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War Stories

Of Blood and Murder

74-year-old Willie called the police. He said: "I think I killed my best friend,  Victor ."

When the police arrived, they found 
Victor facedown on the pavement. A gunshot pierced his heart and exited his back.

Willie told the police the previous night, he and  Victor drank homemade moonshine. They watched vampire movies as they sat in his trailer. Willie had gotten very drunk. He had no recollection of shooting Victor. He remembered Victor showing him his knife, and he showed Victor his old top-break revolver.

When Willie woke from his drunken stupor, 
Victor was gone. There were puddles of blood and a blood trail led to the back door.  Willie checked his revolver; it had been fired.

Willie followed the blood trail. It led to Victor's body. Willie then called the police, telling them he must've killed his friend. When they got there, he told them everything he knew.

The police arrested Willie. He was charged with murder. Willie made bond and was released from jail. 

Soon after he got out of jail, he called me. Just as he told the police, he told me he must've shot Victor; he just couldn't remember having done so.

I explained this sounded like a case that should be negotiated and not tried. Willie didn't want a trial; he just wanted to get the lowest sentence he could. 

Months went by as the court date loomed. I spoke to the prosecutor.  I can't recall the exact offer, but it was around five years in prison. Willie told me was going to take this. I thought was the end of things...

...Until we got a surprise.

The police had swabbed the various bloodstains at Willy's trailer. The bloodstains were sent to the lab for analysis. All the blood came back as being the victim's blood-except one bloodstain.

This bloodstain was a woman's blood.

In the crime scene photographs, I noticed several "Virginia slims" cigarette butts in an ashtray.

I asked Willie why there was woman's blood in his trailer. 
He didn't know. He had been a widower for nearly 30 years, and "he wished he'd had a woman at his place." 
Willie couldn't explain the blood.

He also wasn't going to admit to murder when he didn't know if he committed the crime.

So whose blood was it?

Why would there woman's blood of the crime scene?

I called my investigator Declan. Declan discovered Victor had an ex-girlfriend Kim. Kim lived across the street from Willie. 
At Victor's funeral, Kim had a large bandage covering the upper portion of her arm. Declan discovered prior reports where Kim and Victor had been in knockdown drag-out fights.

Declan spoke to Kim, asking her if she had ever been to Willy's house. She denied it. 
Declan told her he needed to get a DNA sample, and she allowed him to do so. She asked Declan why he needed the sample; he told her he needed to test it against a spot of woman's blood found at the crime scene. 
Declan told me, "her eyes got wide as saucers." but she continued to deny having ever been to Willy's.

Folks lie when it comes to murder. 
I needed to determine if Kim was telling the truth, so I filed a motion with the judge asking that Kim's DNA sample be compared with the female blood found at the crime scene.

Motion denied.

I wish to tell you why it was denied. To this day, I don't know. None of my lawyer buddies have provided an answer, except one who quipped, "I know! The judge wanted you to lose."

We went to trial.

Sometimes we lawyers need to push the envelope in defending our clients.  I had to do so here. Even though the judge denied my motion, I wanted the jury to know we tried to get the mystery blood tested, and there was another suspect in the case. 
I wanted to show the jury that there was reasonable doubt about who killed Victor.

I put investigator Declan on the stand. I asked, "Did you attempt to get the DNA ..."

I might say here that the judge went "Volcanic." The judge ordered the jury to leave the room immediately.

He "invited" me to approach the bench.

The judge was furious. So was I. Unfortunately, in a courtroom spitting match, the judge always wins. 
The judge told me, "You're mad because I cut the legs out from your defense."

 He was right.

The judge told me if I said another word about the DNA/blood, he would put me in jail.

I started to stammer:  "Buh..."

The judge cut me off. "I told you-not-one-word."

"Do you want to finish that sentence and go to jail?"
" Move on."

I prefer to sleep next to my wife. 
I don't want to sleep next to a hairy dude who keeps telling me, "You got mighty purdy lips."

I moved on. 
I never got to tell the jury about the DNA. 
Sometimes things don't go the way we want during a trial. 
I couldn't talk about the DNA issue. I had to (and did) argue that if Willie shot Victor, it was out of recklessness and, therefore, he would not be guilty of murder, only the lesser charge of manslaughter.

Some (lying) lawyers would tell you they tried a murder case, and the client was found not guilty. But that's not really the truth. Willie was found not guilty of murder but he was convicted of manslaughter. I wanted him acquitted of everything.

I argued the case as best as I could. The judge sentenced Willie to a relatively light sentence of 18 months in prison. I thought that was the end of things.

It wasn't.

Since I tried the case, I thought it would be better for Willy to be represented by another lawyer for appeal purposes. I didn't think I made any mistakes, but it would've been better for Willy if I because another lawyer can argue that a case should be reversed if the previous lawyer made substantial mistakes. I also wanted a new lawyer to raise the issue of the judge's denying my request for DNA testing.

A new lawyer handled Willy's appeal. This lawyer never raised the DNA issue and Willie lost his appeal.

Months and years crept by. Meanwhile, Willy remained free, but he went from 74-year-old Willy to 77-year-old Willy.

One spring day, I got a call from the judge's office. While Willy had lost his appeal, the folks at the jail forgot to tell him to turn himself in. The jail finally realized the mistake, and Willy dutifully turned himself in.

During the three years Willy was out, he got cancer. He was very ill when he turned himself in.

The judge wanted me to get Willy out. His secretary called me.  I felt like saying, "I'm not the one who put Willy in; the judge did."

I didn't do this.

Instead, I explained  Willy's appellate lawyer was the "official lawyer of record on the case." A few minutes later, my phone rang again. The judge's secretary called to tell me the judge specifically wanted me to do it.

Not to be smug, but when the judge asks you to do something like this, there's a  good chance that what the judge asked you to do is going to happen.

I filed the appropriate paperwork. Willie was released, having spent very little time in jail.

I'm not sure if this is a happy ending; Willie was acquitted of murder, he didn't spend years in prison.

I just wish I knew if he committed the crime.