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.
Meet Fred Perri
With the hardened build and perfect dimensions of a department store mannequin, 42-year-old Fred Perri could be a model. His hair is immaculately coiffed each day. His shirts are monogrammed. His watch is a Rolex. He drives a black Benz with a GPS monitor, and by his own estimation 40 to 50 percent of his business as a criminal defense attorney comes from Philadelphia's illegal drug trade.
As drug-related violence accounts for an increasing number of Philadelphia homicides, Perri goes to sleep each night knowing he's set his share of alleged killers free.
Perri represented a man named Darnell Jones in two separate murder trials. Each time Perri thought the evidence was stacked against him. Each time he won anyway.
There have been other cases, other clients--like Joseph Moore, a cohort of West Philly's infamous Pratts, a clan long synonymous with the Philly drug trade. The Joseph Moore case was the first indication that Fred Perri could be a great trial lawyer.
Perri was cross-examining a key witness against Moore in the murder of two men. The witness admitted that Moore appeared much shorter and thinner than the suspect he'd described for police.
With the warm glow of reasonable doubt already creating a dim halo around his client, Perri could have stopped right there. In fact, any experienced defense attorney will tell you asking further questions would be foolish. But Perri had a gut feeling:
"Can you tell us today," he pressed, "that you're sure this is the man you saw that night?"
No, said the witness.
It was that rarest of moments in real-life courtroom drama--offering the surprise, the cheap thrill, the exhilaration, the art of any film or television show.
Perri broke a cardinal rule, and won. Moore walked.
Of course there's a conundrum here--a painful truth. When evidence is stacked against a client, it would seem to indicate guilt. Well, yeah. Maybe. Sometimes. But Fred Perri's concern is doing the best job he can for his client. That means he sometimes sets guilty men free.
And guess what? Setting guilty men free isn't something Perri dwells on. But winning? "Winning feels great," he says. "Not just getting a hung jury but winning an acquittal when the evidence is stacked against you? There is no greater feeling."
At first blush Fred Perri is an unsympathetic character. His work takes place in a cauldron swirling with hookers, liars, thieves, addicts, dope dealers and murderers. His workdays revolve around arguments and judgments, with a Bible for victims and perpetrators to swear upon. And he's the one sitting with the perpetrators.
But Fred Perri didn't create the system. He just works in it. And inside the courthouse, he's about as beloved as any man can be.
Your Fans, Part I
You can learn as much about the justice system from hanging out in courthouse corridors and stairwells as you can actually watching a trial.
That's lesson 12. If you missed the others, tough. You're a defense attorney, and no one's going to hold your hand. But if you're Fred Perri, people will talk about you behind your back. They'll admire your work and seek you out.
During the Aquil Bond trial, a spectator on Steven Smith's side of the courtroom extols Perri's virtues.
"He's a drug-dealer lawyer," she says appreciatively. "They know him on the street. On the street they say, 'Fred Perri is a gun.' That means he's a good lawyer."
She praises Perri's skills as she sits beside a heavy-hearted June Smith, who purses her lips and remains silent.
Later this same woman--the mother of Steven Smith's best friend--wants to chat with the man himself. She stops Perri by the elevators outside the courtroom.
"Can I have your card?" she asks.
Deftly reaching into his coat pocket, Perri places a card between her fingers.
"We on opposite sides right now," says the woman, holding the card in the air, coolly, "but I like the way you move."
"Thanks," says Perri.
Showing no emotion, he walks away.
He's unruffled by such encounters--neither flustered nor flattered. He scored his most famous client, rapper Beanie Sigel, after representing a man accused of shooting Sigel during an altercation with a police officer.
Sigel also liked the way Perri moved. Since then Perri has defended the rapper on a variety of charges, from attempted murder to gun and drug possession.
TV clips of Perri accompanying Sigel out of courtrooms aired each night during the rapper's attempted murder trial this past year--both of them smiling and dressed in immaculate custom-tailored suits. As a result, the rapper's name follows Perri from courtroom to courtroom like a flashy urban ghost.
"Beanie Sigel," the people whisper. "That's Beanie Sigel's attorney."
"What's his name?"
Be Good to People
Perri's mother Mary once worked as a court crier for Judge Michael Stiles. And his father was a longtime operative in the Republican Party (the entire family has since switched its registration to Democrat) who now serves as a traffic court judge.
