Recently, William Steele wrote to this blog asking about the latest murder conviction involving Frederick Gude, who killed Mr. Steele’s father in southeast Atlanta (my old neighborhood) in 1969. Gude received a life sentence for that crime but walked out of prison a mere eight years later — eight years for taking a life. He was sent up again in 1983, got out again, then killed a second time. For that “voluntary manslaughter,” Gude was sentenced to five years. He walked out of prison for a third time in September 2003, then four months later he stabbed his girlfriend to death with an ice pick. Along the way, he accumulated the usual, heinous, un-prosecuted and under-prosecuted acts of domestic violence, and other serious crimes. Earlier this year, AJC reporter Steve Visser interviewed Gude’s adult daughter, a Marine Lieutenant Colonel who said this of her father:
“There are some people who shouldn’t walk amongst us” [she said] … “This is his third killing. This is the third one that we know of” … [S]he knew her father as a child – when he wasn’t in prison – but her mother quickly left him behind after he was released from prison the first time. He used to beat her mother and he stabbed at least one relative. Violence, she said, was her father’s defining characteristic. “Some people kill in the heat of moment,” the Marine said. “For him, every moment is the heat of the moment, if you say something he doesn’t like.”
Frederick Gude: Three-Time Killer
Run-of-the-mill criminals don’t attract elite legal help, but once you’ve accumulated a body count like Mr. Gude’s, and capital punishment is on the table, the suits show up. For his latest murder defense, Gude secured Atlanta defense attorney Thomas West (on the taxpayer’s dime, undoubtedly).
Thomas West: Not Atticus Finch
Mr. West is one of those defense attorneys who market themselves as civil rights heroes with the assistance of corrupted civil rights groups like the once-storied Southern Christian Leadership Council(SCLC), which long ago stopped doing anything but stealing their donations, accusing each other of stealing, and giving “Drum Major” awards to defense attorneys like West who specialize in returning brute killers back to the communities they victimized before and will victimize again.
For their part, Mr. West and his defense bar peers may fancy themselves modern-day Atticus Finches, but they sure don’t bill in croker-sacks of turnip greens, as the fictional Finch did while helping poor white and black sharecroppers avoid entailment, malnutrition, and lynching.
Today’s defense attorneys deploy sleazy technicalities to help serial predators escape consequences while bleeding taxpayers dry. Or, as West puts it on his website:
Again and again, the law firm is complimented for the intense attention it pays to each detail of a client’s case, and its willingness to explore every legal angle in order to come up with the best possible outcome for each client.
In client Gude’s case, Thomas West obstructed justice for nine years, at a cost of many hundreds of thousands of dollars to taxpayers (and into his pocket). Of course, it takes a village to really obstruct justice, and West had help from many quarters, including Superior Court Judge Thelma Wyatt Cummings Moore, who simply didn’t bother to set a trial date as witnesses died and victims hung in limbo. See here for my previous post on West’s manipulations of the justice system on behalf of Frederick Gude. That was nearly five years ago, and the case just resolved in 2013.
By holding the justice system hostage with a blizzard of pretrial motions on behalf of Frederick Gude, Thomas West finally succeeded in getting Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard to take capital punishment off the table, as Steve Visser reported last February:
District Attorney Paul Howard, who said Gude’s age persuaded him to drop the death penalty request after Gude turned 69 in July, contended that the lengthy wait not only undermined the case, but also cheated the victim’s family and taxpayers. Two key eye witnesses died while awaiting the trial. By the calculation used by the sheriff’s office, housing Gude cost more than a quarter of a million dollars.
“They have a legitimate question to ask Fulton County about why are you taking so long to dispense justice,” Howard said. “This will make the third person he has killed in our county and he is allowed to sit in jail for nine years. It is unconscionable.”
Also unconscionable? Thomas West’s vicious remarks belittling the victim of Gude’s latest crime. West urged the court to go easy on his client, explaining that Gude had done nothing “heinous” because he just stabbed a woman to death with an icepick. Gude’s crime wasn’t a hate crime, you see, because he picked a woman to chop away at forty times (and left her 94-year old aunt locked in a bathroom near the body, where the elderly woman nearly froze to death, but hey, who’s counting?).
Here is West’s explanation for not considering icepick murder + attempted murder heinous:
“We contended it was cruel and unusual to seek the death penalty in a case where you are just accused of killing your girlfriend and not something more heinous. … In the past, the district attorney has not sought the death penalty in these circumstances.”
“Just killing your girlfriend.” “Not something more heinous.” Some people’s lives are just more valuable than other people’s lives. A murder with the right mix of victim and offender will bring out the activists and the mayor marching around all puffed up with candles in little paper cups. But Gude killed politically insignificant humans using non-heinous icepick torture, so, no heartfelt politician parades for his victims.
Yet despite West’s claim that the murder wasn’t heinous, he acknowledged that the crime scene photos of Gude’s last victim presented some “visual issues” that might have convinced even Fulton County jurors to vote for death.
Visual Issues. Is there any limit to the degradation this man heaps on innocent victims of crime?
Thomas West was enabled in his serial lies about Frederick Gude’s murders by a criminal justice system that has spent sixty years institutionalizing such lies. Words like heinous and hate have been warped beyond recognition in the criminal courts. Unlike criminal investigations and trials in other western nations, our courts have become mechanisms for excluding facts, instead of seeking and weighing them. Criminal justice is treated like a game, instead of the fullest pursuit of truth. And so people like Frederick Gude and Thomas West game the system over and over again, with nary a peep from the tens of thousands of law professors and judges who are supposed to address such travesties.
When the justice system is in such institutionalized disarray that a murder trial can be delayed for nine years while attorneys file motions quarreling about how many thrusts of the icepick count as heinous, or a child rape trial can be delayed for more than a decade while Bob Barr and his peers argue about whether a professional fantasy role-player’s pretend illnesses can get him cut loose from the ankle-bracelet that is keeping him from raping more little boys, it’s time to start talking about whether the problem is something other than over-incarceration.
The worst part, besides the denial of justice, is that we actually pay these jerks to make such arguments.