Friday, April 27, 2012


Although its not the major part of my business, I do occasional criminal defense cases for some top notch, ethical defense attorneys.  As a retired police detective, I’ve been asked numerous times by current and former police officers why I would do any criminal defense work.  When I do get asked that question, I always respond with the fact that in the United States, every defendant is presumed innocent and is entitled to a defense.  I then bring up the fact of the Duke Lacrosse players who were filed on for serious criminal charges by a rogue prosecutor, convicted in the press in a trial by media, then ultimately, completely exonerated.  If not for a spirited defense team, these young men would have been sent to prison for a crime that never happened.

On a personal note, I was the defense investigator in a case in which a police officer was accused of excess force in apprehending a suspect. Criminal charges were filed against him and he was facing prison if convicted.  I was able to find an independent eyewitness whose testimony cleared the officer of any wrong doing, which resulted in a not guilty verdict.

A person’s whole life can change in a blink of an eye.  Sometimes, like in the Duke Lacrosse players case, the judicial system can do terrible things. In police work, officers have to make split second decisions that can go horribly wrong.  When it seems like the weight of the whole criminal justice system is aligned against you, it’s just your attorney and your defense investigator that stands between you and jail.  Pray that you’re never placed in that situation, but if you ever have the nightmarish experience of being arrested and formally charged with a criminal offense, you’ll understand why I do criminal defense work.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


How do you defend someone in a criminal case that has been played out in the national press for the last two months?  How do you find a jury made up of people who have not been swayed one way or another by the constant attention in this case by the media?   When was the last time you saw the press describe a defendant as a ‘White Hispanic’? How can you get a fair trial for your client when this case has been commented on and analyzed by elected officials, media pundits and group leaders? That’s the task the defense attorneys of defendant George Zimmerman have in the Trayvon Martin case in Florida, and it is very tall one.  The task is made that much more difficult when so many emotional issues are thrown into the mix.

There have been cases throughout history where public opinion has been so inflamed that that the guilt of the accused party was a foregone conclusion, even before the trial began.  For starters, look at the Dreyfus Affair in France and the Atlanta bombing case of Richard Jewel.  In the former, Captain Alfred Dreyfus was convicted of treason for selling military information to the Germans.  He was convicted of treason and sentenced to life imprisonment on Devils Island.  After a number of years in confinement, he was exonerated and reinstated back into the French Army.

In the latter case, Jewel was a security guard at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.  Discovering a bomb at the site, he alerted the police and helped clear the area of people before the bomb exploded.  Even though there was loss of life due to the bomb, he was credited with saving many lives and initially called a hero for his actions.  He later came under suspicion as a possible suspect and although never arrested, had his life ruined by all the media attention.  Another suspect was eventually arrested and convicted, and Jewel was completely exonerated.

I don’t know if George Zimmerman is guilty or innocent of the charges against him.  I do know that here in America, it is every individual’s right to a fair trial before a jury of his peers based on the facts and evidence presented.  I just hope that after all this media attention they can find twelve objective citizens who will decide his fate.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Here are my thoughts on the Trayvon Martin case.  This is a case where emotions are running very high, both in the city of Sanford, FL where it happened, and on the national scene.  Political pundits and arm chair experts are constantly commenting on every news leak or story that comes out.  From an outsider investigator’s perspective, here’s what is known.  We have a young 17 year old boy (Trayvon Martin) who is dead from a gunshot wound.  We have a Neighborhood Watch volunteer (George Zimmerman) who claimed he shot him in self-defense.  We have a taped conversation between the shooter and a police dispatcher.  Other than that, it’s mostly conjecture and relaying on news leaks.

Here’s what I think will be important to the case from an investigative standpoint.  If the police did their job, they would have canvassed the neighborhood for witnesses to the shooting.  They would be looking for anyone who saw anything before the shooting, the actual shooting itself, and immediately after the shooting.  The police probably canvassed the area on more than one occasion.  Any eyewitness interviews to the events should have been videoed and tape recorded.  This would go a long way in dispelling any claims of police coercion and also be of assistance if any witnesses subsequently change their story. 

If Zimmerman was knocked to the ground and was subsequently being struck by Martin as some reports are saying, they would be looking for physical evidence of it.  Zimmerman’s clothing would be examined for any evidence of grass stains, dirt or other residue consistent to the ground area where the shooting happened.  Just as important is if there was any evidence of this on his clothing?  Was it on his back, his side etc. 

The press has reported that Zimmerman claimed he was struck in the nose and face and also hit the back of his head when he fell.  If so, they would interview any paramedics that treated him at the scene.  Were there any signs of injury? Photographs should have been taken to show whether there was or wasn’t any injuries that would have been conducive to these claims.  It is important to note that often times swelling and discoloration doesn’t reach its peak until a day or two after an injury.  Subsequent follow-up photos should have been taken.  

One critical piece of this investigation would have been discovered at the autopsy.  What was the trajectory of the bullet when it was fired at the victim? Does it match up with the events as described by the shooter? Was it on an upward trajectory that was conducive with the shooter lying on his back and firing upward or was it at a different angle.  This would be a critical piece of evidence.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


When I first started out working homicide, I was at a crime scene with a forensic team that was assisting us in the crime scene investigation.  One of the items of interest in this case happened to be a box that had fallen from either a table or a shelf to the floor.  I remember that the Forensic team kept running multiple test experiments with the box to see if it fell in the exact place each time.  When I questioned them, they advised me they were testing to see if it always fell in the same place or if it had been moved there by the suspect.

Forensic people look at things from a scientific and analytical viewpoint.  If something happened to a person, item etc., there must be a cause and effect as to how a it happened.  Could a body weighing the same as a suicide victim have hung themselves from a certain height and item (Pole, railing, shower rod etc.) without the item breaking or falling?  Could a spent cartridge at a shooting scene have landed in a certain location?  Could a left handed suspect have stabbed an individual incurring the same wounds as the stabbing victim?  Could a pry tool allegedly used by burglary suspect have made the same indentations as the ones at your crime scene?  Forensic people are always running tests to see if this is the case.

Whether you’re a police detective or a private investigator, the key thing to take away from this is don’t just assume that everything at a crime scene or accident scene is as it should be.  Question things!  If necessary, seek out experts.