Legal history is being played out again in Newark, New Jersey. The famous late trial attorney Clarence Darrow who handled ground-breaking cases like the Scopes (Monkey) Trial (as depicted in many movies and the film “Inherit The Wind”) was not only a renown criminal defense attorney.

He was also a criminal defendant, charged with jury tampering at one point. Today, a jury is hearing evidence and will soon determine the fate of another prominent defense attorney against whom the United States has brought criminal charges.

The lawyer, Paul Bergrin (hereinafter, “Defendant, Esq.”) was arrested in 2009 in connection with what the government claims wasa racketeering enterprise involving drugs, prostitution, money laundering and witness tampering.The witnesses against him? Former clients!

“When people are confronted with spending extraordinary amounts of time in jail, they will say anything and they will do anything to gain their release,” Defendant, Esq. told the jury during his opening statement in U.S. District Court. “The only way for them to do that is to cooperate with the government.”

Defendant, Esq. is not only the defendant in the case…he is also the defense attorney, representing himself.

The above-listed charges were severed by the court. Presently, He is facing trial on a murder charge. He is accused of murder and the criminal conspiracy to commit murder of a government informant, Deshawn “Kemo” McCray, who had been scheduled to testify against one of Defendant, Esq.’s clients.

According to the government, Defendant, Esq., provided Kemo’s name to his client’s associates, one of whom shot Kemo to death. The prosecution claims that Defendant, Esq. had told said associates, “No Kemo, no case.”

While this trial focuses on the allegations of murder, the prosecutors have been able to tell the jury about allegations of involvement in a drug operation. In his opening statement, the prosecutor described Defendant, Esq., as a “house counsel” for a Newark-based drug operation who gradually became involved in the drug trade himself and saw his own world about to fall apart if Kemo was to testify.

“That provides the motive for this crime,” the prosecutor told jurors. “He had a personal motive at this point; his neck was personally on the line.”

While Defendant, Esq. admits mentioning Kemo’s name to his client’s family and others, he says that the client had already deduced Kemo’s identity from the government’s complaint filing anyway. He denies the “No Kemo” statement or suggesting any harm come to Kemo.

Attorney Sam’s Take On Conspiracies And Criminal Witnesses

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that this Boston criminal lawyer has been around for a few years. I began as a prosecutor in New York and, for the past 20 years I have been a Massachusetts defense attorney. I have handled murder and conspiracy cases on both sides of the aisle.

As we discussed yesterday, sometimes words can be taken out of context. In this case, of course, it will be up to the jurors to determine whether the words “No Kemo, no case” were said by Defendant, Esq. If they decide that they were spoken by him, they will have to decide what was meant.

You see, apparently, the statement attributed to Defendant, Esq., was a true one. This being the case, I can think a dozens of scenario’s in which a lawyer could be asked about a case and he opines that, without a certain witness, the case would have to be dismissed.

“Wouldn’t that give incentive to his audience that they should get rid of the witness?”

In most cases, I would say “no”. I have advised many clients about the evidence against them. In fact, it is part of my job to do so. I do not expect them to tamper with that evidence or kill the witnesses.

“Wouldn’t you expect that the government has more evidence against Defendant, Esq. to put the statements into perspective?”

Maybe. There is a problem here, though. It would seem that the witnesses against Defendant, Esq., are folks who were needy of the good graces of the prosecution. As we have discussed many times, federal criminal cases are quite often based upon testimony given by witnesses who are testifying as part of an agreement with the government. Likely, a plea agreement.An agreement where they have an incentive to say what the government wants them to say.

“Yes, but wouldn’t the government prosecute them for perjury if they lie?”

One would hope, but that seldom happens. Further, how would the government know if they were lying? As in the case of the “No Kemo, no case” comment, people hear and see what they want to hear and see usually. The government has already gotten the statement it wanted from the witnesses, and so the government “believes” those statements to be true.

Truth, like beauty, tends to be in the eyes of the beholder it seems. While the prosecution’s view is predictable, it all comes to what the jury beholds.

Thank G-d!

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