Saturday, June 12, 2010

Meeting The Murderer

It was one of those rare times I actually met a client -- being an accused and alleged criminal -- who I was representing as a Criminal Defense Investigator at one of the many Public Defender Offices in Washington State.

The office I worked for was one of the bigger hubs of a criminal justice system where the poor, the indigent, those who can't afford an attorney and investigator are provided one.

Unfortunately, there aren't as many Public Defenders and  Defense Investigators in state budgets as there are criminals, so everyone is more than a bit overloaded. At the time I worked there, the office I worked for had close to one hundred Public Defenders, a bunch of Investigators full time and a bunch sub-contracted out.

I was a newbie to Criminal Defense Investigation at the time.
My enthusiasm  and energy showed in my work product.
So I developed a level of trust among the attorneys I worked for in that office.

The Public Defender on the case I was about to get was seated behind a desk stacked high with file folders. The table beside his desk was also covered layers of files. And under the table, were boxes upon boxes filled with more files. All had names on them. All represented living, breathing people awaiting their round in the justice turnstile

'"Whoa..." I said as I walked in. "Looks like you're not busy enough."

The Public Defender chuckled and said, "Right. And they just assigned me two more capital murders. Here's one for you."

He handed me two thick blue case files.
"Get started on this for me. Read the case file. Our guy did it.  Give me your ideas, we'll take it from there. I'm late for court so we'll talk later about this okay?"

 "No problem. Later..." I replied and turned to exit without a good-bye, because formalities were not exchanged or necessary in that office.

"Wait, one thing." he added as I turned to him, "I want you to go to the jail and interview our guy for me. I'm in trial now, I have to get these questions answered soon. Do not record the interview. Just take the questions, get the answers and write it all up for me, okay?"

"Okay" I said as I turned back to exit and added "Good luck on your trial".

He didn't answer me. Not that I expected he would.

So while others went home that night to their dinners, tv shows and good books awaiting their bodies to call them to bed, I opened a murder case file and studied the bodies of a family of  four. A mother and father, their son and his wife.

I was defending their killer, their non-prodigal son.
The prodigal younger son was dead in a pool of blood.
They'd all  been shot, then stabbed until they died, with the very knife that beside one of the victims.
The handles was covered with our client's bloody fingerprints.
He also used the knife to slice each victim's throat, ear to ear, post mortem.
It was what we all call overkill.

There was no dispute he did it.
He made the 911 call.
"I just killed my family" were the words that were forever bound to the 911 recording the police dispatch log.
He waited on the porch in his bloody clothes.
He offered up no resistance upon arrest.
Despite the best efforts of the police, he would utter only four words, "I want an attorney."
One police officer wrote in his observations that day of a "compliant, subdued, almost catatonic suspect."

Going to jail was like old home week, I imagined, as I studied his thick rap sheet.
Looked like he spent more time behind bars than free.
He had an extensive juvenile record that was still afforded some privacy protection until the Discovery Process was  complete.
It was apparent, however, this kid was up to no good for a long time.
Thrown out of schools, repeat appearances in juvenile court, rehabs, shrinks, one stint in a psych ward, I wondered if he was the proverbial Bad Seed I'd seen movies about.
The seed, defective to begin with, stood no chance.

His last visit in jail was for robbery, possession with intent to distribute Meth.
It was was a drug deal gone bad and someone would surely have been killed that night, had not multiple 911 calls  brought a SWAT team to the area.
Our Defendant had loads of priors - drug and public intoxication charges, dealing, robberies, assaults, and two counts of accessory to attempted murder, both dropped when he struck a deal with the Prosecutor and turned informant.

He went into his last lock down at age 22, served 10 years of a potential 20 year sentence, got out at age 32.
It was one year from the day of his release he killed his family.

It was unusual for me, as an Investigator for a Public Defender, to actually meet the client/ Defendant. Normally, in the office I worked,  that is the Attorney's job.
The Public Defenders usually keep their investigators  away from the Defendant for whatever reason they choose.Maybe to  keep us unbiased, objective, away from the hands of accused who sometimes think we are their puppets and they, the Puppet Masters.

It was a rainy Seattle morning when I showed up at the jail. I recall now, though it was a long time ago,  it was a Monday, because it had been raining all weekend, which  gave me plenty of time to study the case, the attorney's questions.

There was only one question missing and it was the one everyone wants to know and only the guilty could answer..."Why?"
Many Criminal Defense Attorneys choose not to ask their clients that question.
It was not on the list of questions I'd been given to ask.

I dressed conservatively that day, chose the Jodie Foster "Silence of the Lambs" look: blue blazer, white shirt, slacks.  I wore boots because it was pouring and I always wear boots to jail or prisons anyway. The boots thing has something to do, in my head, with rats. Whenever I am somewhere rats may be, I wear boots. I remember thinking... jail, rats, boots.

