Thirty-four years later, in 2018, and I don't know how many trials under my belt, I took on the Bronk Miller trial. The prosecutor had what was identified by local police as my client on surveillance video engaging in a confrontation with the (soon-to-be) victim, and my client pulls out what clearly looks like a gun. Minutes later, surveillance cameras catch my client walking directly behind the victim, at exactly the same pace as the victim, and pulls out the gun and holds it by his side. (He's wearing a hood, but his Adidas sweatsuit with three distinctive stripes down the arms and legs were a dead (excuse the pun) giveaway. Seconds after the two men walk out of view of the camera, Shotspotter records 11 gunshots at exactly the spot where the victim's body is found. Seconds after that, my client is seen rapidly walking back into camera view, getting into a car and driving away from the scene.
After being arrested on an unrelated warrant, he calls his girlfriend from the jail and discovers that she had given his gun to a colleague. He tells her to get the "jawn" (thing) back as soon as possible because "it has my fingerprints on it. If they find it, I'll get Life!" A search of his residence resulted in the Adidas sweatsuit found in a secret compartment under the couch. Wait, it gets better. A search of the girlfriend's cell phone reveals a rap video of my client singing and dancing about guns and shooting, waving what was most-likely the same gun used in the shooting, pointing it at the camera and dry-clicking.
Unlike what you see or hear on television or in the movies, I NEVER ask my client "Did you do it?" It's not my job to judge, but to defend. That's what I'm hired to do. My purpose is to serve the client, and at the same time defend the Constitution and make the State/Government prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. Everyone is entitled to that. I wasn't there. I don't know what happened after those two went off camera. The jury judges, not me. So, I had to put the process to the test. Was there proof beyond a reasonable doubt? If not, the jury had to render a verdict of Not Guilty.
Bronk was charged with murder and possession of a firearm for an unlawful purpose. The jury rendered a verdict of Not Guilty of Murder and Not Guilty of the lesser charge of Aggravated Manslaughter, but rendered a verdict of Guilty of only simple Manslaughter (a second-degree crime, 5-10 year exposure). What was REALLY interesting was that the jury found Bronk NOT GUILTY of firearms possession! This had me (and every one of my colleagues) scratching our heads to figure out how that happened. In order to be guilty of manslaughter under the facts of this case, Bronk would have had to pick up 11 bullets, throw them NOT at the victim but IN HIS DIRECTION, and accidentally strike him 11 times.
So what happened and how did this result occur (considered a WIN by any criminal defense attorney's standard)? Well, many years ago, after losing most of my trials as a young and inexperienced attorney, I decided to go for it, pull out all the stops, and lose my mindset that I was just supposed to lose. I never looked back. What also changed was that I realized that I had to start thinking like a juror, not like a lawyer. I had to summon back all that I learned from my Psych minor at St. Joseph's College and the courses I took 45-46 years ago. How I exactly do it is not longer a secret as I have been giving pretty much the same closing argument format in a PowerPoint presentation for years now. I give the jury an image of the most important decision they have to make, such as whether or not to terminate life support for a loved one. I talk about how, when making such a decision, that it's permanent and they can't come back if they change their mind. Then I talk about how they might want to pull in 11 of their family and friends before making this final, unalterable decision. This drive home how serious this is and how they really really don't want to have a reasonable doubt before taking that leap.
Sure, it doesn't work all the time. My last trial, Curtis Miller (who happened to be Bronk's brother), was just convicted of murder and gun-related charges. The important thing, at least for those concerned that our Constitution is being whittled down after the Patriot Act (see my Fort Dix Six case - that's for another post).
Anyway, getting into the jurors' heads and painting them the right image turned out to be the best way to win trials.