Last Friday, I found myself sitting in a courtroom in another county—where I had been for the prior two weeks trying a capital murder case.
The prosecutor did not seek the death penalty in this capital case, so if the jury finds my client guilty, he will spend the rest of his life in prison without any hope of parole. Courts have two ways to take a person’s life in Texas. We can execute by lethal injection, or we can send the offender to a Texas prison where he or she will spend the rest of his life sitting in a cell about the size of your closet. In this case, my young male client’s only possible punishment if found guilty is "life without parole."
But I was thinking of something else. I looked at this young man, age 25, a white male, who had graduated high school as a National Merit Scholar. He married his high-school sweetheart, had a set of twins and another baby—three children total—and then signed up for the Marines. He was accepted and was shipped to Iraq where he was in the Military Police. He returned to the United States only a few months before he was arrested for the murder-for-hire of a man in Surfside, Texas. My question was: How in the world did he find himself sitting in the defendant’s chair at counsel table? . . . What happened to this man? . . . He had an adorable wife, children, supportive family, brains, and most importantly—he had opportunity. But he blew it all. In God’s name, Why???
My question was: How in the world did he find himself sitting in the defendant’s chair at counsel table? . . . What happened to this man? . . . He had an adorable wife, children, supportive family, brains, and most importantly—he had opportunity. But he blew it all. In God’s name, Why???
I think I can answer that question in one word: COCAINE. His now ex-wife explained to me that during high school, he was popular, made good grades, and played sports. It was generally felt that he had a good future. She told me that he did not use drugs then, and only started using drugs after he returned home from Iraq. Did he use drugs in Iraq? Did he get hooked on drugs while serving our country in a place on the other side of the world where no one could see him or help him? She did not know. But she did know that as soon as he returned, he found a group of "friends" who loved cocaine and would do just about anything to get the next hit or snort or injection.
I know that cocaine has been called the "shame of Iraq" and that there have been court martials of soldiers who were caught selling weapons for cocaine. The only logical explanation for my young client is that he started cocaine in Iraq, and continued when he came home to the United States. Obviously, in either location, cocaine is easy to get—all it takes is money.
Hence, my client’s charge of murder in exchange for payment of money, which he used to buy more cocaine.
Going a little further than my client’s situation, I know that drugs in general are a major problem in almost every area of the United States. How can there be so many young people in prison for using drugs, or for committing a crime in order to get more drugs? Do these young people not have any family or friends who can see what is going on and help them stop ruining their lives? Do we, as parents, just sit back and assume "nothing will happen to my child"—thinking that it is just a phase and he or she will grow out of it? Have we become parental zombies who ignore all the signs because we are so busy with ourselves? And, best yet, how do we fix this problem?
I believe that our society has deteriorated to the point that we risk losing our future. I recall in my childhood a time when my family did not have to lock a door, or worry about me when I met my friends at the movies, or even think about crime in our neighborhoods. During that time in the United States, "crime" may have been high-school boys vandalizing a building. The police in these towns did not have much to do on a daily basis. But that was also a time when parents sat down at the dinner table at the end of the day with the entire family. They ate together; they discussed what was going on in everyone’s lives; they talked about their problems; they talked about church, school, and gossiped maybe about their neighbors. But they did it together as a unit, a family. That time is gone. We do not do that anymore. Children play video games about killing cops, committing robberies or other crimes and getting away with it; they watch violent movies on television—all under the same roof as the parents, who do nothing.
Now please—no angry comments about "my kid did all these things and he is now president of his own company" . . . or some such thing. I am not saying that every child who is allowed to grow up like that will turn out to be a mass murderer or a serial killer. I am saying that the habits of our lives today engender an attitude that family doesn’t matter and no one really cares what we do. It is not the best situation for a child.
Back to my client. We are sitting in this courtroom; I see him glance at me and smile. I know he feels that he is going to walk out of the courtroom a free man. I feel differently. I know how juries are and how they will convict someone whom they even remotely feel may be guilty. And, frankly, I gave a great closing argument—(second only to our famous Kelly Siegler’s closings). But even as I sat down, feeling a little smug about what I had done, I knew that it was not enough. I felt it; I sensed it. And I was right. The jury returned a guilty verdict, and my young client was sentenced to spend the rest of his natural life in a prison cell, where the highlight of his day will be feeding time at the zoo.