“When was the last time a high-profile case in Atlanta ended in acquittal?” Bruce Harvey asks. “For a criminal defense lawyer, it doesn’t get any better. It ain’t never gonna be no sweeter than this.”
The colorful, ponytailed defense lawyer smiles broadly, sitting behind his paper-strewn desk in a loft near the Tabernacle club downtown. Behind him, the wall is dominated by a framed photo and signature of legendary lawyer Clarence Darrow. Harvey’s Harley-Davidson motorcycle is parked in the lobby downstairs. “Not guilty, not guilty, not guilty,” he almost whispers. “You know, this was the right verdict. In that way, justice and the system was vindicated. When it works the way it’s supposed to work, our justice system is a glorious thing. The trial wasn’t the problem, the problem was that this case ever made it to trial. That was the disgrace.”
The Ray Lewis Murder Trial, beyond attracting more national attention than any courthouse drama to unfold here in more than 20 years, became a morality play for modern-day Atlanta. It had the intrigue of a well-crafted whodunit. The glitz and glamour of the Super Bowl. An NFL star accused of murder. The trappings of Buckhead. A setting outside a popular bar in which professional athletes partied in a VIP room. It had the street hustle of hip-hop. Young black men wearing mink coats and drinking $200 bottles of champagne with luscious gold-diggers hanging on each arm. It was the kind of trial that makes or breaks legal careers, that seals reputations. And it attracted the creme de la creme of Atlanta’s criminal defense lawyers.
“This was a defense lawyer’s dream,” says Harvey. “You had a high-profile, nationally significant case and an innocent client.”
The result was a stunning and humiliating defeat for Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard. CNN legal analyst Roger Cossack went as far as to compare Howard’s performance to the bumbling Inspector Clouseau of the Pink Panther movies. “If they ever write a book listing the most inept prosecutions ever,” Cossack wrote in his online column, “this one will be highlighted as the standard by which all others are to be measured.”
In a series of interviews, both the defense team and Howard spoke candidly to Atlanta Magazine about the trial. Howard strenuously defended his handling of the case and his decision to enter the courtroom to personally prosecute after a nearly four-year hiatus from trial work. He described witnesses sabotaging the prosecution with organized silence. He answered criticism that he rushed the case to trial, maintaining that the case demanded aggressive prosecution.
Defense lawyers revealed how they shredded the prosecution case. They described political pressure from city officials that led to hastily drawn indictments. Some of the defense lawyers accused Howard of approaching ethical boundaries, even lying to them. (Howard denies all such allegations.) All the lawyers spoke openly of their behind-the-scenes disagreements, detailing awkward moments in coordinating a shared defense strategy. They told the inside story of Lewis’ dramatic 11th-hour plea agreement that gave the All-Pro Baltimore Ravens linebacker what he’d wanted all along: probation for a misdemeanor count of obstruction of justice. And they explained how they won the outright acquittals of co-defendants Joseph Sweeting and Reginald Oakley on all charges.
Above all, they talked about the truths that were never revealed in the courtroom. They talked about what really happened that night when two men died in the middle of the street in the heart of Buckhead. … Read More
(via Atlanta Magazine)
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