Tomorrow is a big day for the Bear. He wraps up a Kentucky death penalty case. Result: something other than death. But not just that. It is his last death penalty case. The Kentucky case was a fluke. (I'm not even licensed there.) Illinois got rid of its death penalty in 2011. Tomorrow the Bear officially becomes a legal relic.
Death penalty cases take a lot out of you, and you don't get all of it back. I mentioned once before the best defense lawyers I know are Catholic. Two I know the best pray the rosary. Not something you think about when you're reading about some horrible case. Maybe you've read about some of mine. Catholics get sin and forgiveness like nobody else.
Seeing your client as a sinner enhances the attorney-client relationship. (Not that you inject religion into the process; it just naturally helps you relate.) You do not deny the horror, but neither do you deny the humanity. Only a Catholic would get all that right. Maybe that explains how someone who has been professionally defined as a death penalty "expert" does not fit any of the stereotypes
I wish I could say I won each case by legal brilliance. Truly, I did what little I could and waited for a lucky break. In fact, to make my career even less dramatic, I never took a death penalty case all the way to a jury.* Most got "de-deathed" early. And all along, even if I had gone to trial and lost, the moritorium would have saved my clients anyway. The last person excecuted in Illinois was Andrew Kokoreleis, March 17, 1999, at terrible Tamms, deep in southern Illinois.
It is hard for any of us to rebrand ourselves. The temptation is to drift, especially when you're getting up there in years, about 1300 for the Bear.
I may just go feral. Kentucky has a lot of horses they say.
*The ironic exception was Niels Nielson, whom I prosecuted and obtained a death penalty against before a jury. He was eventually commuted by Governor Ryan, for which I am now grateful. It was my first death penalty case. All the rest were as defense, which were considerably more challenging.
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