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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

THE BEST GIFT I EVER GOT WAS FROM A CONVICTED KILLER

DOM printed part of a remarkable essay from Federal District  Judge Richard Kopf, (Nebraska) who runs a remarkable blog here. 
For us, the more interesting part of the blog post than what DOM ran was Judge Kopf's story of his representation of David Tommy Gene Suggett. After reading about how a convicted killer influenced his sentencing as a federal judge, we have no doubt that Judge Kopf would have never thrown a person in jail for patting his lawyer's butt. Experienced, wise, and temperate judges don't act like publicity seeking spoiled prima donnas. 

The title of Judge Kopf's full blog post is the title to our post as well. 


For my (partial) antidote, I realized that I needed a mental image of a physical object that would evoke a sense of balance.  The image that I settled on derives from a gift given to me by a fellow named David Tommy Gene Suggett.
Tommy Gene got into a bar fight in Cozad, Nebraska when a young Hispanic kid provoked him.  One thing led to another, and Tommy Gene stabbed the kid in the heart about three times.  The young man died, and Tommy Gene was convicted of murder.  Ultimately, he was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
After the trial judge refused to give Tommy Gene relief on the sentencing question, I convinced the Nebraska Supreme Court that the trial judge had been too tough on Tommy Gene when he gave him 30 years in prison.  If you feel the need to read more, see State v. Suggett, 200 Neb. 693, 264 N.W.2d 876 (Neb. 1978) (Although sentence of imprisonment of defendant convicted of second-degree murder was required in view of serious nature of crime, where defendant had no significant criminal record, crime was unplanned and provoked by victim, defendant exhibited willingness to work at honest labor, was not addicted to alcohol or narcotic drugs, and his prison record provided evidence that extended period of incarceration was not required to rehabilitate him, term of imprisonment of 30 years was not warranted and would be reduced by Supreme Court to term of 15 years).
When I represented Tommy Gene, I spent a lot of time with him.  I really got to know him.  I learned that he had been born in Arkansas, that his family had abandoned him at a young age, that he spent a lot of nights sleeping in farm wagons filled with cotton, that he had virtually no education, that he had never been in any real trouble, that he had drifted from Arkansas to Nebraska on the hope of farm work, that all the guards and case managers who dealt with him in the prison thought so much of him that they were willing to sign statements for presentation to the judge expressing their view that Tommy Gene ought to be released from prison, and that he really loved my wife’s cooking.
As for the later point, I needed a lot of time with Tommy Gene.  So, I got him moved to the jail in Dawson County.  In that old jail, situated on the second floor of the Sheriff’s office, there were no firm procedures.  A lawyer could see his client about any time the lawyer wanted.  Moreover, the jailer was a nice guy and I got along with him very well.  He allowed me to bring Tommy Gene meals from our home.  I spent numerous evenings sitting on the floor outside of Tommy Gene’s cell while he ate the meal my wife prepared and we talked about his life and his case.
Anyway, I came to really like Tommy Gene.  While there was no question that he had murdered someone, Tommy Gene was not a bad person.  In fact, save for the small matter of stabbing someone three times in the heart, Tommy Gene was a good person.
When I got the decision of the Supreme Court, I called Tommy Gene who by then had been returned to the  prison in Lincoln.  At first, Tommy Gene didn’t understand the good news.  When I finally was able to get through to him that he would be let go soon, he seemed stunned.  Shortly thereafter, and fairly abruptly, Tommy Gene hung up.
As soon as I got a copy of the opinion, I mailed Tommy Gene a copy and told him in a letter to contact me if there was any delay in his parole.  Some months later, I learned that Tommy Gene had been paroled.  With that, Tommy Gene’s case was no longer the compulsive driver it had earlier become.
I never saw him Tommy Gene again.  And except for what I will describe next, I never heard from him again either.
One day a pretty woman walked into our law office and said she would like to speak to me.  I came out to the counter, and she introduced herself as one of Tommy Gene’s friends.  She said she had something for me from Tommy.   With that, she gave me the leather briefcase that is pictured below.  She told me that Tommy Gene had paid one of the other inmates to make the case for me.   She said that Tommy Gene said, “Thanks.”  With that, she left.
The briefcase sits in my office.  I look it at it before I sentence people.  When I do, I hope for balance.  Sometimes it works.
What a remarkable story from a remarkable man. 
We'd like to know from our robed readers, what do you do for balance before you sentence a defendant?
After many years of experience in court we have come to this conclusion: the best way to avoid a bad sentence is not to lose. 
See You In Court. 

9 comments:

mikal said...

http://dailycaller.com/2013/06/10/off-duty-cops-collect-dna-samples-at-alabama-roadblocks/

Anonymous said...

Great Post

Paul Calli

Rumpole said...

Those loud horse sounds and screeching wheels you heard last night? The bandwagon being stopped and 100,000 Miami Heat fans "who have never missed a game" hopping off and going on the internet to look at the Dolphins' schedule. "Maybe the dolphins will be good this year" they muttered to themselves as they looked for the next front runner to pledge undying fealty to.

Hahahahaha what a bunch of phonies.

Secret Judge said...

Since LeBron James arrived in town, the Miami Heat have finished second, first and either second or first this year. This is a remarkable run and has been nothing but fun for hoop fans. Why would anyone not take a modicum of joy in this accomplishment? People who root against the home team are sorely missing out on a great experience. Win or lose, the Heat are our team. Let's cheer them on to victory.

Anonymous said...

Great post.

BTDT

fake guest blogger said...

Guest Blogger has taken over the SFL blog. Here is what SFL has been up to--

Last night
I got loaded
On a bottle of gin
On a bottle of gin

Last night
I got loaded
On a bottle of gin
On a bottle of gin

surrounded by his beautiful babes


Fake Guest Blogger

Anonymous said...

Disgusting. The judge glorifies the killer and relegates the status of the victim to merely "the kid."

Rumpole said...

Boy that bandwagon is empty. Usually I get a dozen comments telling me how great the Heat are and what an idiot I am for not liking them. Today? Mostly silence, which speaks volumes.

Anonymous said...

I'm standing on the side of the street with you Rump, watching the bandwagon go by.
I agree with just about everything you say about the Heat and their fans. But I do think it's wrong only to gloat when they're completely humiliated in a losing game.
The Heat did have a good victory over the Spurs in game 2 and they do deserve some credit for that.

As for me, I was watching the Marlins comeback in the bottom of the 8th for a rare victory over the Brewers. Hope the Cards don't humiliate them this weekend.