When you believe in a course of action, the right thing to do is to follow that path… even though it seems hopeless. I learned this lesson early in my career.
In my third year as a prosecutor, Judge James B. Zimmermann called me up to the bench. “Mr. Sparks,” he said, “You have a murder case against a man named Charles B. Evilsizer. This guy has been down for murder before, he got life. Oh, and Tiger Leech is representing him.”
Life for murder, already out on the street… that was not uncommon. In those days, serving a life sentence took about seven years if a convicted felon kept his nose clean and gave blood.
I looked up Evilsizer’s first case. He’d shot his aunt in the head with a pistol, from close range – a few inches. A witness reported that he said, “Maybe this will shut you up,” as he pulled the trigger. He was very drunk.
I looked Evilsizer over that morning on docket call. He had been brought down from jail in the standard white jumpsuit; he would be tried in civilian clothes; the jury would not know he was in jail.
Evilsizer was big. He had a wide, puffy face, dark hair, a strange look in his eyes. He wore black-rimmed square glasses, thick as coke bottles. He shuffled around the courtroom like a grumpy old grandfather.
Tiger, on the other hand, was happy as a lark. A former prosecutor with a feisty approach, the attorney was well-known for winning cases. He didn’t even want to know if an offer was on the table. He asked the judge to set the case for trial and left.
I had a thin case. Evilsizer had been playing pool at a scurfy dive in a far corner of Dallas County. He and another man were together and were drinking heavily. Evilsizer was the bank and the other was the pool shark. They had lost a thick wad of cash. The companion was so drunk that Evilsizer, who was very angry, had to help him to the car, a Cadillac.
A few hours later in heavy rainstorm, the other man was found dead on the side of the road. He had been shot once in the chest from close range with a shotgun.
Two weeks later, Evilsizer was arrested driving the dead man’s car. There was a shotgun in the trunk, but no prints were on it.
So here was a guy with a previous murder conviction. As in the first case, there was a murder with very little motive, just a man with a bad temper and a gun. The facts fit, but the jury would never hear about the first conviction.
There were no witnesses.
Tiger had made the right decision. Unless I dropped the case, he would waltz his client out the door, Not Guilty.
I couldn’t do that. I got ready for trial and prepared to take a loss.
Then my investigator, Tom Messer, found gold.
Tom had come up with a woman’s name and phone number that an officer had written into a little notebook he carried; the officer didn’t remember why.
Tom called the woman. She had been driving down the highway. Rain was coming down in sheets, so much so that she had pulled over into the far right-hand lane, going slowly. She saw a car parked on the shoulder in the dark. Just as she got to it, the door sprang open and a man jumped out into her headlights. She got a good look at him. Then she drove on. Later that night, when she was coming back from her mother’s house, she saw a bunch of squad cars parked over there. She just felt she should do something, so she gave a policeman her name and number.
Tom asked her what the man looked like. She said he was a pudgy-faced man with dark hair and black, horn-rimmed glasses with lenses thick as coke bottles. Evilsizer.
Tom put together a lineup, a tough one, and she nailed him.
We had an eyewitness.
During the trial, our first witness was the woman. She hadn’t seen the shooting, but she had clearly been on that highway less than an hour before the body was found and less than two hours after the men had left the pool hall. She looked over at Evilsizer and calmly identified him as the man she’d seen getting out of the dead man’s Cadillac that night. She saw no one else in the car. We put the lineup into evidence, and I passed the witness to the defense counsel.
I couldn’t tell if it was a tactic or raw emotion, but Tiger got mad. He spoke to this nice lady in a derisive tone, asking her something like, “So what are you going to tell this jury, that you have some kind of a special memory or something?” Big mistake.
“Well,” she said thoughtfully, “My family tells me that. I guess my answer would be yes.”
Tiger then asked her to name all her relatives, whom were numerous. She named them all, grandparents and cousins, aunts and uncles. Tiger got to a distant one, then asked what his phone number was. She rattled it off like it was her own.
Tiger was done. He couldn’t put Evilsizer on the stand and open up the prior murder. He had no other witnesses. His case fell apart, based on his cross-examination of this single witness. He was done.
In just fifteen minutes, the jury found Tiger’s client guilty. I shook Tom’s hand and we went and had a beer.
Brady Sparks practices law in Dallas, Texas and has tried over 300 jury trials, both civil and criminal. He has been appointed by state and federal courts as mediator in over 450 cases.
Copyright 2015 Brady Sparks