The verdict is in on the Ryan Frederick’s once-murder now-manslaughter case. Oops. I guess I just blew the surprise.
Radley Balko has followed this case of a young man who shot through a door and killed a cop while inside a marijuana grow house in great detail, and I won’t even begin to try to match his level of detail, and WindyPundit already has a good synopsis if you need it. Suffice it to say that this turned into a dirty trial, with widely disparate allegations, lying jail-house snitches and, as the jury ultimately concluded, incredible police testimony designed to sanitize their conduct and railroad Frederick. It didn’t come down that way.
A manslaughter verdict, in light of all that was thrown at Frederick and under the circumstances (a marijuana grow house, a search warrant, a gun, a dead cop) is quite a coup. There are plenty of good reasons why the jury rejected the capital murder charge, not the least of which was jail-house snitch Jamaal Skeeter’s history as a rat, but any trial lawyer knows that even lying witnesses are no guarantee of winning.
Following the verdict, Frederick’s lawyer, James Broccoletti, spoke to the press, as expected. What isn’t expected is what he said, as reported by Radley.
“I think it’s a very fair and very rational verdict by the jury. I think it demonstrates that they applied reason, thought and common sense and sound judgment in what was a very emotional case.”
This was a perfect thing to say. If Ryan had been acquitted of everything. Even if Ryan had been convicted only of misdemeanor possession of marijuana. Absolutely appropriate. Except when Ryan Frederick had just been convicted of manslaughter with a jury recommendation of the maximum sentence, 10 years in prison.
Broccoletti apparently realizes that there is much left to do in this case.
Frederick’s attorney, James Broccoletti, though grateful his client didn’t get a capital murder conviction, agreed that this was not a “heat of passion” killing.
He vowed to appeal, saying the 10-year maximum sentence reflected the jury’s “outrage and emotion” but ignored his client’s clean record and character.
“This case isn’t over by a long shot,” he said.
But by asserting publicly that the verdict was “very fair and very rational,” he has precluded any number of otherwise credible arguments that the verdict was legally insufficient or against the weight of the evidence. What was he possibly thinking?
No doubt he was caught up in the joy of the moment, the thrill that he beat a capital murder charge. It’s big, and it’s a heady experience to get the big win, especially in a high profile murder case like this. Trust me, it is far more pleasant to talk to the throng of reporters when you come out the victor than the loser. When the verdict is bad, and you see a phalanx of reporters between you and the cold, empty air, you want to shrivel up and die. But when you’re the golden boy, you embrace the hungry crowd and regale them with stories of your greatness. It’s as good as winning the Academy Award.
Broccoletti was feeling good, and he deserved to. True, it wasn’t a total victory, but it was still a big win. Professionalism requires, however, that you keep your wits about you even in moments of euphoria. The easy answer is that he would have done better to say nothing, but march out of the courtroom in silence, head held high, confident in the knowledge that he put in a good day’s work. Strong and silent. But few can, or would, do such a thing at this moment of glory. Few ever have.
What you cannot do is let emotions get the best of you and have sounds emit from your mouth that you later regret. Broccoletti will regret these words. He’s quite a good lawyer, better than one who would say something this foolhearty. Radley asks how this statement “serves his client.” It doesn’t. It harms his client. Lawyers do not have the right to say something that harms their client. Not even when you’re the golden boy of the moment.
At some point in the future, an appeal will be prepared for Ryan Frederick challenging his conviction for manslaughter, and not merely the 10 year sentence. These words will be thrown in the face of whoever does the appeal, whether it’s Broccoletti or another lawyer. These words will bolster any challenge to sufficiency or weight. These words will bolster a claim of harmless error. The appellant’s lawyer will try to spin his way around these words, attributing them to a misunderstanding or context or the emotional catharsis of a trial lawyer who just scored a huge win.
Regardless of how the effort to disavow these words is made, they will haunt Ryan Frederick. The day was otherwise a very good one for both Frederick and Broccoletti. If only a few less words were spoken, it would have been a great one.