Off the wall, but true

My first armed robbery case is one I will never forget.   I was appointed to represent a fellow who was charged with robbing a convenience store with a gun.  Just like all those scenes right out of the movies.   He was a husky black guy and had a long record of assault and burglary and other mayhem.   He told me he didn’t do it and that his girlfriend would back up his story that he was with her at the time of the robbery.   So it seemed we might have a decent alibi defense even though there were two eye witnesses to identify my guy.   I won’t  go into all the details here but it took a lot of doing to find the girlfriend.  In those ancient days that class of folks usually didn’t have a permenant address and the way you referred to their home was by asking where they “stayed”.  If you asked where they lived they would say “I stays over on Hatcher street with  my cousin Willie”.   Anyway after a couple of weeks of diligent searching, calls and false starts I finally find her and went to see her.  She wouldn’t come to me and wasn’t very excited about me coming to see her but did relent when I said I would have to subpoena her if she wouldn’t talk with me.

Well, she allowed as how Joe was NOT with her, that he had been her boyfriend for a while but she was tired of his drug dealing and drunken behavoir and that she had no idea where he was when the crime was committed.   Needless to say that was a disappointment and I realized we better not call her to the stand because it sure wouldn’t do any good.   So, back to Joe and told him of her position and statements.  He said he couldn’t understand that attitude.   But I convinced him she was very serious and didn’t want to ever even see him again.  Well, old Joe had another version then.  He was playing dominoes with friends at the time of the robbery.   But he couldn’t give me the name of any of the friends or even an approximate location.  A couple of days later he called and said that his friend “Rabbit” had done the job and was in prison in Huntsville but was ready to admit to the crime on the witness stand.   Ok, so I confirm Rabbit does exist and even manage to get a real name and then subpoena him but never had the chance to interview him or anything.  The State did not pay for trips to Huntsville for court appointed counsel.   But at least there was a defense.  I was keeping my fingers crossed.  A couple days before trial Rabbit was transferred to the local jail per my supboena and I got to finally talk with him.   It was not reassuring.  He simply would state he did the job but couldn’t really provide any details about the crime.  He was already serving a life sentence for armed robber and murder.  Not the  most upstanding citizen to present to a jury.  I told Joe I was very worried about his testimony and that I wasn’t sure he would be believed even though he was prepared to say he did the robbery, not Joe.   Well, Joe now tells me that the dominoe game was on the front porch of his mother’s house.  He had just remembered that and that his mother would back up that story.   Well, blow me over with a feather when I got his mother she did say that it was true.  Her son was there all the time playing dominoes on her front porch.  She couldn’t recall who the other men were playing with him but he was there.

Well, you go with what you got and we had an alibi supported by momma and another guy who would confess to the crime.   Joe did not want to testify and with his record putting him on the stand would have been risky at best.   The trial started and my partner came to help me out.  He was a big man.   The prosecution put on their case introducing the gun and having the eye witnesses testify that indeed the man sitting right beside me was the man who put that gun in their face and demanded money.  I couldn’t shake any of their testimony  on cross examination.  They were positive Joe was the man.   I even pointed out discrepancies in the police report about the physical description  they gave at the time and their testimony and Joe’s actual size–he was shorter by several inches than what they had originally described.  We started off with Rabbit.  He took the stand and I led him through the paces and he did indeed say that he was the one that robbed the store.  He was awful on cross.  They naturally pointed out his record and that he didn’t have much to lose with this confession and besides he got a nice little trip away from Huntsville for a week to attend the trial.  He could’t supply even basic information about the store or the people he supposedly robbed or how much money he took.   Then came momma.  She was a very very heavy sit lady.   She waddled to the stand it seemed for hours  before she settled in.  As I asked her about the day in question and Joe’s whereabouts at that time, she “broke down” several times with deep dramatic sobs over her son.  Yes, she said he was playing dominoes when the deed was done.    Unfortunately she was as bad as Rabbit on cross.  The prosecution was smart enough not to be harsh with her but it didn’t take much to blow holes in her basic story.  When she was dismissed from the stand she slowly made her was back to the benches behind  counsel’s table.  Just as she passed by me and my partner, she swooned and “fainted” and fell to the flour right beside us.   We looked at each other.  Each thinking “I can’t believe this”.  I suppose she thought this would be a big sympathy factor with the jury.   This gal probably weighed at least 250.  But she was our guy’s momma and we had no choice but to act like it was genuine and we were sorry for her troubled heart.  So we up and go to her to help her back up.  That was a real mistake, she was not going to give up the acting job easy and made no effort to assist us in any way.  The bailif came over but he wasn’t eager to try to lift her.   So Dan and I had to muscle her up.  Let me tell you that was the heaviest weight  I ever remember having to hoist in my life.  I am sure it was only a minute or so that it took us to get her up and to a chair but it seemed a lifetime.   She continued moaning and sobbing all during closing arguments which didn’t exactly help my concentration.  

The jury came back with a guilty verdict and a life sentence for Joe.  I talked with several of them later.  They believed the prosecution’s version of the confession  that it was just a story by a really nasty felon with nothing to lose and who wanted that trip away from prison for a couple of days in the relative comfort of the county jail and that momma was lying through her teeth for her boy.   Joe just couldn’t believe that the jury wouldn’t take his momma’s word.  Of course he ignored the fact that that was the third version of his defense he had given me.

All the decidous trees are beginning to show some color now and the pumpkins are everywhere.  It is fun seeing the moms decorate their front porches with the Halloween items.   My  favorite Halloween was when I was about 13 and wore my dad’s old navy uniform.   He was worried about it a bit because I was very developed for my age and he was worried I might get arrested or impersonating a sailor or being out of proper uniform by the shore patrol.

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