Monday, November 8, 2010

A Goolsby "War Story:" Winning A Tough Murder Case

"We felt like we had to find him guilty. Even his own defense lawyer looked like he thought his client was guilty!"
I will never forget these words spoken to me by a jury foreperson in a case I had just tried. As a young Assistant D.A. in Augusta, Georgia, I had just gotten a conviction in a tough murder case. After the case was over, I was interviewing the jury foreperson.
The evidence in the case was largely circumstantial. The defendant was accused of strangling his girl friend to death. She was found dead in a local motel room. We could prove that the defendant had checked in at the motel with his girl friend and that she was found dead, in bed, by a maid the next morning. As I recall, the only other evidence we had was the testimony of a cell mate of the defendant, who testified that the defendant had admitted strangling the girl friend. That's about all the evidence we had! But the jury still convicted the defendant, in part, as the jury foreperson explained, because it appeared to the jury that even his own criminal lawyer thought he was guilty!
I learned several important lessons from this criminal case. First of all, it reminded me that you never know what a jury will do! Also, I learned to always tell my clients, (in my current career as a criminal defense attorney), not to talk with their cell mates, (or anyone else), about their case. Finally, I learned that, during a criminal trial, it is critical for a criminal defense lawyer to always maintain a "poker face," no matter how the trial is going.
After all, you never want a jury to convict a client simply because it appears to the jury that his own criminal lawyer looks like he thinks he is guilty!

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