Wednesday, November 22, 2017


I am slowly but slowly transcribing the testimony of the witnesses in the Lindbergh Kidnapping trial. As of the writing of this post, I have transcribed the first thirteen witnesses. Anyone interesting in following my progress can check this index page, which has hyperlinks to the transcribed witnesses. LKC: TESTIMONY OF WITNESSES I will update it as new witnesses are transcribed.

Thursday, November 16, 2017


Long ago we bought a picnic table and two benches from a local hardware store. I put them together, and they sat decaying in our yard for years, as I kept repairing and reinforcing them to last a little longer. Then one bench decayed beyond hope of salvation and had to be trashed. Next came the picnic table. Finally we had only one bench, and I went and bought another picnic table with built in benches. It began to decay and I have rebuilt and reinforced it a number of times until little remains of the bench we bought and it now consists of the replacement parts I put on it.

A few days ago, as my wife set up an outdoor birthday party, my wife asked me to check our sole remaining single bench to see if it could stand up to the seats of several people’s britches. I pronounced it unsafe for human habitation and incapable of being salvaged, and we sorely missed it at the birthday party.  It was too close to the party to make a new bench, but just as soon as the party was over I began work on replacing the bench. Here is how I did it.

To build an outdoor bench, you start with four 2x4x8 boards. You can go two ways with this. You can get pressure-treated 2x4’s or you can get construction grade 2x4’s like those used for studding in the walls of houses. The construction grade 2x4’s have the advantage of being lighter, less warped, more easily sawn, and altogether easier to work with. I chose pressure treated 2x4’s. Not because I like the challenge of hefting, cutting, and drilling pressure treated lumber, but because pressure treated lumber will last longer. You could seal and paint the construction grade 2x4’s, and they’ll last longer, but you can also seal and paint pressure treated lumber, and it will last even longer.

The hardware that you will need to turn four 2x4’s into a bench are: a pencil, a saw, a drill, a speed square, some clamps, and an assortment of deck screws from 3 to 4 inches in length.

The saw: You can cut with a hand saw or a skill saw, but you really need a chop saw. Unless you are a master carpenter you’re not going to be able to make the precise cuts with a hand saw or skill saw.

The drill: You need a two-speed drill capable of both drilling holes and driving screws. I used two drills so I wouldn’t have to stop and swap bits when I went from drilling holes to driving screws.

The clamps: C-clamps will do, but I like the Irwin quick-grip style of clamps and have an assortment of sizes hidden in various places in my workshop.

Why deck screws rather than nails? Nails back out over time. The teeth on a screw help keep it in place.

Use star-drive screws: Even when you drill pilot holes in fresh pressure treated lumber, it’s going to be a chore driving a 3 to 4 inch deck screw into the wood. Phillips head screws are famous for stripping out and leaving you with a screw partway in the wood and no way to back it out or drive it home except with a hammer. You can buy bits at the hardware store that are specially made for backing out Phillips head screws which have been stripped out. Or you can use star-drive screws. They come with the proper size bit in the box, and it takes more torque than any of my drills can generate to strip them out. In case you're wondering what a star drive screw is, the head looks like this:

We’re now ready to begin building the bench.

STEP 1: Cut three of the 2x4’s down to the length of 66”. Don’t throw away the short pieces, you’re going to use them later.

STEP 2: Take two of the cut boards and mark of a line 1 ½ inches from either end of the board. Then take your speed square and mark off a 45 degree cut on one corner of each end of the boards. Make sure the diagonal cut mark is on the same side of the board.

When you get it cut, it should look like this:

STEP 3: Now take the short ends and cut three 10 ¾” pieces. These are going to be the crossties that tie the runners of your seat (the three long boards) together. Turn the crossties on their sides and take a 30 degree cut off each end. You can use the speed square to mark of a 30 degree line, but most chop saws will have a 30 degree preset. When you get the crossties cut, their narrow sides should look like an isosceles trapezoid:

If one of your pieces ends up looking like a parallelogram:
set it aside and cut another crosstie:

STEP 4: Lay the runners side by side and put the crossties on them at a 90 degree angle. The lines you drew for your 45 degree cut on the ends of the runners shows you where to put two outside crossties. Measure carefully and put the third crosstie in the middle.

STEP 5: Clamp the pieces together so they fit tightly and then fasten the crossties to the runners with 3” screws, two per runner.