These connections created a warm welcome for Perri when he first arrived at City Hall in 1988 as an assistant district attorney.
Born in Frankford, Perri grew up in an outgoing, gregarious household, and he credits his father's strict discipline with helping him get where he is today. He does better with people than legal minutiae, he says, so law school could have presented a huge challenge. But he graduated and passed the bar in his first attempt, after marrying his wife Lisa and burying himself in their new one-bedroom apartment for six weeks. "It was a horrible existence," says Perri. "Just sickening. But it had to be done."
His starting salary in the DA's office was just $27,500, so in 1990 Perri switched over to "the dark side" of defense work because he and his wife were ready to start a family. Perri now has four children, ranging in age from 3 to 14. He can support them at a far higher standard of living than if he'd remained a prosecutor.
Perri declines to discuss his fees, but court observers say an attorney of his caliber can earn $20,000 or more for a capital murder trial.
The financial disparity between Perri and his clients is usually obvious. Bond, for example, even smiles like a poor man--gap-toothed, with teeth that tilt like headstones. And while Perri wears expensive dress shirts, Bond comes into court wearing humble button-down jerseys.
The lesson: Defense attorneys often walk away with a healthy chunk of their client's illegal earnings. While people who work outside the courts often find this distasteful, legal professionals either make peace with this or move on.
Making peace with the system isn't easy. A municipal courtroom is a high-stress environment, where tears are regularly shed, yet Perri seems to create his own charmed circle.
Court employees are often unable to speak for the record, but several confirm the smiles they reserve for him aren't based upon his family's history.
Fred Perri is, in fact, a special attorney.
Some defense attorneys will take one look at a losing case and earn their fee by filing for continuances, failing to show up for court dates or claiming nonexistent scheduling conflicts to keep a client out of jail for an extra three months, six months, even a year or more.
Perri calls this hiding in the stairwell, and he won't do it. He'll work within the system, but he won't clog it up. This marks a defense attorney as ethical among his peers, so when he actually does need a continuance, he gets it.
Further, some defense attorneys lord their money and status over the politically appointed court staff. But Perri knows many of them personally and asks about their families. The result is that an attorney like Perri is not only accepted within this system but also nurtured and embraced.
The Virtues of a Criminal Mind
Next lesson: If the prosecution's case implies your client should be included in a media roundup of stupid criminals, make it work in your favor.
In the Aquil Bond trial, for instance, a patrolman named David Bickel testifies that after Steven Smith was murdered, he received information on his police radio to look for a green SUV.
About 45 minutes later he drove through West Philly and spotted Bond in a green SUV pointed in the other direction. "I did a U-turn," the officer testifies, "but by the time we got back, he was gone."
Perri cross-examines this officer enthusiastically because his story doesn't add up. "So you're saying this guy shoots someone, and then 45 minutes later he's sitting in the same car he drove up and did the murder in? He's sitting in that same car two blocks away?"
"Yes," replies Bickel calmly.
"Oh," says Perri, sarcasm creeping into his voice.
Perri works this technique consistently, to great effect. In Beanie Sigel's attempted murder trial, part of the prosecution's case had Sigel hanging out and smoking weed with some unemployed mopes from the neighborhood. "You're saying he was gonna come back and smoke pot with you?" Perri asked the disheveled witness, pointing at Sigel in one of his custom-built suits.
Perri evinces a kind of shock at moments like these, but the prosecution's evidence was stronger than he'd allowed. Sigel might very well have smoked pot with someone less accomplished or well dressed. As the rapper likes to say in interviews, fame didn't change him.
In the same "illogical" way, a drug dealer--maybe even Aquil Bond--might hang around just two blocks from a murder he committed. After all, that's his territory, and he believes the entire neighborhood is too afraid to testify against him.
To a juror, though, the criminal mind will often seem highly illogical--and therefore improbable. Take this opening and run through it. You're a defense attorney, and you can make the disconnect between criminal and law-abiding minds work for you.
Know When to Fold 'Em
The biggest open secret during the Aquil Bond trial is that the prosecution wanted to strike a deal with the accused, allegedly a high-level leader in a particularly violent West Philadelphia drug gang. Perri advised him to take it.
The 26-year-old Bond is facing three open homicide cases, all of which are death-penalty eligible. If the charges against him are true, Bond pumped four bullets into 17-year-old Steven Smith in a dispute over drug territory. He participated in the shooting death of another man. And in a third case he kidnapped and tortured a victim before shooting them in the head.
