I had been trying to find him for months. I didn’t know much about where to look, and this was before the days of online searching (in the mid-1980s), so the only thing for it was old-fashioned shoe leather. I needed him though. He had been attacked, shot, and left for dead by the deceased in a murder case I was preparing for, a case where we were alleging self-defense.
The wrinkle was that my client was a woman, the deceased was a woman, and they were roommates. Okay, more than roommates. And, believe me, being gay was enough to get you convicted all by itself back then. I knew my client’s statements about her belief her lover would kill her if she didn’t get to the gun first would not be enough. I needed to be able to prove the deceased was actually deadly.
Here was the problem. My client knew the previous victim’s street name — Abdullah — and not much else. She knew he was a pool player, that this was how he made his money, and that he was a south-sider, that he was also African American (as was she and the deceased), and the names of three pool halls he might have gone to. He was about 5 feet 10 inches in height, medium complexioned, and average weight. Great. That was going to describe just about everyone.
I tried asking folks in the neighborhood where my client had lived. I asked former clients, and their relatives. I went to all three pool halls and asked their managers. All three claimed not to know the guy. But one of them, well I just felt he did know, he just wasn’t going to tell some white woman from the public defenders’ office. I certainly noticed that there were NO women in any of the pool halls, let alone anyone white.
So, when it became clear we were going to trial with or without this mysterious Abdullah, I decided to try the pool hall on 63rd and Langley where I had that inkling from the manager. This time though, I stationed myself outside the pool hall on public sidewalk and stopped everyone going in or out of the place for a couple of hours. The third night I did this, the manager came out. “Girl, you know you bad for business,” he said. I hadn’t ever seen someone harrumph before, but he harrumphed.
I smiled. “Well I need to find Abdullah, and I don’t know how else to do it,” I replied. I shrugged, “Someone is going to know him, sooner or later I figure.” I turned away from him to face another young man who was coming towards the door of the pool hall but he saw me and turned away. I heard the manager muttering as he went back into the pool hall. Half an hour later, Abdullah was there. And he had a harrowing story to tell, and the records to back it up.
I believe I found this witness because I am a woman. It’s not that men don’t persevere; they do. It’s not that they aren’t willing to spend lots of time trying to solve a problem by regular means and, failing that, will try something else. They will.
It’s that I knew I was looked at askance anyway. As a woman defending murder cases and death penalty cases, I didn’t belong. So not belonging was a norm for me, and I was willing to (rather loudly) not belong for my client.
This book tells the stories of some extraordinary women that you likely do not know. They have all been or are still criminal defense lawyers. They have all had differing experiences doing this work, figuring out how to live their lives while doing it, and being aware of how their gender affected or still affects those choices and styles. The book comes from lengthy in person interviews with nine extraordinary women, whom you will meet shortly. The “conceit” is that we are all presenting a panel on the work we do for Women’s History Month. I have edited each of the women’s statements to make grammar work, or transitions sensible, but these are our words and our stories.
The Sixth Amendment guarantees those charged with crimes the right to effective assistance of counsel. The only lawyers recognized by the Constitution are us. These are the stories of that part of that constitutional mandate that are women (a relatively new occurrence); the feminine Sixth.
© 2018, Andrea D. Lyon, All Rights Reserved.
Photo Credit: eedahahm
Cynthia W. Roseberry
Photo Credit: Rebecca Haehnle, Parlour Salon
Christine Mari Palma Start
Photo Credit: Brian Desimone
Lisa Monet Wayne
Photo Credit: K.R.R. Photography, Ltd.