Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Bannon and Cooney Visit LieStoppers

LieStoppers' Blog Hooligans were treated to a pleasant surprise this weekend as Nifong/Mangum Hoax defense attorneys Brad Bannon and Jim Cooney visited the LS Forum on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon. Offering LS Forum members a behind the scenes glimpse into the defense of the victims of the Hoax, Cooney and Bannon graciously thanked the Blog Hooligans for their efforts and shared insight into the value provided by the research and support of the Blog Hooligans for both the defense team and the families of the Hoax victims. The two Heroes of the Hoax also provided an explanation for some of the defense strategies employed while giving a first person account of the discovery of the Nifong/Meehan conspiracy to hide exonerating DNA evidence.

Jim Cooney:
This is my first post (for obvious reasons). I now feel free to post and discuss certain aspects since this case has now come to an end and cannot think of a better thread on which to reply (other than one thanking the blog hooligans on this Board for their posts, ideas and debates over the past many months; all of which I have followed on a daily basis).

Brad Bannon is one of the great heroes of this case. The defense was not tipped off to the DNA and we were not tipped off to Brian Meehan being offered up for examination on December 15th. The DNA information was discovered for one reason only: Brad Bannon literally locked himself in a room with 2,000 pages of laboratory data and reviewed every single page until he understood it. On December 15th, when Nifong offered up Meehan, I think that he never believed that we would take him up on it because he knew that we had not prepared for it. We went forward on the fly with no preparation and led with Brad. In my opinion, his performance was one of the most remarkable things that I have witnessed in a courtroom in my 25 years as a trial lawyer. His performance broke Meehan, exposed Nifong's actions to the world, led to the Bar intervening with ethics charges and, ultimately Nifong's recusal.

In short, he won the case that day.
Jim Cooney:
Be happy to address some questions (though cannot address all for obvious reasons).

As criminal cases go, particularly for serious cases, this was not exceptionally long (though it was way too long for innocent men). The length, at least until the end of 2006, was somewhat critical to the outcome - - remember, we did not get the DNA data until October 27 and then it took some time to review and analyze. A quicker paced schedule would have made the DNA analysis very difficult to perform along with all of the other things that needed to be done to prepare for trial. While no one was particularly happy with the time the case took to be resolved, a great deal of it was a calculated strategy designed to squeeze all of the information that we could out of Nifong before having hearings on the critical motions; otherwise we felt that he would wait until the last possible second to do document dumps on us and prevent us from adequately analyzing the evidence.

The only thing that I clearly remember about trial skills was that, while Brad was carving up Meehan, I kept thinking that I hope he leaves some for me, because this is really going to be fun.

Finally, all of the moves and results were, ultimately, the product of a group of attorneys who passionately believed in the innocence of these young men and who were willing to check their egos at the door: Wade, Joe, Doug, Brad, Buddy, Bill and, missed most of all, Kirk. I was honored to be associated with them all.
Brad Bannon:
First, thanks to all of you people out here on the internet who have monitored and pushed this quest for truth & justice. Second, I have to figure out a way to get my Mom to the Liestoppers board. After seeing Joe Cheshire's comments about her son on national television at the Wednesday press conference, I am not sure she could survive reading Jim Cooney's comments and the comments of all of you blog hooligans about me.

Jim's right: I didn't know that Dr. Meehan was going to be there for testimony that day, and I was unprepared to question him. But I had spent a good bit of time analyzing the materials, and I'd had the recent fortune of studying how Jim used scientific evidence & expert testimony to free Alan Gell from death row with Joe Cheshire & Mary Pollard. So while much has been made of my work in uncovering the exculpatory DNA, and then doing the contemporaneous cross-examination of Dr. Meehan that confirmed that existence of that evidence & revealed the agreement with Mike Nifong to withhold it, Jim is to blame for it in a derivative sense, in much the same way that Joe is. They are great trial lawyers (that should not be a bad word), and I have learned a lot from both of them. And no one should forget what happened at the end of my questioning of Dr. Meehan: Jim engaged in a rapid fire series of precision hits that crystallized all of the issues and literally elicited applause from the people in the courtroom.

That was a great day for all of us: the Evans & Seligmann & Finnerty families, the 2006 Duke University Men's lacrosse team, and the team of lawyers--none more important than the other--who had worked tirelessly for 9 months to get to the truth.

But man, it was nothing compared to Wednesday.
Jim Cooney:
Thanks for the many kind notes and thoughts. They are appreciated but I also want to make clear that I was a member of a great team and that this result was of a number of great lawyers. I am happy to answer many of these questions, but please do not interpret these answers as any attempt to take credit for what was a joint effort by attorneys that I am humbled to be associated with.

First, the most important answer: Yes, Brad is single and he is taking applications.