"We're willing to go 20 to 35," said assistant district attorney Ed Cameron, as jury selection dragged into day two. There was no one in the room at the time except the attorneys, a couple of court officers and a newspaper reporter.
"For the three?" replied Perri.
"Yeah, 20 to 35."
In popular imagination, defense attorneys like Perri are often envisioned as the enemy while the prosecution is comprised of avenging angels. The district attorney's office perpetuates this image, often declaring that they represent the victim. But in this case, as June Smith hoped for a guilty verdict and a death sentence, the DA's office plotted to disappoint her.
The criminal justice system thrives on precisely this kind of uneasy compromise--and within that context this deal makes sense for everyone but June Smith.
If the prosecution won Bond's cooperation, he could supply evidence to solve further murders--not to mention the money and time saved by avoiding three capital murder trials. Bond himself--if he's guilty of even half of the accusations against him--may never get another opportunity like this.
Plead to three bodies, cooperate in further police investigations, dodge death row and emerge on the streets again 20 years hence: a middle-aged man, scarred and with limited options--yet free and alive.
Understand Your Client's Family
As Fred Perri steps inside one of the private rooms where prisoners often confer with their attorneys and family, he finds Bond and his sister Kia Barmont already there.
"What's the problem?" she hollers at him. "Why won't you fight for him? You need more money? Is that it? I'll get you more money if that's what this is about!"
Perri quickly shuts the door.
He's heard this accusation before. Suggest a client accept a deal and they question your loyalties.
After a few minutes the door opens again and Barmont leaves the room. She's young and well put-together, with eyeglasses and her hair up in a ponytail.
Until now she wasn't aware that three homicide charges had been lodged against her brother, and she clearly needs time to process the information. After a few minutes Perri also emerges from the conference room and they continue their conversation at the end of a public hallway.
Perri and Barmont talk more calmly this time. "Do I think he can win this case?" asks Perri. "Anything can happen, but I don't think he has a winning case."
"He's a grown man," she says. "I can't tell him what to do."
"I can't tell him what to do, either," says Perri. "I can advise him. I've talked to him about this for months. I've given him my opinion, and from the moment I took this case I haven't changed my opinion."
He brings her up to speed: One of Bond's partners already pleaded guilty as a co-conspirator and is going to turn evidence against him. So is another partner not charged in the Smith murder.
"The jury will be told of flight evidence," says Perri. "That flight on the part of the defendant can be an indication of knowledge of guilt. It's going to be layer upon layer upon layer of evidence--until he's knocked out of the box. Twenty years ago I might have said, 'Let's fight,' but now, with my experience, I know it's gonna be layer upon layer."
Perri goes on to explain Bond's obligations under a plea agreement.
"Cooperation?" she asks. "So they expect information from him? I don't trust them--I don't trust them as far as I can throw them."
"You've got to be adults about this," Perri replies. "That's the way it works."
"Okay," says Barmont. "I hear you. But they say, 'Aquil Bond is so bad, he did three murders.' Why do a deal?"
"I don't understand," says Perri.
"If Aquil is so bad, he did three murders--why would they make him a deal at all? Are their cases really that strong?"
Perri stares down at the floor, his hands on his hips.
"I told you how I feel," he says.
Later, in an interview, Kia Barmont will say she doesn't recognize the Aquil Bond presented by the prosecution.
"That's not the man I know," she says. "The man I know is my little brother, who is loving and caring and has always been respectful of me. I don't know this murderer they're talking about."
Another lesson: Whether a client is innocent or guilty, there are victims on both sides of the courtroom. <</p>
Look Over Your Shoulder
Understand that the people sitting behind your client might be there to keep him from taking your advice.
In the case of Aquil Bond, the deal is still on the table and he still isn't buying.
At one point during jury selection, Bond looks over his shoulder and sees two young men sitting on his side of the courtroom. Eyeing them, he uses his fingers to trace a path down his left cheek--slowly, deliberately, over his tattooed tears.
The men don't react, and Bond stares at them for a few seconds, his brow furrowed. Again, he traces the same path down his face. Again, neither man responds.
