Criminal Defense Appeals: Different Perspectives
My last post discussed a recent Supreme Court victory. I represented Kyle Steiner in a habeas corpus action stemming from a child sex abuse case. After years of fighting, Kyle obtained some justice. A week after the Steiner decision was released, the South Dakota Supreme Court issued its decision in State v. Graham. The full text of the decision can be read on my web site, www.murphylawoffice.org. The result in that case, however, was not in our client’s favor. The Court found in our favor on one issue, but ultimately concluded that my client’s murder conviction would stand. His life without parole sentence was also affirmed. The Graham case was incredibly complex. It involved the murder of a female political activist named Anna Mae Pictou Aquash in the mid-1970s. My client’s extradition was contested for 3 years in Canada. His federal murder charges were twice dismissed and those dismissals affirmed by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. After his case was transferred to state court, evidence came to light that the federal government knew all along that my client should not have been charged federally. During discovery, we found that the government had paid two witnesses over $170,000 in tax free “expense reimbursements” for conducting a handful of recorded interviews that yielded nothing of significance. The file included over 5000 documents, over 100 audio recordings, and a multitude of witnesses. But, in the end, the jury convicted our client of felony murder for his alleged participation in a kidnapping that preceded the woman’s death. Another man, Arlo Looking Cloud, was convicted of premeditated murder. Rather than do a post-mordem on the case, I want to briefly address the significance of the decision to me and to my client. On the heels of the Steiner win, it made me conscious of the way that wins join attorney and client, and losses separate us. When you win, it is easy for clients and their counsel to share in the “joy of victory.” But, there is no real sharing of emotions in the “agony of defeat.” When the Graham decision came down, I was extremely disappointed. But, I can’t say that I was devastated. That phrase, so often thrown out by attorneys when discussing a loss, should be used cautiously. After a loss, we go home to our families, we plan our weekend activities, we go to sleep in a comfortable bed, and we return to work the next day. We aren’t devastated. Our lives go on and we look forward to the next win. Our clients, however, face the unimaginable. Perpetual incarceration. Constant safety concerns. Inadequate medical attention. Unsanitary conditions. A life where someone else has control over your freedom. That is devastation, or, at least, it can be if you lose hope and give up the fight. To John Graham, his family, his friends and supporters, I can truthfully say that I have never enjoyed working with a client as much as John. I can’t say, however, that I feel his pain. The impact of this loss to John is different than it is to any other person. Knowing John and his incredible strength and resolve, I doubt he is devastated by the loss. He’ll keep fighting for justice. I wish him all the best in that endeavor.