STEP 6: Take the fourth (uncut) 2x4 and make a 45 degree cut on its end. Measure 17 ½” down from the sharp end and make a mark. Make another 45 degree cut at the mark. You will now have a board which looks like a 17 ½” parallelogram. Mark this board with a big X on both sides. It is going to be your pattern for cutting the legs. Take your pattern and lay it down on the angled end of the long board so that both pieces are angled in the same direction. Draw a line along the far end of the pattern and cut. Repeat three times. You now have four legs the same length, which is going to be somewhat different than your pattern is. That’s why you don’t use the pattern as a leg. You’ll have three legs the same length and the fourth a different length. That’s also why you use the same pattern for cutting each board. If you cut one board and use it for a pattern to cut the second; then take the second and use it as a pattern for the third; then use the third as a pattern for the fourth; you’re going to wind up with no two legs the same length.

STEP 7: Take one leg and place it against an end crosstie, putting the end of the leg even with the side of the outside runner. Clamp it down. Take a second leg and place it against the clamped leg with its end touching the side of the other outside runner. Clamp it to the first leg. If you have followed instructions, your legs look like this:

STEP 8: Toenail the leg resting against the crosstie to the runner with a 3” screw. Fasten the second leg to the first with a 3” screw. I fouled up by toenailing the second leg to the runner at this time. It is premature to do this. As I got to the next step I had to take the screw out so that I could get everything clamped together firmly. You’ll notice that there is a gap between the second leg and the crosstie. We’re going to fill that gap in the next step.

STEP 9: Take one of your leftover short pieces which has a 30 degree cut in one end, like this:

Stick the slanted end into the gap so that it fits flush with the inside leg. Mark a line on it down the edge of the outside leg.

Now cut it along the marked line, and you’ve got a trapezoidal piece that looks like this:

Take the small piece, fit it back into the gap, toenail it to the runner, and then drive a 4” screw through the outside leg, through the spacer piece, and into the crosstie. If you haven’t been drilling pilot holes before, now is a good time to start. Cut a similar piece to fit to the outside of the inner leg and fasten it to the outside runner and crosstie in a similar manner. Now is the time to toenail the outside leg to the runner. When you’re finished, it should look like this:

STEP 10: Go to the other end of the bench and repeat steps 8 and 9.

STEP 11: Brace the legs by toenailing in a diagonal board. You can cut it with two 45 degree angles or you can vary the angle of each cut, just so that the total of both angles adds up to 90 degrees. I braced this bench with braces which had cuts of 30 degrees and 60 degrees. When I got through, it looked like this:

I used a 30/60 brace because I had a lot of leftover pieces that already had 30 degree cuts in them. A chop saw doesn’t have a 60 degree preset, but you can draw a guideline for your cut by using your speed square. Put one side along the 30 degree cut with the other side intersecting the board like this:

You’re almost through building it now.

STEP 12: Set the bench on its feet and screw the outside runners to the legs using 4” deck screws.

The finished product should look like this:

I’d recommend painting the bench, and the color I recommend is barn red. White is pretty, but it gets dirty in a hurry and fades over time. Barn red masks a multitude of sins. If you used construction grade 2x4’s instead of pressure treated lumber, you must paint and seal the bench, or it will be rotted in no time sitting out in the yard.
My investment in the bench came to just under $25 using pressure treated 2x4’s from Lowe's at $4.29 each and star-drive screws left over from previous projects.

Friday, October 6, 2017


I just saw a Tweet which featured a photograph of an AK-47 and carried the inscription (hashtags omitted): "AK47 stands for Automatic Killer, 47 bullets per pull of the trigger. Much deadlier than an AR15."

Let me explain the problems with this tweet using words of one syllable wherever possible:

(1) "AK" does not mean "Automatic Killer." It means "Automat Kalashnikov," for the type of gun it is (full auto) and the inventor (Mikhail Kalashnikov).

(2) "47" does not mean "47 bullets per pull of the trigger." It stands for 1947, the year it was first made.

(3) The AK-47 available on the American market is no "deadlier" than an AR-15, and not as "deadly" as a semi-automatic .308 or .30-06, both of which can reach out and touch at greater distance with a heftier punch. Back in the last century when I was a deer hunter, I preferred a WWII surplus bolt action .303 Lee-Enfield sniper's rifle to a semi-automatic .308. It made you aim more carefully and didn't waste nearly as many cartridges when you missed.

