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Just Killing your Girlfriend With an Icepick, Nothing “Heinous”: How Defense Attorneys Starve The Courts

Last week, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that jury selection in the Silver Comet Trail murder trial might be delayed because defense attorneys were complaining that they are owed 60K. This week, the judge in that case reached a sealed agreement with the defense council, and jury selection is — slowly– going forward.

The funding pool for capitol defense attorneys in Georgia was depleted earlier this year by the fees charged by the team of lawyers who defended courthouse killer Brian Nichols.

But that’s not the whole story. Activist lawyers are playing up the funding crisis in order to try to end the death penalty in Georgia. I wrote about the ways the defense bar is politicizing the costs for capitol defense here.

Meanwhile, if you’re wondering why our courts are in financial crisis, thank a defense attorney:

Death-penalty cases clog court system with delays

Prosecutors, families seek trial dates

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Monday, April 06, 2009

Frederick Lee Gude is a proven killer. The only question is: when will a jury decide whether the state should kill him?

Gude was indicted in 2004 on charges he murdered his girlfriend, Jacquelyn Nash, 54, by stabbing her more than 30 times with an ice pick. . .

The newest Gude case has never come to trial. . .

In the Gude case — described by one prosecutor as “cut-and-dried” — Senior Superior Court Judge Thelma Wyatt Cummings Moore said she handled almost all the pretrial legal matters — more than 70 by November 2007 — but she delayed setting a trial date because it appeared the high-profile Brian Nichols’ capital case was about to start trial and she didn’t want to overburden the court system.

Seventy pretrial motions in one “cut-and-dried” case. Seventy separate considerations taking up hours and hours of courtroom time, lawyer’s fees, and salaries for support staff and security before the trial even begins. Lest you imagine that such motions are anything other than the defense bar’s strategy for forcing us to lessen sentences for even the worst criminals, consider just one of the motions defense attorney Thomas West apparently made in making the case for a lesser sentence for Gude:

“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 and not something more heinous. By stabbing her with an ice pick 30 times. Not heinous, that.

It would be interesting to know precisely how much money was spent by Fulton County taxpayers so that Thomas West could argue that hacking somebody to death with an icepick is less heinous than other crimes

***

In Steve Visser’s article, Fulton County D.A. Paul Howard lays blame for trial delays on Superior Court Judges. Howard is doubtlessly right that judges bear responsibility for failing to move their cases along. But behind the judges’ recalcitrance lies a deeper, systemic problem: defense attorneys have twisted the criminal trial system into something that no longer even slightly resembles a search for the truth.

Two books on the subject:

Guilty: The Collapse of Criminal Justice, by Judge Harold J. Rothwax (Warner Books, 1996). Rothwax was a trial judge in New York State for twenty-five years. Although he started his career as a card-carrying ACLU defense lawyer, he came to see that procedural rulings on evidence, questioning, self-incrimination and juries had tilted the balance of the courts to defendants and damaged the ability to effectively prosecute wrongdoers.

Trials Without Truth: Why Our System of Criminal Trials Has Become an Expensive Failure And What We Need to do to Rebuild It, by Professor William T. Pizzi (NYU Press, 1999). Pizzi, a former prosecutor turned law professor at University of Colorado, compares several European-nation criminal trial systems with our own. European courts are far less likely to exclude evidence, and the cult of the defense attorney is largely avoided — resulting in attention to the facts of the case, rather than the grotesque game-playing that predominates here. What a refreshing idea. Also readable.

***

One more note on Frederick Gude’s criminal past: apparently, he has killed at least two other people. The Georgia Department of Corrections lists Gude’s prior record as follows:

STATE OF GEORGIA – CURRENT SENTENCES
CASE NO: 430193
OFFENSE: VOLUNTARY MANSLAUGHTER
CONVICTION COUNTY: FULTON COUNTY
CRIME COMMIT DATE: 07/31/1998
SENTENCE LENGTH: 5 YEARS, 0 MONTHS, 0 DAYS
STATE OF GEORGIA – PRIOR SENTENCES
CASE NO: 74249
OFFENSE: NOT AVAILABLE
CONVICTION COUNTY: CONVERSION
CRIME COMMIT DATE: N/A
SENTENCE LENGTH: NOT AVAILABLE
CASE NO: 74249
OFFENSE: MURDER
CONVICTION COUNTY: FULTON COUNTY
CRIME COMMIT DATE: N/A
SENTENCE LENGTH: LIFE
CASE NO: 74249
OFFENSE: ESCAPE
CONVICTION COUNTY: PUTNAM COUNTY
CRIME COMMIT DATE: N/A
SENTENCE LENGTH: 1 YEARS, 0 MONTHS, 0 DAYS
STATE OF GEORGIA – INCARCERATION HISTORY
INCARCERATION BEGIN INCARCERATION END
11/10/1999 09/08/2003
10/13/1983 05/07/1986
05/21/1969 10/24/1977

So he received “life” for a previous murder conviction, in addition to a five-year voluntary manslaughter sentence in 1998, and now he is on trial for murder again. The Corrections website doesn’t include the date for the previous murder, but I imagine it was the crime for which he was sent away in 1969, because eight years was a very long time to serve for any sentence back then. Including a life sentence.

Life, you see, isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be in the courts.

One Response to Just Killing your Girlfriend With an Icepick, Nothing “Heinous”: How Defense Attorneys Starve The Courts

  1. william steele says:

    i remember being in court for the trial of mr.gude for the murder of my father in 1969. if anyone has more details about the current status of this case please keep me informed. thank you

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