Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Worst cross-examination ever?

I had the privilege tonight of seeing Jerry Mitchell, the Clarion-Ledger reporter whose investigations inspired and assisted the trials and convictions of Byron de la Beckwith, Sam Bowers, and others who spent 40 years thinking they would get away with their crimes in the 1960s.

Mitchell was speaking at the annual meeting of the Mississippi Religious Leadership Conference, an interfaith organization that itself grew out of those years, and recounting his stories of those investigations.

I particularly liked Mitchell's description of a moment in Bowers's trial when Billy Roy Pitts, a repentant accomplice of Bowers's, was telling about a meeting that led to the firebombing and murder of Vernon Dahmer (who'd had the effrontery to register black Mississippians to vote). It's a story Mitchell has told before, so I can quote this version:
Well, Bowers was represented by Travis Buckley, who is kind of the lawyer for the Klan. I guess one of the perks, if you want to call it that, of being lawyer for the Klan, is you get free membership ....

So Buckley is cross examining Billy Roy Pitts who is involved in the killing of Vernon Dahmer, one of the Klanmen who is involved in the killing of Vernon Dahmer, and he's testifying for the state. Buckley is cross examining him about this planning meeting which took place about a month before Vernon Dahmer was killed by the Klan. He was asking who all was at this planning meeting. Buckley was asking and Pitts is like, "Well, let's see. I was there. Sam Bowers was there. This other Klansman was there. Well, you were there." And so Travis Buckley is like, "Oooh, oooh, objection, Your Honor." I always tell people I've covered a lot of trials in my life, but this is the first one I've ever covered where the witness implicated the defense lawyer in the case.
That belongs on some list or other.

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