Thursday, February 19, 2009

Why Defense Attorneys Tell Clients to Shut Up

by Pat Brown

We see it over and over, again and again, especially in this 24-hour-a-day media world we live in: suspects giving interview after interview on nationally televised news shows—CNN, FOX, and MSNBC, and, if they get the opportunity, The Today Show and CBS's Early Show as well. They are like moths drawn to camera lights. They speak of their innocence, they give details of the crime, and, if they are Drew Peterson, talk about their dating life and send out a few winks to the ladies. All this public attention gets the suspect two possible results: a bad image and/or a prison sentence.

First off, if the person is a psychopath, he or she will not understand that their behavior on-camera is not coming across all that well to the public and a future jury. Scott Peterson? He was cold as ice with a smirk you just wanted to wipe off his face. Casey Anthony? Each time she opens her mouth, she just digs herself a deeper hole. With each interview, they increase the public's negative opinion of them.

The other risk these new television stars run is slipping up in their interviews; a bit of truth may escape or their retelling of the story may not match a previous version, sending up red flags to the investigators. Everything that is said on television can be used against them in the courtroom, so each word spoken is like playing Russian roulette with one's freedom.

A good example of a client who should have listened to his attorney's admonition to shut up would be Dino Pantazes. On March 30, 2000, the idyllic life of Clara and Dean Pantazes came to an abrupt end with the discovery of Clara shot to death in their suburban Maryland garage. Their successful life and partnership—a long happy marriage and the booming family businesscame to a devastating finale.

Worse yet, Dean Pantazes, known as "Dino" to his friends and family, was arrested a month later and charged with ordering the execution of his wife. Relatives on both sides of the family stood staunchly behind Dino, swearing up and down that Dino would never have committed such a crime. They believed the police had rushed to justice and unfairly condemned a man who dearly loved his wife.

However, Dino was not your ordinary man. He was a bail bondsman, a man who made his living from dealing with some the worst criminals the Washington D.C.-area had to offer. And, being a bondsman, violence and sordid behavior can become normal features of life, criminal behavior can become ordinary.

Did Dino succumb to this world and find his wife a liability? Did he, as police believed, want out of the marriage to enjoy an alternative lifestyle, taking up with transgendered prostitutes like Mimi Kim Young (pictured left) who would later testify that Dino asked her to kill his wife? Was Clara on to some bad behavior by Dino and wanted a divorce? Or was he the loving husband and family man his supporters believed him to be? The story was heartbreaking.

A former Prince George's County bail bondsman convicted of hiring a prostitute to kill his wife was sentenced yesterday to life in prison without parole, despite his pleas that he was an "innocent lamb" tortured by police and framed by headline-seeking prosecutors.

"I am a victim, not only by the loss of my wife, but because of the judicial proceedings," Dean J. "Dino" Pantazes, 46, told Prince George's Circuit Judge James J. Lombardi.

Weeping in the courtroom, Pantazes said that police suspected him of the killing immediately after they arrived at his Upper Marlboro home on March 30, 2000.

I had met Dino and Clara once when I was working as a private detective. When this story broke, I couldn't really remember them clearly nor did I have any opinion as to Dino’s character. I do remember being stunned that it was the Pantazes that were in the news because they were pretty much fixtures next to the courthouse in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, and the Pantazes name was synonymous for decades with bail bonds in Prince George’s County. So, while I couldn't attest to what kind of guy Dino was, I found it hard to believe, from a distance, that this man would hire a hit on his wife and business partner.

Then I read a newspaper story in the Washington Post that changed my mind. Dino had given an interview to the press and as soon as I read his words, I could see good reason for him to be a suspect in his wife’s murder. He had made two fascinating statements that struck me as very concerning. The first was a comment on the killing:

Dino stated: “I had no reason to want her dead. No insurance policy out on her. Greeks don’t get divorced. That’s the ultimate shame, and we wouldn’t have done that. She was my best friend.”

Is there a sentence here that does not belong? What does getting divorced have to do with killing Clara? Dino was admitting that he WOULD have a reason to kill his wife in spite of the fact he said he didn’t have one. Dino is informing us that he could not divorce his wife because that would be the worst humiliation imaginable. One would think murder would be the ultimate shame . . . but, according to Dino, asking for a divorce would be worse.

