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Documents of Interest - The Cassady Law Firm
Harper Lee on the jury venire in a murder case in 1995 - Struck from the jury by the State of Alabama
The defendant wife was charged with murdering her husband and also charged with manslaughter. The wife had held a birthday party for one of the children of the home earlier that day. About 10 p.m. the husband returned home while intoxicated and began beating the wife. The wife ran into a corner in the kitchen next to an island counter upon which the child's birthday cake remained with a steak knife still in it from the cutting of the cake earlier in the day. The husband trapped the wife in that corner and continued beating her. The wife grabbed the steak knife out of the cake and stabbed the husband one time in the chest. The wife called 911. A local policeman, who had intervened in domestic violence at the home on prior occasions, arrived at the home 5 minutes after the stabbing. However, the ambulance did not arrive for another 20 minutes. The husband died while the wife stood in the road waiting for the ambulance while the local policeman was inside the house with the husband pressing a towel to the husband's chest. The State was obligated by law to present the case to the Grand Jury, and the Grand Jury indicted on two counts--murder, and manslaughter. The State prosecuted the wife on the theory that the prior domestic violence between the couple demonstrated the woman's intent to murder. Mr. Cassady defended the case at trial. Harper Lee was on the venire but the State struck her, probably for good reasons of avoiding undue publicity, but ironically, in the courthouse that she made famous in To Kill A Mockingbird. (See photo of strike list below) The defendant wife was convicted of manslaughter, but the Cassady firm appealed to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals because the trial judge had declined to allow Mr. Cassady to present expert evidence from a witness who counseled battered women. On appeal the conviction was reversed, and the client was released. The client spent a total of 2 days in the county jail. Harper Lee readers who are also lawyers will know that, as a lawyer, Mr. Cassady had the opportunity to examine Ms. Lee under oath as part of the jury selection process. Likewise, the prosecutor had an opportunity to examine Ms. Lee as part of the jury selection process. That examination would have been taken down by a court reporter and today would be an historic record. However, Mr. Cassady did not examine Ms. Lee under oath, nor did the prosecution. Mr. Cassady was reasonably certain that the State would strike Ms. Lee from the jury. Further, to have developed a line of questioning such as: "Ms. Lee, you are familiar with the concept of a mean drunk beating a woman, aren't you?" would have offended Ms. Lee, the judge, and the other members of the venire, by making a side-show of the venire process. It would be pure speculaton to conclude that the prosecutor struck Ms. Lee on the belief that she would have been favorable to the defense. The prosecutor, Hon. Thomas Chapman, might just as reasonably and tactically struck Ms. Lee to avoid undue publicity that would have occurred had Ms. Lee been on the jury in a murder trial. Such publicity would have been prejudical to the administration of justice. To read the unanimous opinion of the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, click here.