Fred Perri puts some of Philadelphia's most notorious criminals back on the streets--and manages to keep on smiling.
So you think you want to be a criminal defense attorney? Then here's your first lesson: You probably don't want to be a defense attorney.
Arguing for the defense means making the acquaintance of one June Smith, who at the moment stands in courtroom 1107 and stares out a big picture window, wishing she'd arrived at the scene of her son's murder in time to hold him before he died.
Smith hopes the jury that just left the courtroom to deliberate will return quickly. She hopes they'll not only convict her son's alleged killer but also sentence him to death.
A tall, egg-shaped woman with a soft frame seemingly built to cuddle newborn babies, Smith can't believe all she's endured. She kept her emotions buried behind a soul-tired frown throughout the trial, but when the medical examiner described the path of the bullets that cleaved her son's thigh, arm, heart and bowels, she cried and didn't bother to wipe away her tears.
Smith noticed the defendant, Aquil Bond, staring at her as she wept. Bond's own face bears two teardrop tattoos, marks of permanent sadness, but he showed no emotion as he stared at Smith. Still, she chose to interpret his attention as an apology.
Once a family friend, Bond knew Smith's son Steven from the time he was a child and even attended family cookouts. "I fed him," says Smith, her voice rising. "I gave him food to eat."
She shakes her head, hunches her heavy body down over the windowsill inside the courtroom and stares into a gray November sky. She knew her son dealt drugs. She pleaded with him to stop. "I thought I'd talked him out of it," she says. "I had him back in school."
But Steven Smith was able to make money as a drug dealer. He bought Rocawear clothing and Timberland boots. "I told him," she says, "'I can get you these things. I got a job. You don't have to do this. Go back to school and I can get you--maybe not all of it, maybe not as quick, but give me time.'"
On Dec. 3, 2002, she arrived home from her job as a nurse and found her son there. "I'll take you out next week to buy you clothes for school," she told him.
"Okay, mom," he replied.
She went upstairs and changed out of her uniform, feeling like maybe she had this problem licked. Then she heard the front door bang shut. She looked out the window and saw her son walking toward the corner. An hour later she received the call: Her 17-year-old son had been shot.
Smith dropped the phone and fell on the floor.
"I knew he was dead," she says. "I just knew it."
She takes solace from the way her son's body was recovered--without drugs on it, without a gun. Maybe, she says, he had stopped dealing and just got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Shaking her head, she turns slowly and looks over her shoulder, into the center of the courtroom. Her usually soft face takes on a harder expression as she looks toward Fortunato "Fred" Perri Jr., the man defending her son's alleged killer.
Perri is smiling and talking with some of the court officers.
"What I want to know," says Smith, "is how can he do it? I know--it's his job. But how can he bring himself to do it, when he know, in his heart, that the person he's representing is guilty? When he knows--they did it!"
Here's your second lesson in being a defense attorney: As best you can, put June Smith out of your mind.
Philly Weekly's Fall Guide 2015
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