Saturday, April 16, 2011

My cold case: It's about time

After a four-hour deliberation, the jury in my cold case returned a verdict of guilty yesterday afternoon.

Read all about it: KVUE news and The Austin Statesman.

It's been the most exhausting and stressful trial I've ever handled, but after 25 years we managed to bring justice to the victim's family. And that makes me happy.

If they happen to come by here, my thanks to the jurors for their hard work and diligence (and verdict!) but also to my friends on the defense team who worked as hard as I did to represent their client in a thorough, professional, and diligent manner.

You know, a couple of weeks ago, when I was neck deep in this, I told my investigator Mike (who was invaluable in this case) that if he heard me talking about taking on another cold case, he should shoot me in the foot. I meant it.

Yesterday I went to lunch with the cold case detectives, and guess what?
"Hey, Mark, we have some other cases coming through."
"Oh no, I really don't think. . . "
"But you're awesome. Please?"
"I guess you could just tell me about a couple of them."
"Well, there's this one where . . . "

You know the rest.

But now, just for a day or two, I'm going to excuse myself to stare at the sky and empty my brain.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Hi Mark,

    I'm a new reader to your blog, and I want to begin by thanking you for this resource. I'm an attorney a few years out of law school who is making the civil --> criminal switch to become an ADA this spring. I appreciated your spot-on criticisms of civil/commercial law, and I've enjoyed your tales from the trenches.

    I should also congratulate you on this verdict. It sounds like a hard-fought, challenging case, and I hope you're enjoying a weekend off after all your work. With that said, I'm wondering if you could say more about what left you with the internal conviction that Mr. Davis was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. I've just read the Austin Statesman article, and it leaves one feeling as though there *must* have been enough ambiguity for reasonable jurors to doubt. I would guess that some of this is par for the course in a cold case, but the article notes no physical evidence, eyewitnesses, "concrete confession" (though I'm not sure what that means - was there a "partial" confession?)...and another potential assassin with a bat near the apartment.

    As best as I can tell, this man was convicted based on the testimony and insinuations ("sinned against man and God"...?!) of his former love interests and his alleged partial or full confessions to them. Neither article relates anything further, apart from the fact of his former relationship with the victim, which would enable me to conclude he was guilty.

    As for his alibi, did the ex-girlfriend with whom he allegedly spent the evening give a statement at the time of the original investigation? Did she also deny spending time with him then?

    This also makes me feel uncomfortable, from the Statesman article: "Investigators knew the case wasn't a sure thing, he said. But, knowing the evidence wasn't going to get any better, they wanted to put it before a jury."

    I apologize for the possible level of naivete in the following remark - perhaps it means that I shouldn't become an ADA - but...when the evidence isn't that good, when it is far from a "sure thing," isn't it the right thing *not* to put it before a jury?

    Now, I'm a fairly young person with few exes - and none of my exes are dead. But if one of my exes were to die (heaven forbid), I would be deeply uneasy if I could be convicted if the *only* thing tying me to the crime was the word of the other exes. What am I missing here? If I was on that jury, what should have persuaded me that this man was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt? And, as a concerned member of the public, how can I rest easy that justice was in fact done here?

    I'd really appreciate any further thoughts, and to be clear, the reason why I am asking is because - as an attorney - I know how often newspaper articles fail accurately to capture the heart of a case. So I'm fairly sure there's more to this case than these brief articles can capture, and any clarification you can offer will be very useful. Thanks again.

  3. Anon: thanks for taking the time to write such a long post, I appreciate the interest. I don't think this is the right place for me to reurge the evidence, as it were. I would say that, as you point out, getting all your info and basing a decision on the media's reports ain't the way to go. :) They do a decent job but at the end of the day, the ONLY people who see ALL the admissible evidence (and nothing else) are the jurors.
    And this jury came back pretty quickly and pretty decisively.
    Sorry to be a little vague, but in my my own mind I need to move on from a rehash of the evidence, and I couldn't possibly do it all justice here.
    Good luck in your switch to the ADA role. There are few careers so noble, in my humble opinion.

  4. I'm curious about one phrase in your post: "we managed to bring justice to the victim's family." It seems an odd statement.

    Perhaps I'm parsing words too much, but it seems to me that you don't work for the victim's family; you work for society. And it is the cumulative actions of the justice system over time that brings justice to society, as opposed to the successful prosecution of one case.

    Justice is an overarching concept of morality and fairness along with its attendant systems of enforcement, not something that can be parceled out or given.

    You may be happy that, as a result of specific efforts on this case, the victim's family received satisfaction, or closure. But giving them justice? That's something you do not for individuals, but for society (including the family) as a cumulative part of your job of representing the people.

  5. Pete: thanks for the post, and the comments about justice. I don't doubt that you are right in that "justice" is more of a societal concept. But can it apply to a society (of people) without applying to individuals? I'm no philosopher, I ain't even be that smart, but from where I sit in the trenches, with destroyed families in the courtroom behind me, trust me when I say that we can bring them justice. Maybe closure, maybe even a modicum of peace. But if they feel, and they do, that justice has been served, I'm not going to argue.


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