Modern criminal defense may have begun in 1972 when Angela Davis, a committed communist, was found not guilty of murder, kidnapping and conspiracy by a white jury, after an eloquent closing argument from her lawyer, Leo Branton.
|Angela Davis, center, in 1969
Angela Davis was arrested for providing the weapons used in one of the most troubling and notorious criminal cases of that turbulent era. During a routine trial of a youthful offender, the young man gained control of the courtroom taking the judge, the prosecutor and several jurors hostage. Eventually in a brutal police shootout the judge, prosecutor and one of the jurors who’d been taken hostage were killed.
The case was presented by the FBI and the press as law and order versus anarchy and chaos. And it was proven that Angela Davis had purchased the sawed-off shotgun used to kill the judge two days earlier.
Nixon called her “a dangerous terrorist,” while John Lennon, Yoko Ono and the Rolling Stones recorded two songs defending her, Angela and Sweet Black Angel.
Her defense lawyer, who died two days ago, was one of the first to successfully use a team of psychologists to determine who in the jury pool would be most amenable to defense arguments.
Yet what Clearwater criminal defense lawyers hope is never
forgotten is the attorney’s brilliant closing argument which reminded jurors of America’s long road from slavery linked to residual racism which explained the fact that Angela Davis, an FBI ten most wanted, had fled after the shooting. As a professor she’d long argued police could not be trusted often referring to them as pigs.
As the NYT’s noted in her lawyer’s obituary this morning, his closing argument may have won the day:
Friends of mine said we couldn’t get a fair trial here in Santa Clara County. They said that we could not get 12 white people who would be fair to a black woman charged with the crimes that are charged in this case.Then he presented jurors with a drawing of Ms. Davis bound in chains, then a second drawing of her freed. He said:
“Pull away these chains,” he said, “as I have pulled away that piece of paper.“
Some jurors cried, and after she was acquitted, so did Ms. Davis. She also hugged the jurors.
The best Tampa Bay Defense Attorneys know that it takes much more than mere words reducing jurors to tears for significant not guilty verdicts; it takes finding shared values, dedication, skill and a lot of hard work.