In the comment meme following the tweet, I read a comment that the "AR" in AR-15 means "Assault Rifle." No, it doesn't. It means "Armalite Rifle," for the company which first made it.

If you want to be 100% absolutely correct in the use of the term "assault rifle," you should confine the description to a rifle capable of full automatic fire, which fires an under-powered rifle cartridge. At the beginning of WWII the Germans equipped their paratroopers with full auto high powered rifles, but the guns kicked so badly that they were near impossible to control. The Germans later improved the full-auto rifle by reducing the cartridge size and power, and the first true assault rifle was born, the Sturmgewehr 44--"sturm" meaning "assault" and "gewehr" meaning rifle. And just to be perfectly clear, "44" does not mean "44 bullets per pull of the trigger," it means 1944, the year the gun was put into production.

Here is a paradoxical fact about the deadly fully-automatic assault rifle: It is actually intended as a life-saving tool as much as it is a life-taking weapon. The main purpose of high-volume small arms fire on the battlefield is not to kill. It is to make the enemy keep his head down so he cannot kill you. The longer your enemy keeps his head down to avoid your full-auto fire, the less time he has to carefully aim and shoot at you. See the Wikipedia article on Suppressive Fire. I saw a documentary a while back which re-enacted a firefight in Iraq. A squad member with a SAW was covering his comrades against fire from a sniper. (A SAW is a Squad Automatic Weapon, usually an M249 light machine gun, which is capable of massive sustained full-auto fire). The soldier with the SAW fired what seemed like thousands of rounds of ammunition keeping the sniper's head down, thereby saving the lives of his fellow squad members. Unfortunately, when his SAW ran out of bullets, the sniper killed him with one shot. In other words, the man armed with the ultra deadly latest model fully automatic assault weapon eventually succumbed to a man armed with a bolt action rifle.

CAVEAT: I don't mean by my title to disparage the intellect of the tweeter by pointing out the tweeter's ignorance. Everyone is ignorant, we're just ignorant on different subjects. The point I am trying to make is that it is best to speak on matters of which one has knowledge and remain silent on matters of which one is ignorant. 


Q: What are NFL players protesting when they refuse to stand for the National Anthem? A: Police brutality.

Q: What entity saw to it that the officers who abused Rodney King were punished? A: An agency of the Federal government (the United States Department of Justice).

Q: What entity came down on the Ferguson Police Department like a ton of bricks after the shooting of Michael Brown? A: An agency of the Federal government (the United States Department of Justice).

Q: What entity has a long-standing track record for working to punish police violation of civil rights, including police brutality? A: The Federal government.

Q: What does the National Anthem symbolize? A: The Federal government.

Q: How do you show respect for the Federal government? A: By standing for the National Anthem.

Q: How do you show disrespect for the Federal government? A: By refusing to stand for the National Anthem.

Q: When NFL players refuse to stand for the National Anthem to protest police brutality, what are they actually doing? A: Showing disrespect for the entity most committed to punishing police brutality.

Q: Does it make sense to protest police brutality by disrespecting the entity most committed to punishing police brutality?

Thursday, October 5, 2017


Although I've been an NRA member for several decades, I haven't always agreed with every stance taken by the NRA or the NRA-ILA. I wondered what position the NRA would take on bump stocks when the post-Las Vegas Shooting conversation got around to discussing a ban. I am happy to see that they favor strict regulation of such devices. I wholeheartedly agree.

For as long as I can remember, anyone who wanted to own a fully automatic weapon had to jump through a number of hoops which had a very small diameter. This is as it should be. Very few civilians have any need to own or possess a fully automatic firearm. I'll be the first person to admit that they're a lot of fun to shoot. However, the fact that it's a lot of fun to shoot off fireworks doesn't prevent the government from severely limiting the shooting of fireworks by just anyone.

It seems reasonable to me that if you're going to purchase a bump stock, you should have to jump through the exact same hoops that you would if you were purchasing a Thompson submachine gun.

An another thing: Bump stocks aren't the only devices that can be used to make a firearm mimic full auto. Certain crank devices can be attached to triggers which allow you to literally "crank out" shots as fast as full auto. There may be other devices which can be attached to firearms to simulate full auto. Tomorrow morning some brilliant gunsmith may invent a new device to simulate full auto fire. Any kind of device which can be used to make a firearm simulate full auto fire ought to be regulated as stringently as truly full auto firearms are currently being regulated.

