday, September 23, 2016


I look at the world around me and I sometimes think I am trapped between Wonderland and Oz and my ruby slippers aren't working. In Charlotte last week a black police officer shot an armed black man who appeared to be in attack mode; several days of riots followed; and the Justice Department announced it’s going to open an investigation. In Tulsa a white police officer shot an unarmed black man who was reported to have had his hands up at the time; no riots; no Justice Department investigation. Can someone explain to me how that makes sense? I understand that the officer who shot the man in Tulsa eventually got charged, but the riots in Charlotte seem to have happened before any official response could be formulated. 

Perhaps there is a greater degree of trust of law enforcement in Tulsa than in Charlotte. Perhaps things happened beyond anyone's control in Charlotte that didn't happen in Tulsa. I think, however, that one cause of the riots in Charlotte was a lack of public understanding of the dynamics of armed confrontations, regardless of the ethnicity of the participants. Maybe if people could look inside the investigation of a police shooting it might help them to understand the dynamics of the tense situation that develops after a police shooting. The story I am about to tell is true to the best of my memory, but the names and places have been concealed.

A long time ago a group of officers got into a high speed chase with a young black male who was dealing illegal drugs—I think it was crack cocaine but I’m not sure. After a long chase they finally got him stopped. With guns drawn, they got him and the passengers out of the car and the officer who was dealing with him had him put his hands on the roof of the car so he could search him. The officer did not holster his handgun. He also violated Jeff Cooper’s Third Rule of Firearms Safety: “Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.” He was also carrying a handgun with a very light trigger pull. For my own personal use, I modified that rule to “Keep your finger outside the trigger guard until your sights are on the target," but I’m digressing.

The young man spun around and elbowed the officer in the side of the head, knocking him to the ground. When the officer hit the ground, his muscles reflexively tensed and he accidentally pulled the trigger. The bullet shot almost straight up, slightly grazing the young man’s back. The injury would have been slight except for the fact that the man had his head cocked back. The bullet entered the back of his head, killing him. That night everyone, officers and passengers, told basically the same story—officer begins to search man; man spins, knocking officer down; gun goes off when officer hits the ground; man is shot in head.
Back in the day when this happened there were no bodycams or in-car videos, no cellphones with video cameras, nothing except eyewitness testimony. Our office (the State Attorney’s Office) was called out, and either we or the sheriff called out the FDLE crime scene van. FDLE worked the scene and we took tape recorded statements from everyone. The body was sent to the Medical Examiner, and his findings corroborated the story everyone at the scene was telling. It seemed like an open and shut case of accident, and a pretty good lawsuit for negligence on the part of the man’s survivors.

There was unrest as a result of the shooting, and we wanted to try our best to allay the fears of the citizenry. Our usual procedure for police shootings was to take the shooting to a grand jury and, if the shooting was justified or excusable, to have the grand jury return a report of their findings. Grand jury proceedings are secret, and people are naturally suspicious of secret proceedings. 

I got the bright idea that we should have a public hearing and put the testimony out in the public domain so that everyone could plainly see that this was clearly an accident. The way to do that would be to hold a Coroner’s Inquest, which is a public proceeding. Florida has done away with Coroner’s Juries and might as well do away with the office of the Coroner completely, but under then-existing law the County Judge was the Coroner. I talked my boss into holding our first and last Coroner’s Inquest on a police shooting.

On the morning of the inquest, the courtroom was virtually empty. The only people who were there were the witnesses we had subpoenaed and the camera crew from the local TV station. We were going to put on the eyewitnesses in the morning and put on the evidence from the Medical Examiner and the Crime Lab in the afternoon. We had some very good CSI type evidence which completely corroborated the eyewitness testimony, and we fully expected that we were going to be able to satisfy everyone that there was no malice involved in this tragic accident.

We started running into trouble when we put the passengers on the witness stand. The way they told it, the officer wasn’t quite guilty of first degree murder, but he was certainly guilty of second. They gave the TV station some excellent sound bites—well, the TV news would call them excellent, I would call them atrocious. We had transcribed the passengers’ statements, and we impeached the Dickens out of them with prior inconsistent statements, but that sort of testimony doesn’t make for good sound bites.

