I’ll never know why I was picked to represent Leroy Hunicutt on a charge of First Degree Murder. The Public Defender couldn’t represent him, since the principle witness against him was already a client of theirs. I had no experience in major felony trials, much less a murder case.
I took the case without a second thought. I’d make $35 an hour, and with some aggressive time keeping (which I knew no one would object to) this would be the largest fee I earned in any criminal case by far.
Leroy was charged with gunning down Alfonzo Green on Anchorage’s notorious Fourth Avenue. This was where all the hookers, pimps and drug pushers worked. An eyewitness would testify he saw the shot fired. Leroy had powder burns on his hands, and had made three confessions.
The victim had been released by the Army at Fort Richardson and gone home to Alabama. He returned a month later and began working the streets, selling crushed aspirin as cocaine, running crooked crap games, and trying to steal hookers from their pimps. He was shot on Fourth Avenue at 3:00 in the morning a couple weeks after returning to Alaska.
When I interviewed Leroy in jail he said he didn’t shoot Alfonzo, and he didn’t know who did. He said he confessed because he was confused. He said he wanted to go to trial, so it was game on.
None of the felony DA’s wanted this case. It was, in their terms, a “piece of shit.” Leroy was a petty street criminal, but wasn’t one of the real hard cases. And his mother was a good, strong Christian woman. And nobody gave a shit about Alfonzo Green.
A misdemeanor DA asked if he could try it, and the District Attorney reluctantly agreed. This guy wasn’t much of a lawyer, and he thought getting a first degree murder conviction might win him some respect.
I got the confessions suppressed and we went to trial. I was waiting for the elevator to go up to court with Leroy’s mother when she spotted legendary criminal defense attorney Wendell Kay. Wendell was far and away the best criminal defense lawyer in Alaska, and this woman ran up to him and said she was worried about her son. Wendell told her she had nothing to worry about, that Leroy would be well represented. That was the highest praise I ever got practicing law.
After the prosecution rested its case I asked the Judge, Seaborn Buckalew, to dismiss the case for lack of evidence, and he immediately agreed, and dismissed the charges against Leroy. The DA was furious. It was clear that there were people on the jury who were ready to vote for a conviction, but Judge Buckalew never let them get to the case.
So as far as murder trials go, my record is 1-0. I never lost one.
When he got out of jail Leroy went to a lawyer to see if he could sue me for not getting him out on bail before the trial. He’d spent six months in custody, and somehow blamed me. Nothing came of it, of course, but I thought I deserved better than that. I never heard of Leroy again.
A few months later I was representing this kid on a reckless driving charge, and on the way to court I decided to try one of Wendell Kay’s old tricks. The defendant, Jimmy Fejes, was a short, stocky redhead. His passenger, and defense witness, was tall and pale, with black hair.
I told Jimmy to sit in the audience, and his friend to sit next to me at the defense table. The DA called the investigating officer to the stand, and asked him if he could identify the defendant. The officer pointed to Jimmy’s friend at counsel’s table, and positively identified him as the driver, Jim Fejes.
When the prosecution rested I called Jimmy from the audience to take the stand and be sworn in to testify. He identified himself as Jim Fejes, and began telling his side of the story. After a minute or two the judge interrupted him, and asked him who he was. He said he was the defendant, Jim Fejes. Then he started testifying again, and after a few seconds the judge interrupted again, and, pointing to Jim’s friend at defense counsel’s table, and asked “Who’s he?”
I told him he was a passenger in Jim’s car, and then the judge, a real twerpy little nerd of a guy, bangs his gavel and said the court was in recess, and runs out of court back to his chambers.
A mistrial was declared and I had to retry the case a few weeks later. I think Jim only gave me about $175 for this case, so I didn’t make any money on the deal. But I did get to say that I pulled off one of the great Wendell Kay’s greatest hits.