Monday, October 2, 2017


It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything. Although during my hiatus I have often had the urge to say something about current events, I never felt that I had anything productive that I could add to any discussion. With what has happened in Las Vegas, I believe that I can add something to the conversation. I have previously voiced the opinion that the problem with mass shootings is not gun control but people control, and I traced the origin of the trend toward mass shootings to the United States Supreme Court’s tightening of the requirements for involuntary hospitalization of the mentally ill. O'Connor v. Donaldson, 422 U.S. 563, 95 S.Ct. 2486 (U.S.Fla. 1975), made it nearly impossible to hold a mentally ill person for more than a few days. After that, the patient was often back out on the street acting strangely and getting into more trouble.
Most with mental health issues do not become mass shooters, but most mass shooters (excluding those with political motivations) have mental health issues. It hasn’t yet come out that Stephen Paddock had mental health issues, and the media have portrayed him as someone who was normal to all outward appearances. Other than the fact that he was a loner, his father was a professional bank robber on the FBI’s Top Ten Most Wanted List, he was a high-stakes gambler, and his brother said he was “not a normal guy”, Paddock was just like anyone else and nobody who knew him could have seen this coming. I don’t buy it. I predict that Paddock will have a history of mental health issues. All that investigators have to do to find out about that history is to penetrate the veil of secrecy thrown up by HIPAA and the patient-psychotherapist privilege.
If Paddock proves to have a perfectly normal mental health history, then there may be something to the Islamic State’s claim that he converted to Islam and carried out the attack “in response to [the Islamic State’s] calls to target coalition countries.” I, however, seriously doubt that the Islamic State’s claims have any truth value whatsoever. If an Islamic State spokesman were to tell me that the sun was shining, I’d go get my umbrella.
It is impossible to 100% completely prevent such incidents as happened in Las Vegas, and O'Connor v. Donaldson makes it even more difficult than it otherwise could be, but I think I know of a way to predict whether someone has a potential for acting out in the way that Paddock did. It will take some explaining. There is a school of thought in the field of statistics called predictive analytics or predictive modeling that employs the use of statistical algorithms to predict future behavior.
My first contact with such predictive algorithms came when I was a Sexually Violent Predator prosecutor. The predictive algorithm (which was called an “instrument”) was called the Rapid Risk Assessment for Sexual Offense Recidivism, or the RRASOR. The psychiatrist or psychologist (hereafter “psych”) simply looked to the RRASOR’s checklist, and checked off the boxes on the list. Each box had a number value. At the end of the checklist the psych added up the numbers for each box checked, and the total score gave a prediction for how likely it was that the sex offender would reoffend. The higher the score, the more likely the person was to reoffend. At that time the RRASOR was touted as being more accurate a predictor of recidivism than a traditional psych evaluation.
Another predictive algorithm that was used in connection with Sexually Violent Predator prosecutions was the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, which is now in a revised second edition (PCL-R). Its mechanics were similar to the RRASOR. The psych goes down a checklist, giving points for each variable, and totals the points at the end. The higher the score the more likely that the patient is a psychopath. The more likely it is that a person is a psychopath, the less likely it is that the person will respond to traditional psychiatric treatment.
Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, in their book Super Freakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance, describe how the UK’s antiterrorism agencies used such an algorithm to thwart terrorist attacks. They come across a person who looks suspicious, run him through the algorithm, and the algorithm tells them how likely it is that the person is going to make a terrorist attack. Go down the list, check off the boxes, and add up the points, and the higher the score, the more likely the person is to make a terrorist attack. One of the criteria was whether or not the person had any life insurance. Life insurance policies are not going to pay off if the insured kills himself in a suicide attack, so why buy life insurance? The only reason to do so would be to lower your score on the terrorism algorithm.
Now, we’ve got enough data on enough mass shooters to look into their backgrounds and find the common characteristics that all or most mass shooters possess. Assemble a checklist like the RRASOR or the PCL-R, run the questionable individual through the checklist, and if the individual scores high on the algorithm, that person bears watching. We could call the algorithm the Gun Violence Assessment of Risk (GunVAR).
How would you apply it? Use a methodology similar to that used in Sexually Violent Predator prosecutions (See Fla.Stat. §§ 394.910-394.932). When a sex offender is released from prison, the offender is examined and a determination made as to how likely that person is to reoffend. If it is determined that the person has a high likelihood of reoffending, then a Sexually Violent Predator commitment proceeding is initiated. The flaw of Sexually Violent Predator commitment, is that the individual can be committed with no real prospects of being cured and consequently no real hope of release. I would propose a different protocol for proceedings relating to risk of gun violence.
When an individual has been involuntarily committed for mental health issues, upon his release, he will be assessed using the GunVAR. If he scores high enough on the GunVAR, then the psych has a duty to report this fact to the authorities. Proceedings can then be instituted to insure that the person is placed under a form of probationary supervision, he receives outpatient therapy to curb his violent tendencies, and maximum efforts are made to keep him separated from guns (including periodic unannounced inventories of his living quarters to make sure he hasn’t acquired any guns). When a psych certifies that he has a clean bill of mental health, then a judge can release him from supervision.
As I said at the outset, there is no 100% foolproof method of preventing mass killings. A truly determined killer doesn’t need a gun—a pressure cooker and some home-made explosives or a rented van loaded with ammonium nitrate and fuel oil will work just as well. But I do think a procedure similar to that described in the Sexually Violent Predator laws would cut down on such violence.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Wednesday, August 9, 2017