I decided not to wear contact lenses that day and opted instead for my glasses. Not only do glasses make me look more intelligent (being blond, I need all the help I can get); I also felt glasses put a protective shield between my eyes and whatever invisible, insidious germs or parasites might be on a fly by.

I remember entering the jail, going through the process, showing ID's the forms, the requisite search.
It's always easier entering jails and prisons when you work for the Attorney because prisoners are usually afforded legal visits when necessary.

I recall the little room, the glass, the telephone.
There would be no one-to-one meeting for this multiple murder.
I watched them bring him in... watched him do the jailhouse chain shuffle in his orange jumpsuit as he walked to the window.
He was a white guy of the Supremacist variety, about 6 feet, thick all round but not fat, with a skinhead cut that was growing back to reveal brown hair.
His face had a  teardrop tattoo beneath one eye. Usually, the mark of a kill.
Looks-wise, on a scale of 1-10 he was about a 7.
Not bad  until he opened his mouth and showed his rotten Meth Mouth and gave me his rattlesnake smile.
That brought him down to a minus 2.

"Hey beautiful," he hissed, "What's your name?"
I held my ID up to the glass, said " I'm Susan, your Investigator"
Then I asked him how he was doing.
He looked surprised.

I knew it was a dumb question. Of course I know HOW he was doing.
He just killed his family and now he's in prison.
I also knew it was an unexpected question.
Prisoners, especially multiple murderers/family killers who have admitted guilt, assume no one cares how they are doing.
He said, "I couldn't be better."
And so began the dance.

I went through the requisite questions and wrote all the answers down word for word while he watched through the glass.
All the who's, what's, where's and when's the attorney listed.
When the questions were done, he asked his questions.
Asked me if I had a boyfriend, where I lived.
I gave him the standard response.... I said the meeting wasn't about me it was about him.

I thought that would irritate him, it didn't.
He asked if I would  be visiting again.
I said it was up to the Attorney.
He asked if I could bring or send him things.
I told him no.
The he asked me one last question.
Only this question changed his whole demeanor. His smile flattened, his lips quivered,  his eyes got watery.

I wondered if what I was seeing was genuine emotion, or a great acting job.
I figured he'd ask about whether he'd get the death penalty. Or what the media saying about his case.
Instead, he asked, "Do you think I'm a monster?"

I looked into his eyes, then at the teardrop tattoo.
I flashed on the crime scene photos of his dead family, each in their own pool of blood.
the knife. The overkill.
"No," I said slowly, " I think you are a man who did monstrous things."
Then the tears flowed.
They poured out of him and while I watched him sob, I truly believed the emotions were real.
I wondered if he was crying for himself or for what he'd done.

My response to his tears was an instantaneous move on my part,  like a compulsion, I later told the Public Defender.
I  had to ask THE question.
"Why did you do it?" I whispered into the phone, "WHY did you kill your whole family?"

Just as quickly as the tears came, they stopped.
Right in front of my eyes, a transformation.

He wiped his tears with the sleeve of his jumpsuit, his lips turned upward, he leaned into the glass and locked eyes with mine. The snake opened his  Meth Mouth and hissed:
"Because I could, Bitch."

I did not respond verbally. Nor did I show any emotion.  I refused to give him the satisfaction.
Instead, without a word,  I hung up the phone, gathered my papers and left the little room with the glass window. I signed out,  exited the jail and went back to my cubicle to type up my Report Of Interview for the Public Defender.

End of story is like the end of so many stories like his. Life without the possibility of parole.
Because he was such a good actor, he conned the jury and judge into keeping him on this planet.
He is far away in a big prison now, across the mountains.
I still check every now and then to make sure he's there. Even though more than a decade has passed.

That Defendant.... and that day.... is one of those images etched on the hard drive of my brain I hope to offload here. Yet it is a truth I will never forget. And it was one of the contributing factors in my switch from Criminal to Civil Investigation. It was the day I learned monsters do exist.

Some people cheat, rob, rape, murder, kill, simply because they can.
You can blame it whatever you want.
On the Meth or the Meth Head. Or nature, nurture, or unspeakable parental deeds.
Everyone's got a theory.
No one's got an answer.
I am of the "Bad Seed" school of thought.
Bad Seeds are weeds that just grow back when you pull them from the ground.
Some require weed killer.

1 comment:

  1. I happen to agree with your "bad seed" thinking. It seems no matter the circumstances, there are some who "just ain't right", and don't seem to be inclined toward being so. No amount of therapy changes that fact.

    Good post, btw.