Dino went on to make the second fascinating statement: “Now I know what O.J. felt like when he was accused of killing his wife," Dino said. "He didn’t do it either and was hunted down for it.”

Huh? Was he the last person in America to believe in O.J.’s innocence? This is a man who had worked on the fringes of law enforcement for years. He knew criminals and he knew evidence. He undoubtedly was aware there was a mountain of evidence against O.J. Simpson. So, why this statement? I believe Dino was already preparing for his defense. He was pandering to his future jury, which in Prince George’s County, Maryland, was bound to be heavily African-American. This bereaved and innocent man was already calculating his trial strategy.

Dino Pantazes should have avoided anyone with a camera or a pen and paper.

Now many of us are watching the saga of little missing Haleigh Cummings of Satsuma, Florida. Her father, Ronald Cummings, and her caretaker, Daddy's 17-year-old girlfriend, Misty Croslin, have been doing interview after interview, show after show.

Armchair detectives on the blogs have been analyzing these two every time they tell their story. While neither Ronald nor Misty has been labeled a suspect in the disappearance of Haleigh, I bet there are defense lawyers across the nation shouting at their television sets, "Just shut up already! They might be totally innocent of any wrongdoing, but, if they are not, they should take the advice of these attorneys and just say, "No comment."

Dino got nailed and is serving life in prison. The conviction was based mostly on circumstantial evidence and witness testimony. But, in the end, it was Dino's big mouth that got him caught and put away.


katfish said...

Most people with missing children feel compelled to speak to the press in order to "get the word out". Once word is out on their childs disappearance, it is probably a good idea for the families to stop speaking to the press or appoint one person to do so. The family of Arkansas 3 year old Dominick Arceneaux, who went missing the same day as Haleigh, didn't speak to the press and Dominicks case didn't even recieve state-wide coverage let alone national until the 8th day when the FBI asked the media for help. Of course they should keep all lines of communication open with law enforcement, that is their best hope for finding their missing child. The parents and caretaker of Haleigh are young and unsophisticated, everything they say can easily be picked apart and misconstrued. They need to be quiet. jmho
I agree, Pantazes should have known he would be the target of suspicion and kept his mouth shut all together.

Leah said...

Great post Pat. I think that while defense attorneys might be having a fit about potential suspects talkin too much, LE is probably grateful to have the media as a means to further their investigation. Personally I think this 17 YO GF isn't so innocent but we'll have to wait and see.

Anonymous said...

I think a major factor may be that some of these criminals are not career criminals. Someone who kills a spouse may have never made his bones and might tend to become talkative or excited. The lawyers know that a career criminal already knows to keep his yap shut.

As to the 17 year old girl friend being not so innocent... that doesn't mean she is guilty. She may have fled the stifling oppression of youthfulness, poverty and wet diapers for a few hours of other pleasures and a nearby observer may have spotted her departure. She may have something to hide but it doesn't mean infanticide.

Anon said...

I didn't say it meant infantcide. But if she did leave and come back to find the little girl gone, that does mean child abuse/neglect/endangerment, etc charges and that would make her not so innocent.

I hadn't heard that she left the house so that is an interesting assessment. I did hear that there was a confllict in her stories about where she was sleeping in relation to the child.

Pat Brown said...

I find Ronald Cummings reactions and statements a bit odd. The most recent comments to the press:

"Ronald Cummings also said he doesn't suspect his 17-year-old girlfriend did anything wrong the night Haleigh disappeared.

"I don't have any suspicions of anybody," Cummings said. "Obviously, if I knew what was going on, I would have my daughter."

Why would he have no suspicions of anyone or have any feeling the girlfriend could be involved? Usually the opposite is the problem....that you start suspecting everyone, especially the girlfriend you called a bitch and so many think are lying. As much of a control freak as this guy is and the fact he doesn't seem to worry much whether people like him, it is surprisingly he wouldn't be vicious toward his girlfriend if he had the slightest inkling she was lying.

Something doesn't add up here with Mr. Cummings.