ABRAHAM LINCOLN'S ALMANAC TRIAL: PRAIRIE DEFENDER REVIEWED ON ASPENADVOCACYBOOKS.CO...: Here's a nice review of "Prairie Defender" that was posted on the website  http://www.aspenadvocacybo...


On 8/15/17 at 6:00 pm I will be giving an interview on my new book "Prairie Defender: The Murder Trials of Abraham Lincoln" on WDDQ Talk Radio, Valdosta, 92.1. You can listen to the interview here:

Sunday, July 16, 2017


A couple of days ago Jim Dedman, my co-author on The Lindbergh Kidnapping Case, called my attention to a review that had been published in the Tennessee Bar Association Journal. I got in touch with the author of the review, William J. Landers, and asked if I could post the review. Here it is, posted with his gracious permission, exactly as it appeared in the Journal: 

The Lindbergh Kidnapping Case: A Critical Analysis of the Trial of Bruno Richard Hauptman

By William Landers on Thu, 06/01/2017 - 12:00am

By James M. Dedman III and George R. Dekle Sr | The Lawbook Exchange Press | $75 hardcover | 414 pages | 2016 | Reviewed by William J. Landers

The kidnapping and death of the “Lindbergh” baby in March 1932, created a media storm and a series of trials not seen before. The Crime of the Century was followed by the Trial(s) of the Century, which were followed by a never-ending stream of books supporting or attacking the conviction and execution of Bruno Richard Hauptmann. The two experienced criminal trial lawyers who wrote this book have successfully taken a different approach — analyzing and critiquing the trials and the performance of the attorneys from the perspective of trial lawyers. The result is a book that should be of interest of both law students and experienced attorneys.

In 1932, Charles Lindbergh Sr., was one of the most famous people in America. His solo transatlantic flight in 1927 had captured the imagination of the entire world. He received the Congressional Medal of Honor. His plane, the Spirit of St. Louis, is housed in the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C. But, tragedy struck when his 20-month-old son, Charles Lindbergh Jr., was kidnapped and murdered on March 1, 1932, from their new home in Hunterdon County, New Jersey.

Two years later, Richard Bruno Hauptmann, a 34-year-old German immigrant carpenter, living in the Bronx, was arrested, extradited to New Jersey, tried and convicted, had his appeals denied, and was executed in April, 1936. After his arrest, he gave a number of contradictory statements to the police, but denied his guilt; so, frustrating the police that they unsuccessfully tried to beat a confession out of him. Evidence tying him to the crime included a homemade ladder found outside the Lindbergh house, handwritten ransom notes, and possession or use of some of the notes from the $50,000 ransom.

The first hearing subjected to forensic analysis by the authors was the hearing in New York to decide whether to extradite Hauptmann to New Jersey to face a murder charge. The defense sought to prove that Hauptmann was in New York on the night of the kidnapping. The burden of proof on the defense was “clear and convincing”. The defense had little time to prepare and, as the authors point out, clearly had not carefully studied the evidence. The authors provide a careful explanation of strategic and evidentiary points at this hearing, ultimately concluding that “trial lawyers may question [the] decision to contest extradition”, as it “gave the prosecution a preview of the defense and provided them with more impeachment material for the trial.”

