Our office recently finished a first degree murder case in Williamson County. The verdict was reckless homicide. In the opening statement, I conceded to the jury that our client was guilty of homicide, just not in the first degree. After the sentencing hearing, the case was reset for the court’s ruling. During the ruling, the court was precise and detailed in its reasoning. It went on for well over an hour. During this time, I thought about the nine murder cases that I tried. I also thought about the first murder charge I defended.
The First Case
My first full year practicing law was 1995. I was an associate for Jack Butler in Nashville, TN, and I took some appointments in criminal court for persons who could not afford a lawyer. I went to Division III of the Davidson County Criminal Courts for appointments. The judge then was tough and rigid. Not many lawyers went there to get a case, so I went and started accepting some appointments. A couple of months later on arraignment day, the court asked me if I would accept an appointment. My response was “Yes, your Honor.” After I arraigned her, I looked down at the indictment and saw that the charges were first degree felony murder. My heart skipped a beat. I advised the court that I had not handled a serious case like this one and had no experience in a case where the punishment was life in prison. At the time, I had had only one trial and it was a DUI case.
The court threatened to report me as not being competent when I disclosed I was a young lawyer and had never defended a murder case. They gave me some time to think about it and I went out into the hallway. The Assistant District Attorney General handling the case came outside to talk to me. He had just celebrated thirty years as an Assistant District Attorney. He demonstrated what a real lawyer does. You can take the case under the ethical rules, even if you have never handled that type of case, as long as you get familiar with the law and procedure. I was intimated by the judge since I was a spanking new lawyer, but I took the appointment.
The Details of the Case
The charge was felony murder. A couple of people followed a woman home from the Rivergate Mall and robbed her. During the robbery, she fell and hit her head. She went to the hospital and was released, but she passed away shortly after. My client was guilty of robbery, but was she guilty of murder?
Preparing the Defense
The first thing you do in any criminal case in circuit court is request the discovery. A criminal defense attorney gets only what the rules of discovery allow, but you do get the autopsy report. The autopsy report is a building block to the defense of any murder. In my career, all medical examiners will meet with you to discuss the case. The cause of death was a brain injury, also called a subdural hematoma. An acute subdural hematoma manifests itself within 72 hours of injury; subacute between three days and two to three weeks.
A request was made for the records from the hospital that she went to after the robbery. A CT scan was not performed. Causation of death was at issue. My first murder case never went to trial. My client had a lawyer that did not want to handle the case. No plea bargain to murder. No conviction of murder. In the end, maybe I was the right lawyer for the job.
Here are the takeaways. First, I will remember the professionalism of the Assistant District Attorney forever. Second, the small details sometimes make a difference. Finally, you have to make your position known to the court and stand your ground. It all goes back to the basics.
For the legal help you need defending or appealing your case, reach out to the experienced Nashville defense attorneys at May McKinney by calling (615) 265-6383 or contacting us online.