Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Recently in our community, a law student was murdered by her ex-boyfriend. It's a pretty basic story. Most women who are murdered are murdered by a significant other, and the most dangerous time for a woman is soon after ending the relationship. That seems to be exactly what happened here.

It just so happens that this current law student was a summer student working as an intern for a program that represents criminal defendants on post-conviction cases.

Tonight, I attended the same work-out group I've been a part of for several years. I assumed that by now, everyone knows what I do. It's certainly a topic of conversation at times. So I don't know if the conversation that occurred tonight was had with that full knowledge.

One of the women, we'll call her Jane, broached the topic of this murder. She said she didn't want to sound callous or unkind because she has nothing but sympathy for the victim and her family, but.... Those buts are usually harbingers of really, really callous and unkind comments. Sure enough, Jane followed that but with the sort of comment that leaves me incredulous.

Jane said, "She worked with convicted murderers who claim innocence." Her tone indicated that all low-life murderers claim innocence and are all full of shit.

I actually am familiar with the case the student was working on and I happen to think it's a highly questionable conviction at best, so I said as much. Jane was undeterred. She went on to say, "Bottom line is she chose to associate herself with those types of people. You lie down with dogs, you're gonna get fleas."

I nearly stopped in my tracks, I was so stunned. If I understood her correctly, she thinks I would deserve to be murdered because I choose to defend murderers. I really want to know if she was aware that I'm a criminal defense attorney who regularly represents people accused or murder. If she is aware, her comment comes from ignorant and offensive to downright malicious. I should have challenged her, made her confront the fact of what I do, and asked her to clarify whether she really thinks I'm just asking to die a violent death. But I didn't.

Instead of taking her on, I said nothing to her. My poor friend, then, had to get treated to an expletive-filled rant.

So many problems with this conversation, I just have to resort to a list:

1) This murder had absolutely nothing to do with the victim's internship. It was a personal relationship gone wrong.

2) No one "deserves" to be murdered. If you really have that kind of cold-hearted thought, it's probably best to keep it to yourself. Such thoughts will probably make other people judge you harshly. I know I think less of you now then I did yesterday.

3) People like you are precisely why it is so important to have people like me and the law student. People like you judge criminal defendants before you have any facts. You start with negative assumptions that rarely, if ever, can be overcome. You view criminal defendants as something less than human, which makes it much easier to convict defendants with not much evidence. So we need dedicated people to represent these guys througout to make sure that their fully story comes out.

4) It's a pretty basic constitutional right to have an attorney during a criminal prosecution. Seems pretty un-American to think those who provide that fundamental right are deserving of violence.

I wish I could write a more eloquent and thoughtful response to Jane's comments, but I'm still reeling from the personal implications of them. Also, I'm still pretty angry with myself for not confronting the comments right in the moment. I thought I was supposed to be ballsy and outspoken. But when I had the chance to make Jane rethink her ideas, I froze. That will bug me for a while, because I really want to know how she would have responded if I had stopped running stairs and said, "I'm a criminal defense attorney. Most of my clients are accused of murder." Would she have been chagrined upon realizing the implications of what she'd said? Or would she have just shrugged, suggesting that maybe she wouldn't feel too sorry for me if I were murdered?


Meryl said...

Sometimes people are too horrible. I think I might have been shocked out of a response on that one too.

Western Justice said...

Not related to this post, but you said on my site that you would be willing to share the information you received from your D.C. conference. Please do so by emailing them to

Your comments are greatly appreciated. Thanks!

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