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Summing Up the Hennis Case

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Myron Pitts, who covered the Hennis trial for the Fayetteville Observer, has this article summing up the evidence. The whole story is worth a read, but my favorite line is this:

Hennis' lawyer, Frank Spinner, said at the bottom of the courthouse steps that the jury never got to know his client, who did not testify. The jurors instead were treated to gruesome photos of the murder scene, he said.
Um, excuse me, Mr. Spinner, but whose choice was it not to testify?  At common law, the defendant wasn't allowed to testify, but we got rid of that rule a long, long time ago.

3 Comments

It wasn't just the DNA that nailed this killer. There was a lot of evidence that pointed to him. Whoever chose to save the evidence made a wonderful decision.

I am loathe to disagree with Kent, but there remains a significant present-day barrier to the defendant's testifying. In this case, I suspect the barrier looked like this:

"Mr. Hennis, I'm your lawyer, and if you take the stand I'm going to wring your neck. Why turn a probable conviction into a certain one? Just let me kick up some dust with a couple of days of motions. At least it will run the clock, so I can bill a few more hours. Look, I have to pay good money to rent the beach house this summer, so will you please have some consideration? Honestly, sometimes you act like you're a criminal."

A long time ago, I attended a series of lectures about the wrenching ethical dilemmas faced by the criminal defense attorney when the truth collides with what the defense can or should present in the courtroom. At the time, I was naive and didn't realize the lectures were meant to be satire.

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