Sunday, August 29, 2010

Mud And Stars

There's a quote by Frederick Langbridge one of my mentors taught me when I first decided to become a Private Investigator. I was a Criminal Defense Investigator then and the quote goes like this:

"Two men look out the same prison bars; one sees mud and the other stars."
The quote really affected me the first time I heard it because it was the day before I was going to Walla Walla Penitentiary for the first time to interview an attorney's client.... who was, in essence, my client.
Walla Walla is a pretty rough place.

As I write this, I recall driving towards Eastern Washington and repeating that Langbridge quote over and over. Sometimes in my head and sometimes aloud.
At the time I related it only to prisoners...
and the attitudes they choose when they get locked up.
"...One sees mud and the other sees stars."
Now, many moons later, I find the quote analogous to the lives we all lead and the prison bars, real or imagined, that hold us back.

The man I was seeing was convicted of  a double murder, except an appeal had been filed and was actually moving forward....
because the attorney claimed our  guy had been railroaded, his rights violated and the appeal was in motion.
Yes, the attorney told me, our guy was present during the multiple murders....
however, his crime was "doing  nothing."
It was a drug deal gone bad.
Yes, our client led his two older friends to the drug dealers that they ultimately robbed and murdered.
Yet, according to the attorney and his client...
He did not hold the dealers at bay with one of the two hand guns police held in evidence.
He did help tie the victims up with the zip ties found in his pocket.
Nor not beat the victims with the baseball bat.
He did not participate in the final slice and dice with the switch blades they all had.

YES he was covered with blood  (the victims') and high on the drugs the two dealers were killed for...
NO, (he claimed) he was paralyzed with fear when the whole thing was going down and could do nothing to stop it lest he be killed himself.
At the very least, the attorney said, our guy deserved a reduction of sentence...
from life in prison to the possibility of parole.

So in my mind, it was the same old SODDI defense the attorney was employing for the appeal - "Some Other Dude Did IT." or in this case, Dudes.
Our client was too shocked to intervene, the attorney claimed.
He was the youngest of the three men accused in the murder.
What got him convicted, the attorney told me, was one of the older men (in his 40's) immediately struck a deal with the prosecution, turned state's evidence and pinned the entire thing on the younger dude
(late 20's) and the third guy present.

It was the younger man I was going to see. The one convicted, in Walla Walla.
I was in my 30's and I wondered what it was like to be in your twenties and sentenced to life.
I wondered all kinds of things about muders, the victims and the people who commit them.
There were a million questions I wanted to ask this guy, but I was instructed by the attorney not ask him anything other than the written down, designated, agreed upon questions.

I was glad this guy and I were separated by glass instead of seated in one of those rooms  Criminal Defense Attorneys and their investigators get to sit in with their clients.
I could tell the second he looked at me and I looked in his eyes, he was high as a kite.
I heard drugs were easy to get in prison, now I had confirmation.
His pupils were so dilated there was almost nothing but black.
He picked up his phone...
I picked up mine...
and the games began.

I introduced myself and held my ID up to the window.
He called me names like sweetie, baby, honey.
He talked fast, he grinned a lot, kept  leaned into and away from the window,

He asked me questions about myself.
I smiled and told him we'd talk "more personal stuff later..." after he answered the attorney's questions.
So I asked all the questions and he gave me all the answers.
Nothing new, nothing different.

When we were finished with the attorney's list, I  him a question of my own:
"Why didn't just walk away, run, turn state's evidence first,  anything, if you were innocent?"
He looked at me, leaned real close to the glass, gave a wicked smiled and hissed, "because maybe... I did it."
That threw me for a momentary loop.

Then the quote popped back into my head....
the  Frederick Langbridge one,
"Two men look out the same prison bars; one sees mud and the other stars."
I thought....
Man, this guy sees an appeal and sees stars...
but truth is, he is mud and doesn't deserve it.
I recall him watching me stare blankly back at him after his admisssion.
He had that same wicked smile on his face.
He knew the only one I could share the confession with was his attorney.
And he was already convicted of the crime.
What's he got too lose?

"Now tell me something about yourself sweetheart," he said.
"Welllllll" I replied, drawing out the silence purely for dramatic effect.
"I once believed anyone could climb out of the mud and reach for the stars. But you've changed my mind. I think you belong exactly where you are. In the mud."
His smile disappeared real fast and I didn't look to see what it turned into.
Instead, I hung up the phone, closed my notebook picked up my pen, turned my back and went through the prison exit process.
I walked fast to my car, and would've run... if my pride hadn't stopped me... and headed west back to Seattle.

On the way back, I called the attorney and told him everything.
Including the confession
And what I said afterwards.
I also told him if he didn't fire me, I'd quit the case.
Instead, the attorney laughed and said,
"Almost all of them do it you know. We're more mitigators than defenders anyway. We just do damage control."
I  was surprised by his response and the truthfulness of it.

I know now... and knew then.... so many accused people are indeed innocent.
Those are the ones who need to see the stars, who need a great Criminal Defense Investigator.
I also knew I wasn't that person.
Shortly after stepping away from that case, I switched to Civil Investigation.
Now I represent victims and I sleep a whole lot better at night.

No comments:

Post a Comment