Anon said...

While the media has repeatedly aired the age of the girlfriend, I don't recall hearing the age of the fater. Does anyone know how old he is?

Pat Brown said...

The father is twenty-five. I don't think it is a big issue that the girl is seventeen in that she is not in school nor living with her parents and the emotional age between the two is not that great. The bigger problem is the involvement of social services in the family life which indicates there are issues within the home that have put the children's health and welfare at risk in the past. History is a great indicator of future issues whether they be neglect or abuse.

katfish said...

Reports that I have seen say Cummings is 25 years old.

When I said young and unsophisticated, I didn't mean innocent or above suspicion. Maybe inarticulate would be a better description, therefore, best to keep their mouths shut to the media!

My gut says drugs are involved somewhere in this story.

piper said...

The father's first public interview reminded me of Susan Smith's public appeal when her two sons were missing. Neither appealed directly to the camera.

Pat Brown said...

As disgusting as the Geraldo interview was with Ronald Cummings, I did find it fascinating that Ronald claimed he NEVER has used drugs, he has NEVER been abusive, that he NEVER sold drugs. If it turns out that he has lied about any of these issues, then we will have an example of how someone can stand in front of a camera and lie with total boldness. And, if he did lie about these things, does that mean he has lied about what happened to his daughter as well? I am looking forward to finding out what the truth is about Ronald Cummings. It will be very educational.

katfish said...

Although my gut(which admittedly has been wrong before)tells me that Ronald didn't directly have anything to do with Haleigh's disappearance, nor does he know who has her, I don't believe for a second that he has never done drugs or been abusive.Since he has a job I'd give him the benefit of the doubt about the drug dealing.So by lying he has lost alot of credibility. I have a feeling that LE knows his history. He should have told Geraldo the truth- It's none of his damn business.

Demi said...

I am Clara Pantazes Sister and just for the record we don't stand by our EX Brother-In-Law at all. Since this trial my mother developed Cancer and died this August. My other (and last) sister developed a virus in her blood stream that killed her in just 13 days. I believe that all this is from the stress of this murder. My niece and nephew hardly keep contact because they believe in their father's innocence and WE DON"T!!!! Dino is still sucking the life out of them for more and more money to try again, and again, to get out of jail. Money that was trusted to them when they turn 27. I have a 4 year old that will never meet her namesake (Clara), never grow up with her other aunt or her grandmother anymore. Thanks Dino for not only ruining your family but all those around you. I believe my other sister and mother should be on his conscience (what is left of it) also. Then during the trial the transvestite was some sort of HERO???? Com'on he/she was just a coward that could of come forward and reported him before he found another low life to kill my sister and maybe she would still be alive and he just in jail. Yes, though, he showed just how stupid he was deep down when he opened his big mouth about O.J. What a fool, in more than one way.
signed a family member that was REALLY victomized by this whole thing,
Demetria and my 4 year old Eleni Clare.

Pat Brown said...

Hi Demi,

So very sorry about the loss of your sister and the destruction of your family. Dino is a hands down psychopath that clearly still has his children hoodwinked. It is so unfortunate that the signs of psychopathy are often not recognized by those around him (clearly you have that figured out). The ripple effect from such evil beings is so horrific and goes on and on as you and your family have experienced.

I AM glad Dino screwed up enough to get put away. I personally LOVE it when they seek out the media and talk (ignoring their lawyer's advice) because it is such good evidence.

I don't remember what sentence Dino got. Was it life and never, never get out or something less?

Anonymous said...

Hi Pat,
Yes he did get life without chance of getting out.... here is the clincer, he had two trials and several more chances for mistrials and more court appearences than I care to explain (and probably can't). I have attended all of them except for the ones that took place when we were burrying my other sister and saying our final good-byes to our mother (and Grandmother). Every other time we were all present to show how we needed him to stay in jail but there seems to ALWAYS be ANOTHER hearing of some sort. Of course each one of them cost thousands and thousands for my niece and nephew to pay. The actual crackhead, prostitute, that pulld the trigger go 50 years wih chance to get out in 25. Nice ha? Thank-you for your sympathy and understanding. It's nice to know there are still people who care....