Bond turns away from the men and faces straight ahead. No one seems to have noticed what looks like an attempt at communication. But during a short break between potential jurors Bond leans over and whispers in his attorney's ear. Afterward Perri walks to the back of the courtroom and addresses the two men in the gallery: "Do you guys have anything to do with this case?"
The men look up at him blankly and offer no response. Perri's not a big man, and his expression is usually friendly, but when he frowns he has the pug nose and glowering countenance of a boxer. "I asked," he says, leaning in toward them darkly, "do you two have anything to do with this case that's on trial right now?"
"No," says the leaner man.
The big guy looks away.
Perri then speaks to a court officer, who speaks to a sheriff's deputy. Seeing this, the men leave a few minutes later. If they were here to deliver a message, it was received.
Balance Work and Home
Unless you're married to another defense attorney, keep home and work life separate.
That's how Fred Perri handles it. Inside the courtroom Fred Perri's actions are accepted--even applauded--but home is another story.
This past summer Perri's 12-year-old daughter asked him how he can defend his clients. The query both troubled and pleased him. "If she's wondering about that," he says, "I'm glad she came to me and asked."
He took his time responding and led her through the tenets of the justice system--the right to a fair trial and competent legal representation.
"I understand," she said. "But why does it have to be you representing them?"
Perri explained that it's not his clients he's defending, but the system itself. "If anyone can be convicted without appropriate evidence," he told her, "then anyone can be convicted--even if they're innocent."
Perri believes he satisfied her concerns. She hasn't raised the topic again.
He has a similar kind of understanding with his wife, Lisa, who showed up at his Center City office one day to see if he was free for lunch. His secretary said he was in court, and Lisa had never seen him work, so she walked the few blocks over to the Criminal Justice Center.
Lisa Perri watched her husband cross-examine a police officer and deliver his closing argument. Afterward the only thing she said was, "I can see why you need time to decompress when you come home."
She hasn't been back.
Sometimes he gets calls at home from clients. His end of the conversation can range from the innocuous--scheduling meetings--to the profane: Did you shoot him?
His wife leaves the room for these conversations, shaking her head.
If he's visiting clients in jail, his workday doesn't end until 8 or 9 p.m. When he gets home, he exchanges his immaculate suits for jeans and a T-shirt. He takes a little time to himself, just 15 minutes, to sit and let the day roll off him like droplets of water. Weekends are his. He attends all his kids' sporting events, yet by noon on Sunday he's already preparing for Monday: What courtroom does he need to be in? Who's the judge? What are the arguments?
Sometimes the level of Fred Perri's stress shows, interrupting his normally placid demeanor like a river snake creasing the water. Often, when telling courtroom stories, he hits upon disturbing facts and bursts into gallows laughter. Speaking of Jamal Ali, a man he got an acquittal in a shooting that left the female victim a quadriplegic, he says, "That was an awful, awful case," and erupts, his laughter rising quickly before he can stifle it.
He can either laugh or cry. As a defense attorney, his profession demands he represent his client to his best ability. A defendant can petition for a new trial based on ineffective counsel, so deferring to the prosecution is not an option.
Understand the Game
Lesson: Even if your client is guilty, a stone-cold killer, he may be no worse than the people testifying against him. This is particularly true if you're trying a drug-related case.
The case prosecutor Ed Cameron builds is simple: Aquil Bond is a drug dealer who wanted the same West Philadelphia block where Steven Smith sold drugs.
Bond and an accomplice drove up to 46th and Ogden in West Philadelphia and asked Smith to get out of the car where he sat with his girlfriend. "I want this block," Bond told him. "You better not be here when we get back."
Minutes later he drove back and got out of the same green Ford Explorer with a gun in his hand. He flung open the car door and pulled Smith onto the street. Smith's girlfriend, Tasha Perrin, ran away, while Bond and a second accomplice pushed Smith into a nearby alley. There, Bond shot him four times. The first two shots spun Smith around. The second two entered the young man's back and destroyed vital organs.
Now, look through Fred Perri's eyes for a moment and see the people lined up against Aquil Bond.
Lonnie Johnson is the first confirmed killer to testify.
His lower lip juts out as if swollen by a right hook. He stares around the room sullenly and mumbles his testimony in a patois of street talk and speech impediment.
Johnson, 20, pleaded guilty to conspiring to kill Steven Smith and to two counts of dealing crack cocaine. In return he'll receive a maximum 20-to-40-year sentence and cooperate with police in other investigations. He's agreed to testify that Aquil Bond pulled the trigger on Steven Smith.
