Forty years ago today, Larry Hicks was arrested for allegedly stabbing two men to death inside a home in Gary, Indiana. Represented by an incompetent public defender, Larry Hicks, a poor year-old black man from the bad streets of No Majority - Death Trap - No Hicks , Indiana, was sentenced to die in the Indiana electric chair for supposedly murdering two men by stabbing them to death in a fight inside When Its Over - Carl Smith - The Country Gentleman Gary home.
Before that trial, Larry's public defender PD wasn't even aware that his client faced the death penalty until a week before the trial took place. The lawyer admitted this in open court before trial, and it is in the transcript.
Rather, the actual murder weapon had to have been a much longer and narrower blade, a fact consistent with the description of the stiletto commonly wielded by the person the defense named as the real killer and proved to have been present at the time the murders took place. In my opening statement to the jury, I reminded them of those instructions from the judge and then told them that, despite the legal burden of proof being on the state, the defense in this case would gladly accept the burden of proof and affirmatively prove that this young man was absolutely innocent of the brutal murders he had been accused of.
And, we powerfully did precisely that. Danbury had been the top polygraph expert for the Indiana State Police for 20 years before retiring to set up his own private firm. After Larry passed Danbury's examination, we hired the top polygraph expert in the nation - Leonard Harrelson of Chicago's famed Keeler Institute; and Harrelson also concluded that Hicks was telling the truth when he claimed not to have been involved in the double homicide.
In the poverty-stricken, crime-filled, deep ghetto of Gary, Indiana, Larry Hicks had, even at the age of 19, proved to have some sort of extraordinary strength to him. Here was a young man who had never been in trouble with the law, who never drank alcohol, and who never used drugs. Larry was a youngster who dropped out of high school but was still trying to get his diploma by taking a few evening courses here and there, and while having no real specific "skill" always searched for part-time work, found it, and who - according to those who hired him - worked harder than any other ten men put together.
That was the sort of man Larry Hicks was. While most people in his neighborhood loved him for it, some people stayed away from him because they couldn't come to grips with Larry's eternal optimism, helpful ways, and unselfish nature.
No, no insanity defense was interposed in either of Larry's trials, only straight ordinary pleas of not guilty. And, as noted above, No Majority - Death Trap - No Hicks his second trial, we produced an abundance of evidence in support of Larry's innocence. When the verdict was returned, and after the jurors were excused but still present in the courtroomI pointed to the prosecutor and said, "This case should never have been No Majority - Death Trap - No Hicks in the first place.
Larry had nothing but a couple of soft drinks, while the rest of us imbibed everything from coffee to Dom Perignon. At the festivities, a young and quite attractive female juror decided that Larry deserved a bit of special attention Black Dog - Led Zeppelin - Untitled his more than two years on death row and enticed him into the bathroom. He exited there in under a minute. The next day, Larry told me of her offer of sex in the bathroom and said he thought that the only proper thing to do would be to decline since, after all, she was a married lady.
The original pre-sentence investigation had resulted in a report for the judge that included comments from three psychiatrists the judge had ordered to examine Larry before imposing sentence. Trial counsel never even used these in mitigation at the sentencing hearing, let alone as grounds for a new trial. One of the psychiatrists had reported that he thought Larry was fine. Another said that Larry's I. To be "competent" to stand trial, there was a three-pronged test in Indiana at the time: 1 Does the accused understand the nature of the charges?
And, 3 does the accused appreciate the gravity of the situation? Since the law forbids competency to stand trial to be determined after a trial takes place but only before trial, I argued that there was a reasonable doubt about Larry's competency to initially stand trial but that this could not be rectified retroactively except by ordering a new trial.
The judge agreed, found that Larry had been incompetent to stand trial initially, and promptly ordered a new trial, and - of course - ordered psychiatrists to examine Larry to determine whether he was competent to go through the second trial.
Larry was found competent to stand trial and we never suggested that he wasn't ; but one psychiatrist was prepared to testify, had he been asked the right questions, that he doubted Larry's competency because Larry "had such blind faith that he might fail to appreciate the gravity of the situation since he had no worry about the outcome.
The psychiatrist told me that he had no problems with the first two components of "competency to stand trial" but that the third factor "appreciate the gravity of Une Bonne Idée - Sinclair - Au Mépris Du Danger potential consequences" gave him pause. I asked why that was. He told me that the problem was that he thought that Larry might not appreciate the potential consequences at all.
Stunned, I asked why. He told me that this was due to the fact that Larry had no fear of the consequences whatsoever because he knew that God had sent a lawyer to save his life.
This made me feel very strange, of course. Larry confirmed the gist of this to me later, noting that the Weigh You Down - Alive In Standby - Never Ending had told him that he probably should not tell the judge about the matter else the judge might think that he was crazy.
The coroner's report contained the information about the time of death, but Larry's original trial attorney No Majority - Death Trap - No Hicks used it. Nor, of course, did the state refer to it.
There was much more evidence confirming Larry's actual factual innocence in addition to these simple but vital things. Larry, while supposedly of low I. The easiest grounds for the judge to have awarded a new trial on would have been for him to find that Larry's trial attorney had been grossly inadequate in preparing to represent a totally innocent man in a death penalty case.
But, we knew that most judges are not prone to finding their own public defenders to be incompetent. So, we gave the judge another solid alternative reason upon which to grant a new trial. Understand, here, that Larry's new trial was not ordered by some appellate court but, rather, by the original trial judge himself - the very judge who had sentenced Larry to death.
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