Moving to the trial, the authors analyze the preparation of the cases for both the prosecution and the defense. They craft a suggested factual theory and a case theory based upon the way the prosecution presented its theory to the jury. They also created a detailed elements worksheet to show how a case should be tried for the prosecution. The failure to have such a checklist was evident in the prosecution’s potentially devastating failure to prove one of the elements of the case.

As the case would involve many expert witnesses (metallurgy, wood, and handwriting), they construct a helpful diagram to show how the prosecution could have tied this complex testimony back to the key evidence tying the defendant to the crime — “Ladder, Letters, and Loot.”

A similar, thorough analysis is given to every phase of the trial. The prosecution’s opening statement is analyzed and a grave tactical error elucidated. A better opening statement is presented by the authors. The comparison of the two is compelling. Mistakes in cross-examination strategy are highlighted and improvements suggested.

The defense is given the same treatment. The haphazard order of proof was used as a backdrop to provide a better outline of discrete case modules for the defense. Lack of defense witness preparation is demonstrated by the devastating prosecution cross-examination of the defendant. And, as the authors point out (and those of us who knew Memphis trial lawyer David Caywood would know well), the defendant’s case could have been destroyed in the jury’s eyes by the New Jersey legal doctrine of “false in one thing false in everything.”

Closing arguments (summations) are reviewed and critiqued. One of the strengths of this book is the authors’ consistent review of the attorneys’ work followed by the authors’ suggested improvements. They continued this approach in the summation chapter.

The book closes with a review of the events following the verdict. The side show atmosphere surrounding this trial continued up until Hauptmann’s execution. I liked this book both as a review of these fascinating and tragic events and as a critique of the performance of the litigants (and others) throughout the judicial process. Using summaries of the actual trials as a method for contrasting their expert analytical suggestions, the authors have written a book that could be a useful and entertaining text for a law school trial practice course.

BILL LANDERS is a graduate of Mississippi State University and Ole Miss Law School. He practiced commercial litigation for 20 years in Memphis with Martin, Tate, Morrow & Marston PC He currently is a principal with The Todd Organization focusing on non-qualified executive benefit plans, corporate-owned life insurance, and bank-owned life insurance.

Thursday, July 13, 2017


Jacksonville State Attorney Melissa Nelson has instituted a "Brady-Giglio List" in her office to keep track of problematic issues with law enforcement officers as witnesses. I was interviewed for the Times Union's article on Nelson's list, and the article accurately quoted me. Here it  is: State Attorney’s Office keeping tabs on problematic cops in Jacksonville, across First Coast. Here is the part of the article that I have minor disagreements with:

Bob Dekle, a veteran former prosecutor and law professor emeritus at the University of Florida, said that it has long been “standard practice” for state attorneys to operate without a list of problematic police officers.

“But quite frankly,” Dekle added, “standard practice isn’t best practice.”

(1) I am not a former prosecutor. There are two kinds of former prosecutors (a) defense attorneys, and (b) media pundits like Nancy Grace. I am a retired prosecutor.

(2) I was quoted as saying standard practice isn't best practice. Standard practice quite often is best practice; that's why it's standard practice. What I actually said was "standard practice isn't always the best practice."

Wednesday, July 12, 2017


I went back to the law school today and gave a two-hour lecture on Florida Criminal Procedure. I started with the arrest of the defendant and walked the students through a criminal prosecution all the way to the post-conviction. It was, of course a rather superficial overview of the entire field of criminal procedure--just enough to help keep the students from feeling completely lost when confronting the rules.

I enjoyed it. The students were attentive, receptive, and full of questions, and it made me almost wish I was still teaching. Almost, but not quite. I fear that I've gotten too lazy to teach full-time now that I've gotten used to retirement. Teaching full time would get in the way of my many projects: Trying to keep my wife Lane's honeydew list current, building things in my garage workshop, researching and writing books, playing with my grandchildren, volunteering at the church--the days are just packed with things to do.

Still, I love teaching, and I look forward to the next time I get invited to go to Gainesville and give a guest lecture.


ATTORNEY-GENERALS OF THE CIVIL WAR: IDENTIFYING ATTORNEY-GENERALS: So far I have identified 298 lawyer-generals who served in the Civil War. I know that I have overlooked many others.I originally omitted an...

Tuesday, July 11, 2017


The latest UF LAW magazine's article on retiring professors mentions my retirement. Here is a link to the article: LINK

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Monday, June 26, 2017


Today "The Lindbergh Kidnapping Case: A Critical Analysis of the Trial of Bruno Richard Hauptmann" placed in the top fifty trial practice books on the bestsellers list. (#41 to be precise). Today was a banner day. Two of my books were on Amazon's bestseller list. "Prairie Defender: The Murder Trials of Abraham Lincoln" came in at #21.