The other killer, Vincent Smithwick, wears his yellow prison jumpsuit like a king wears his robe, reclining in his seat and angling his head forward so he appears to be looking out from under his eyebrows--a man hiding in plain sight. He smiles slyly as he talks and tries to hide his grin by cupping his palm over his mouth.
He is what killers are thought to look like, and he sends a chill through the room when he objects to Perri typifying some of his exploits as "shootings."
"No," he says, in a wounded tone. "They wasn't shootings."
"No?" says Perri. "What were they?"
"Homicides," replies Smithwick. "We knew what we was gonna do. Headshots."
Like an urban Hannibal Lecter, a cartoon of evil, he even drags out the "S" in "Headshotsss."
Together, the picture Smithwick and Johnson paint is one of rough street justice--the price of playing the game. If you're a defense attorney, the game and all its incestuous relationships act as a kind of all-purpose cleanser for your client.
Try Tasha Perrin.
She was Smith's girlfriend when he got shot, but she was Vincent Smithwick's girlfriend before that. She failed to appear for a couple of preliminary hearings in the case. The prosecution chalks her behavior up to fright. Perri makes a different argument.
Smithwick testifies that Perrin, minutes before the murder, told him who was "making the money on the block"--street longhand for who was dealing drugs. That's right: According to the evil Smithwick, it was pretty, blameless Tasha Perrin who fingered Steven Smith.
And the other innocent witness? Jowana Moore testifies she was Aquil Bond's girlfriend. Bond, she says, called and asked her to stash Perrin at her house to keep her from testifying at a preliminary hearing. That's tough evidence to counter, but Moore is also Smithwick's sister.
So how do you play this?
Just like Fred Perri in his closing argument to the jury:
"If they want to bargain with the devil, they can do that. But sometimes when you bargain with the devil, sometimes what happens is you lose your soul. So let's talk about the prosecution's witnesses. Here's who they gave you: Vincent Smithwick, Lonnie Johnson, Tasha Perrin and Jowana Moore. Murderer. Murderer. Murderer's girlfriend. Murderer's sister."
Reasonable doubt, he continues, is any concern that might make a reasonable person pause before making a big decision. "If you opened the front door," says Perri, his face glowering over the injustice being perpetrated, "to a home for sale, and found that Vincent Smithwick, Lonnie Johnson and Tasha Perrin were inside trying to sell you that house, would you buy a house from them? Would you? That's what the prosecution is asking you to do."
Be Prepared for Any Outcome
To prepare yourself, know this: The Aquil Bond trial will end in a mistrial. I hate to blow the ending, but the jury will finally deadlock 11-1 for guilty.
Perri, who dubbed the prosecution's case "overwhelming," will consider the outcome a victory. But for Bond, it's probably bad news.
He apparently has the money to hire Perri just this once.
He has a court-appointed attorney in his other murder trials. And when this jury hangs, he'll probably need a court-appointed attorney in the Smith case too.
Fred Perri will walk out of courtroom 1107 and most likely leave this particular situation behind forever. But for June Smith and Aquil Bond it will go on and on.
Lesson: You have to prepare for such an ending.
How would you make your exit?
Your Fans, Part II
Most days Fred Perri can barely walk down the hallway in the Criminal Justice Center without someone wanting to touch the hem of his garment.
Today, as Perri boards an elevator, a court officer in a wrinkled white button-down shirt, yellowing with age, leans in and touches him on the shoulder--preventing the doors from closing. "You were on Stern!" the man shouts, though Perri is right in front of him. "Stern couldn't stop talking about you!"
Perri shuts his eyes and groans. "Thanks," he says, his eyes still closed.
"He was saying, 'McMonagle, Perri, McHugh!'" the man shouts again, referring to the firm in which Perri is a partner. "The best! That's what he called you!"
A week earlier the firm had taken on a gate crasher who had blipped onto the pop culture radar by interrupting the then-recent Video Music Awards, so Stern is talking them up.
"Thanks," says Perri again. "Thank you!"
The elevator is full, as usual, but the man doesn't leave, and the situation goes from awkward to embarrassing. People seem to touch Fred Perri reflexively--lifting a hand to his shoulder or elbow as they talk. The act seems not unrelated to touching a fertility idol--a means of absorbing energy or basking in the glow of success. Perri, though, often seems embarrassed by the attention, and when this man lingers in the elevator doorway, he flushes a crimson red and smiles stiffly in return, his face a mask of teeth.