When lunchtime came, the TV guys packed up and left. They had to get back to the station to edit their videotape for the 6:00 o’clock news. The courtroom was empty when the forensic scientists testified to facts which proved the passengers’ accusations against the officer were untrue. I didn’t watch the news that night, but I understand that the news played some of the most inflammatory statements made by the passengers and nothing said by the officers. There was a riot that night and a couple of buildings got burned down.

One thing that contributed to that long-ago riot was a TV station more concerned with sensation than with significance, but another thing that contributed to it was my bone-headed assumption that news coverage of the Coroner’s Inquest was going to be objective. It would have been far, far better to have heard the testimony behind the closed doors of the grand jury and let the grand jury file a report outlining the facts and circumstances of the shooting. No sensational soundbites, probably no burned buildings. 

Police shootings are inevitable. Officers confront life-or-death situations against armed and dangerous people on a daily basis, and sometimes they have to shoot them. I think the key to defusing such situations lies in doing some prior planning for how to handle the inevitable AND some prior public relations to let folks know that police officers are not ogres. 

In my job I usually got called out after the shooting was over, but sometimes I wound up as an interested observer to armed confrontations—and most of them were handled without loss of life. The common denominator that ran through all the confrontations I witnessed was this: The officers didn’t want to hurt the suspect, and they darn sure didn’t want to kill him. They bent over backwards to not use deadly force. 

By far and away the vast majority of officers are competent, professional, and restrained in the use of deadly force. Once a group reaches a certain size, however, there are going to be some knuckleheads and rotten apples in the group. I think that for people on the outside looking in on incidents like what happened in Tulsa and Charlotte, it would be good to remember a few things:

[1] Even the most “unbiased” appearing reporting can be terribly skewed, especially when it comes fast on the heels of an incident.

[2] It is best to wait until all the facts are in until forming a fixed opinion.

[3] Remember how inefficient and ineffective governmental bureaucracy is. Give it time to work before getting into attack mode; and then the best place to attack is the ballot box, not the local convenience store. 

[4] Always keep in mind the words of President George W. Bush: “Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions.”

Monday, September 12, 2016


I've never had any luck with the line feed on any weed eater I've ever had, either the bump-feed or the automatic feed kind. The spool always seems to get snagged or hung up and won't feed. When the exposed line wears out, you have to take the darned thing apart and try to finagle with the spool to make it feed. 

After going through several years of frustration and all the words in the slang dictionary, I finally came up with a fix that works pretty well. Here's how to do it.

[1] Open up the canister which contains the spool and take the spool out.

[2] Set the spool to the side.

[3] Measure the distance from the outside of the canister to the blade on the edge of the weed eater's hood, as shown below:

[4] Cut a piece of line from the spool. Make sure it is double the length from the canister to the knife. Tie a knot in the middle of the line. Repeat until you have a good supply of lines with knots tied in the middle. Put them in a container you can carry with you as you use the weed eater.

[5] Take the cap off of the canister, and stick both ends of the knotted line through the hole which the line feeds through. If there are two holes, do the same to the second hole with another knotted line.


[6] Replace the cap. 

[7] Weed eat, replacing the line as in Steps [5] & [6] as it wears out.

[8] If the hole is too small to accommodate two thicknesses of line, just stick one end through.

[9] Replace the cap and weed eat. When the one end wears out, you can uncap and stick the other end through.

COMMENTS: You want to stick two ends of the line through the hole if you can. You get double the cutting power that way. 

You want to use the thickest line that will fit through the holes. Thicker line cuts better and lasts longer. I like the orange line. Don't bother with the thin white line. It wears out too fast.

I know I’m not the only person who’s ever experienced this problem with weed eaters. When I go to Lowe’s or Home Depot, in the weed eater section I find all kinds of after-market attachments to put on the end of your weed eater. They wouldn’t be selling those things if the dad gum weed eaters worked properly in the first place. 

I like my fix better than the after-market attachments because (1) I’ve never been able to find an after-marked attachment that would fit the weed eater that I bought, and (2) it’s cheaper just to buy more line than it is to fool with the fancy attachments.  

Here's another reason I think I came up with a good fix for the problem: Last week I went to Lowe's and found that some enterprising capitalist was selling precut thick plastic lines with knots on one end to stick through the holes of your weed eater canister.