Things Not to Say After Verdict

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.

13 thoughts on “Things Not to Say After Verdict

  1. Jdog

    Well, it’ll be past terse when I finish the essay on related matters that should go up later today . . . it might even be downright, err, Windy. . .

  2. Windypundit

    Yeah, last night I asked Joel for his analysis as a firearms instructor. I can see his draft in my blogging software’s dashboard, but I’m resisting reading it until he’s done.

  3. Windypundit

    From what I read, Broccoletti made his “very fair and very rational verdict” declaration after the guilty verdict but before the sentencing. Some of us were wondering if he was being polite because the jury still held his client’s future in their hands. Or would they still be too isolated to hear any of this?

  4. SHG

    The jury would never have heard it until afterward, but more importantly, shutting one’s trap remains a viable plan of action.

  5. Jdog

    Resistance may or may not be futile; it’s no longer necessary.

    (Short form: I don’t think it’s a firearms issue, but a human rights one. Self-defense is a human right; firearms, at their most important, are just tools.)

  6. SHG

    I just finished reading your tome at Windy’s Place.  I am now deeply ashamed at having suggested you were feeling terse today.  And man, did I ever get it wrong.

  7. anna

    Well, imho, the trial lawyer should not do the appeal, especially in this case. It should go to an appellate lawyer who does not have the conflict of eating his/her own words. A fresh look is always better, anyway, unless the trial lawyer is one of those rare brilliant types who can step back from rearguing the trial, and can tell the legal issues in a story appropriate for an appellate brief.

  8. SHG

    I’m hestitant to suggest that a general rule for or against trial lawyers doing their own appeals is a good one.  There are many variables.  I’ve done many appeals of my own trials with great success, because of my intimate knowledge of the trial, and then there are times when I found having another set of eyes was more effective.  It all depends. 

    But even if another lawyer does the appeal, he will still be saddled with trial counsel’s words, and potentially be placed in the position of having to tell an appellate panel that his comments were wrong and ill-advised, or left to avoid potentially successful arguments in order to avoid confronting the words or embarrassing trial counsel.

  9. Caryl Rosenthal

    I am not surprised by the comments of James O. Brocoletti as this is the third case I know of personally and I live in Texas (thank God, a million miles from where he plies his trade). He made even more outrageous comments when his client, Derek Barnabei, was hauled off to the death chamber and executed a few months later. In fact, a day after the execution, Prof. Alan Dershowitz appeared on Court TV to say he had received a letter from Barnabei after the execution asking Dersh to clear his name for his mother’s sake. If you google Barnabei, you will find the investigation that took place after, and see that he wasn’t guilty. The sad part is that it was not difficult to prove.

    But, I know Brocoletti personally, having paid him a lot of money to defend my former son-in-law, Frederick Arnold Weber, in the death of his 30-day-old son, who, by the way, died of meningitis. Fred did 12 years, is on parole (he just lost his job so probably will go back to prison for the rest of his sentence – 23 years), but the best news is that he will be on the sex offender registration list for the remainder of his life, even though he was not charged, nor was he convicted, of a sex-related offense. The aftermath of this wonderful day at the courthouse – well, you know Mr. Broccoletti’s accomplishments, but the coroner whose lie started the whole mess – didn’t bother to look at the original birth records which showed the child was compromised at birth, and concluded “shaken baby syndrome” despite no physical justification, then later read the medical reports and didn’t get a chance to lie about them under oath – she was asked at trial whether there were any discrepancies between her findings and the medical records she finally got around to reading, (absolutely!), but Our Hero objected, stating that it was hearsay for her to testify about the birth medical records which showed what really killed the baby, because she didn’t write them. Surprise, Surprise, Fred was convicted, and the coroner now gives seminars on infant deaths from her vast wealth of screw-ups.

    I just got off the phone with Fred’s parole officer about the sex offender list. He didn’t know anything about how to challenge Fred’s being on it, but suggested that I go back to Broccoletti because, quote, “He’s a great attorney.” Despite all evidence to the contrary, Fred must be guilty because he had a great attorney! Oh, the “law” that the parole officer said applied, does not apply in Fred’s case because it is for the protection of children who witness crimes, not fathers who murder their infant children by meningitis.

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