It's not the New York Times bestseller list, but it still gives me a degree of satisfaction to know that my (and my co-author's) books are reaching people, no matter how small the audience.

Thursday, June 22, 2017


ABRAHAM LINCOLN'S ALMANAC TRIAL: PRAIRIE PIRACY: I did a Bing search and a Google search on Prairie Defender: The Murder Trials of Abraham Lincoln and came up with eight sites which are of...

Monday, June 19, 2017


In my continuing effort to supplement Jim Dedman's and my book, The Lindbergh Kidnapping Case: A Critical Analysis of the Trial of Bruno Richard Hauptmann, I have posted additional information, including the testimony of Charles E. Williamson, the fourth witness for the prosecution, which can be accessed  HERE, and the opinion of the New Jersey Court of Errors and Appeals affirming Hauptmann's conviction, which can be accessed HERE.


ABRAHAM LINCOLN'S ALMANAC TRIAL: "PRAIRIE DEFENDER" IS PUBLISHED: Although the tentative release date for Prairie Defender was June 28, the book actually was published on my birthday, May 23, 2017. SIU Pre...

Sunday, June 4, 2017


Several years ago the world recoiled in disgust when the Taliban blew up the statues of Buddha carved into an Afghan mountainside. More recently the press bemoaned the fact that ISIS was engaging in the systematic destruction of ancient artwork and architecture in Iraq and Syria. When vandals destroyed the piece of “art” known as “Piss Christ,” (a crucifix submerged in urine), the act was decried in the press. In our enlightened age we cannot tolerate those intolerant souls who want to do away with artwork that they find offensive—except when the enlightened and tolerant are offended by the artwork. Then it is okay to tear it down. For years now the enlightened and tolerant have been militantly seeking to eradicate crosses, Nativity scenes, and displays of the Ten Commandments. In Gainesville right now, there is a move afoot to tear down “Old Joe,” the 112-year-old statute of a Confederate enlisted man. “Old Joe” is probably not on a par with the mountainside Buddhas for artistic merit, but he’s miles ahead of “Piss Christ.”

Ironically, “Old Joe” is looked upon as a symbol of slavery, when he symbolizes men who were secondary victims of slavery. What do I mean by that? The majority of the rank-and-file enlisted men of the Confederate Army were not slave owners but were poor dirt farmers fighting a war to preserve an institution that kept them in poverty just as surely as it kept Blacks in chains. Anyone familiar with Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America knows that he saw the antebellum South as an impoverished backwater compared to the North. What was the root cause of such poverty in the South? Slavery. The South was like Rome at the time of Julius Caesar. All the good land was gobbled up in the Latifundia, huge plantations worked by gangs of slaves, and the Latifundia reduced the free peasant farmers to abject poverty.  That was the first way that “Old Joe” was a victim of slavery.

The moneybags who owned the plantations started the war to preserve slavery, and then they called on “Old Joe” to fight it. So thousands of “Old Joes” marched off to war and died in order that the plantation owners could maintain the status quo—which meant “Old Joe” was fighting to keep himself near the bottom of the social pyramid. If it wasn’t clear at the beginning of the war, it was clear at the end, when the Confederacy instituted a draft and granted exemptions to anyone who owned 20 or more slaves. I’ve been doing some reading in the 70+ volume compilation of the records of the Union and Confederate Armies, and I’ve noticed that after the Confederate draft was inaugurated, desertions from the Confederate Army skyrocketed.

 “Old Joe” can’t seem to catch a break from anyone. Before the Civil War he was kept in poverty by slavery. During the Civil War he was exploited as cannon fodder by the slave-owning class. Today he is reviled by the enlightened and tolerant because he “symbolizes” slavery, an institution that victimized him. You may ask, “Well, if he didn’t intend to defend slavery, why did he fight?” In the PBS documentary Ken Burns’ Civil War, Shelby Foote gives one “Old Joe’s” explanation. A bedraggled Confederate who had been captured by Union soldiers, was asked by his captors, “You’re not rich. You don’t own any slaves.  Why are you fighting us?” he replied, “Because you’re down here.” Probably not the most profound analysis, but very few “Old Joe’s” were well-educated.

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.