Monday, October 16, 2017

Postscript: The Other Tie and the Secret Show

A Tale of Two Ties

The Bear turns his great shoulders away from the eaves of the Woodlands and the problems of men and returns to the congenial sylvan depths among his friends.

The previous article began with the cutting of a tie. The story is not complete without another tale about a tie, one perhaps you may remember, but perhaps have not heard before. As the Bear returns to his more accustomed role as benevolent dictator of the Woodlands, he feels he must, like Paul Harvey, tell "the rest of the story."

Ernst Bruny: One of Bear's Most Notorious Cases

IDOC picture. Not the Ernst Bruny
Bear remembers, but prison changes
Ernst Bruny was accused of beating the son of his paramour to death with a belt. He did not have a record that the Bear recalls, but after all these years, Bear would not swear to that. Bear is absolutely certain death was not the intended outcome of his acts. Ernst was from Haiti, where punishments can apparently be physically severe. His girlfriend unwisely left her son in his care while she took a trip to Florida. Ernst went way beyond any reasonable discipline. 

While no organs were directly damaged, the accumulated beatings with a belt ruptured cell walls which leaked CPK (creatine phosphokinase) into the bloodstream. Too much CPK can destroy a person's kidneys. If you go to the ER with a suspected heart attack, they will test for CPK, which is a sign of any significant muscle damage. It can also be elevated due to a strenuous workout or crushing trauma from an MVA, or, beating with a belt over time.

The Bear does not sugar-coat anything to diminish the horror and escape your judgment, should you care to exercise it against the Bear. He does not know how many murder cases he did. Dozens. They were all horrible. And the death penalty cases are reserved for "the worst of the worst." This was one of the worst of the worst.

Does the Bear feel sorry for this defendant? No, except the in sense he feels sorry for anyone whose life assumes a doomed trajectory. No, the Bear feels sorry for the victim and his family. He has never lost a moment's sleep knowing Ernst Bruny or any of his clients are in the awful confines of Illinois' maximum security Menard Correctional Center.

And yet, his sister went to medical school, and, Bear presumes, by now has had a long career as a doctor. There is no easy answer to the human mystery. His family was superficially living the American dream of the immigrant, giving their children every advantage. The Bear does not recollect the differences in treatment, if any, from his sister. It may have been pre-reforms, when the defense lacked the money and the know-how to connect the dots from a defendant's past using expert assistance.

The mother was white and Ernst was black, which does make a difference in public perception, at least here in southern Illinois. In fact, as far as Bear knows, Ernst was the only black person in the whole county. Was that part of the news media feeding frenzy? Bear does not know. Most of the Bear's murder clients were white. He cannot recall a white-on-black case, but draws no inferences therefrom. Statistically, the race of the victim contributes more to the death penalty decision than the race of the perpetrator.

This case, however, was always going to be a death penalty case, no matter what.

It was, obviously, a sad case, but also a "heater," featured on Oprah and a Life Magazine essay by Bob Greene in the inimitable Greene style. Red Death was accosted in the grocery store for her husband's defense of Bruny. The state's attorney took to the press to announce "Jesus Christ will come again before I remove the death penalty from this case"

Bear soon countered with his own press contact that resulted in a humorous national law journal headline, "Prosecutor Gags Self." The prosecutor leaked too many details to the press and the Bear was always ready to take advantage of the virtually unknown defense right of reasonable press response. It is typical of the Bear's legitimate use of the press to psychologically condition prosecutors who were careless around him.

Red Death Performs a Service and A Change of Venue

The Bear and Red Death returned to the crime scene and left with what few decent clothes Ernst had. Red Death laundered, mended and ironed them so he would look presentable in court.

It was never just the Bear. We made a terrific team, Red Death and the Bear.

The Bear filed for a change of venue. You hardly ever win these, but prosecutors dread losing the home field advantage.

This time, the Bear did what no one else had ever done. He had an automated service call everybody in the county, not just a statistical sample He included a touch-tone poll, and allowed voice messages. (Hint: that includes the judge, the sheriff, the prosecutor, and the family of the victim, so you might want to give your judge a heads up unless you want him to tear your head off in court the next day.)

The Bear entered the change of venue hearing with large foam board charts (he always loved those for some reason), the survey findings, and a choice collection of audio clips, such as, "I think that he should be killed, chopped to pieces and his body put in a dumpster. Have a nice day." (It had been erroneously reported that the defendant had cut up the body and put the parts in a suitcase.)

The Bear made it clear it would be impossible to get a fair trial in the county. The judge agreed and changed venue to St. Clair County. That's Metro East, on the seedy Illinois side of St. Louis, which includes East St. Louis. The last place in the country the prosecutor wanted to have this trial. 

Bear was presenting at a conference in Chicago when his hotel room phone rang. The prosecutor spat out the words: "I'm offering life in prison with out parole. You have three days to give me your answer."

One must wonder if Jesus resented being used to illustrate his earlier prosecutorial resolve.

A Curiously Significant Gift

After it was all over, Ernst took off his tie in court. "I remember you liked my tie. I don't have anything else, but, here. I want you to have this."

Bear did not remember commenting on the tie, but evidently had during the small talk he always used to calm clients. After he had just pled to LWOP, the only thing Ernst Bruny had to give Bear was his tie.

The Bear has never been able, of course, to think of one of those ties without the other. It has always seemed too perfect, like the cosmic two-by-four of instruction smacking him against the side of his furry head.

The first tie was cut to symbolize the Bear's role in cutting off his first life as a death penalty prosecutor. The second tie was intact, a free gift from a person who was grateful the Bear had saved his life. It was all he had, and he thought Bear had admired it. It was such a human thing to do. No monster would ever have done that.

To the world, Ernst Bruny was (and, to the extent he is remembered, remains) a monster. Certainly, what he did was monstrous. Yet he was not a monster. He was a human being. Ernst Bruny's final gift was the free act of a human who had nothing to gain, almost nothing to give, and who had no idea how his gift rebalanced the scales of the Bear's own life by setting his gift of an intact tie against the cut tie Bear had so proudly displayed from his first death sentence as a prosecutor.

"Come! See the Monster!"

The Bear represented many human beings who had, for whatever reason, done horrible things. The facile label "monster," based on highly selective, often inaccurate, and always incomplete newspaper and television stories, did not tell the whole story. Bear felt privileged to be allowed access to this "secret show" where the garish signs screamed, "Come! See the Monster!" And, having paid his very dear dime (the secret show is never cheap, Bear can assure his readers) the Bear saw something more marvelous than even a monster.

Staring back at him from behind the bars was a human being who had done a monstrous thing.

There have been a couple of defendants where, admittedly, the Bear could just not find the human. He could name them, but won't. Where he only saw the monster, instead. He blames himself for that oversight. It is harder with some than others.

Bear gets that few are admitted to that secret show, where monsters are advertised and humans displayed. It is his belief that, since these people are humans, they are on a continuum of human behavior. Different not in kind, but in degree. Oh, how true to the Bear are the words of Christ that to hate your brother makes you a murderer.

Whether you are for or against the death penalty, the Bear does not really care. It is on its way out. Except he were privy to the secret show - and, perhaps Catholic, as well - he would be as for it as he always used to be.

His experience and conclusions are symbolized by the two ties: one an award for "cutting off" a life, to use the familiar OT term; the other entire, a free gift from a fellow human in the image of God.

And this really is his final word on the death penalty.


  1. "And this really is his final word on the death penalty."

    Thanks be to God!

  2. Ha, the invocation of the Lord's name was pretty funny. Good one :-)


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