The two of them stand there a moment more, grinning at each other, until the man mercifully withdraws. His voice, though, can still be heard emanating through the elevator doors as they shut.
"McMonagle, Perri, McHugh!" he hollers. "The best!"
Courthouse hallways are filled with these kinds of impromptu encounters, life here an unending procession of tense moments interrupted by laughter.
As he waits for a conclusion in the Aquil Bond trial, Perri kills time joking with Reggie Graham and Tom Liciardello, two undercover narcotics police sharing courtroom stories.
Perri tells them about Vincent Smithwick.
"Headshotsss," says Perri, dragging out the "S" like the killer did.
In response Liciardello shares a story of his own about a witness from prison who proudly testified, "I'm a hustler. I sell drugs. I steal and I shoot people."
At this the trio bursts into laughter.
"Headshotsss," says Perri.
"I'm a hustler," replies Liciardello.
Yes, Perri is a mack daddy even among the cops whose work he tries to subvert.
"He is a class act," says Police Lt. Mike Chitwood, who has been cross-examined by Perri in the past. "He gets along with the police because some defense attorneys try and imply some kind of corruption. They yell, they point fingers, they humiliate people. Fred asks the questions and moves on. There's none of that bullshit. He treats everyone with respect."
Besides, says Chitwood, some cops might joke around with Perri just because they know they might need him to represent them someday. "If I ever need a defense attorney for me or my family," says Chitwood, "I might hire Fred."
On the last day of jury deliberations, prosecutor Ed Cameron approaches June Smith and tells her: "We're probably going to get a hung jury."
"That just means we'll do it again," he says.
"'We've been deadlocked 11-1 since yesterday afternoon,'" the judge reads aloud from a note the jury sent her.
It's the death knell for a death penalty on Aquil Bond.
Fred Perri created enough reasonable doubt in one person's mind that this whole thing is drifting toward a hung jury. But the judge sends the jury back to make one last push, and all that's left to do is look for distractions until the inevitable ending.
At one point Perri's partner and best friend, Brian McMonagle, walks in to see how things are going. Perri may be a hot defense attorney, but many consider McMonagle the best working in Philadelphia today.
"Hey," says Cameron when he sees him. "It's about time you got here. Fred could use your help."
"Brian is four years older than me," says Perri one day, remarking upon the stress of his job. "I figure that means once he cracks, I've got four more years."
This idea of treating his best friend like his canary in the coal mine isn't just a joke. McMonagle says that if he could find another job that would pay the same money tomorrow, he'd take it. "You get a family," he says, "and you get used to a certain lifestyle. You get bills to pay."
Perri says the same thing. And like McMonagle, he sometimes thinks about the end. "But if I started putting time limits on it," he says, "if I started saying, 'I'll do this for five more years, or 10,' I might start looking forward to the end too much. I wouldn't be able to do this job anymore."
Maybe someday, he says, he'll run for a judgeship. But for now he's a defense attorney, and as the end of this trial nears he starts out of the courtroom and stops midstride to stare for a few moments at June Smith.
He doesn't know this, but in a few days she'll visit the scene of her son's death for the first time. She'll finger the white-and-blue strings that people used to tie balloons to the tree near the spot where he fell.
"Kids brought stuffed animals," she'll say. "And teddy bears. But after a while they came and took them away."
She'll hold no grudge against Perri. "I know he's doing his job," she'll say. "But if I could say one thing to him, I'd tell him: 'You know you are sitting next to a criminal. You know it.'"
So have you thought about it?
If you were a defense attorney, how would you make your exit?
You might consider leaving the way Fred Perri does, a few minutes after Judge Sheila Wood-Skipper receives another note from the jury.
"'We are hopelessly deadlocked,'" she reads.
The jurors are dismissed.
The gallery empties.
The prosecutor, his arms folded across his chest, looks over at Fred Perri and smiles. In return, Perri grins mischievously. He lifts the right flap of his suit jacket over his head and feigns embarrassment, like a bad guy hiding from the television cameras. And just like that, with his suit covering his smiling face, he walks out the door.
Steve Volk (firstname.lastname@example.org) last wrote about increasing pressure on reporters to reveal their sources in court.