Second, we did believe that we were going to prevail at the February 5th hearing. Through the efforts of Doug Kingsbery, we had the leading experts in the country prepared to testify about the "pin the tail on the donkey" line-up created by Nifong. Our hand was strengthened when Linwood Wilson, during the course of the December 21st "interview" with Precious, showed her the same line-up again (apparently so that she could learn their names).

While we would have all welcomed a dismissal at the 2/5 hearing, it would not have been an exoneration. Those who wanted to believe Precious would have claimed that the case was dismissed on a technicality created by high-priced lawyers. Consequently, when Nifong removed himself from the case and turned it over to the AG, we made a considered (and roundly criticized) decision to agree to a lengthy delay until May 7th. We did so because we believed that honest prosecutors, after examining this evidence and what we were able to provide to them, would not only dismiss the case but would do so in terms that would make it clear that our boys were innocent. This was obviously a calculated risk, but ultimately we were confident in the innocence of our clients, in the strength of our evidence, and in the integrity of Jim Coman and Mary Winstead.

By the end of the Special Prosecutors' investigation, we had no more secrets - - they literally had seen every piece of evidence that we had and they knew what a trial would look like. Some of this evidence is under seal and cannot be discussed; much of it is still not known to the public. However, I think it is fair to say that our case was even stronger than what the public knew. We made the decision to share not only everything that we were required to share, but to share everything that we had because we wanted to achieve not just a dismissal, but an exoneration. While there was risk to this, in the end no matter what happened the basic fact was not going to change: these boys were innocent.

Bill Anderson, however, has made an excellent point - - there was nothing inevitable about this result. At any point in the process, this case could have taken a different turn or twist and we could have easily found ourselves trying it in a courtroom. While I firmly believe that we would have mopped the floor with Nifong (or anyone else crazy enough to try this case), anytime a case goes to a jury there is risk. Even a hung jury would have been devastating to these young men - - we simply made the gamble that we needed to go for more than dismissal, we needed exoneration.

Fortunately, we were dealing with tough,fair and principled prosecutors in the AG's office. As Wade Smith said so brilliantly, Roy Cooper, Jim Coman and Mary Winstead are everything that Mike Nifong is not. While there was considerable angst in the blogosphere, we had confidence in their integrity.

The defense teams kept in constant real time communication. We had an email network set up and Brad and I talked with each other several times a day, seven days per week. Indeed, my wife, who has never met Brad, sees him as competition for my affection. Shortly after I joined the team, we had a 2 day retreat in which we "war gamed" the case and ultimately designed the "end game" strategy that played itself out in our filings in December and January. Each person to the team brought a different strength and we had remarkable leadership.

This said, there is one member of the team that has gone unmentioned: you Blog Hooligans. I reviewed the Boards everyday not only for the latest commentary, but also because you did an excellent job of rounding up the media reports (which saved me time) and for the analysis that I saw play out. Many of the posts and observations were critical as I drafted the Motion for Change of Venue; the hyperlinks to original source material helped me reconstruct the incredibly inflammatory coverage of this case as well as the many cowardly acts that were taken against these young men that are detailed in the Motion.

One incident in particular stands out. In January, we filed a Supplement to the Motion to Suppress dealing with Precious' December 21st statement to Linwood Wilson. In it, she claimed that the picture that showed her at the house after 1230 am, was in fact a picture of her going into the house. In the Motion we held back on 2 facts that proved this was not true. The first was that the picture actually shows her holding Dave Evans' shaving kit; a fact not publicly known (at least until now). The second was that the picture taken just before it, shows her with one shoe. Brad and I knew that Nifong and Wilson had missed this and that we could use it at the hearing to show what a liar Precious was. However, not 12 hours after filing the Motion, someone on this Board had posted the picture and pointed out that she was only wearing one shoe. I remember thinking "Damn, these guys are good."

In the end, the central fact of this case was that our boys were, and always will be, innocent. No matter how much Nifong smirked about his evidence, or how much Linwood Wilson tried to intimidate witnesses or change Precious' stories, they could not change that single fact. We always knew that there was no smoking gun because there was no crime; anything they came up with was destined to be wrong and untrue. This was a huge comfort as we went through this case. To paraphrase Dave Evans, they were as innocent on every day of this prosecution as they were on the first and last days.

Finally, the Seligmanns, and particularly Kathy, read this blog regularly and have appreciated the support and outrage that has been shown. During a difficult time for them, they found a great deal of comfort from the comments on this Board.

PS - - Joe Cheshire really liked Tony Soprano's videos.
Brad Bannon:
As Jim notes, the defense team (mostly Jim) did monitor internet blogs, message boards, and commentators. I visited a number of such boards & blogs, but not all of them, and not on a daily basis like Jim did. I was heartened by the people (KC Johnson and the Liestoppers foremost, and many others who regularly post on this board) who gave thoughtful analysis & commentary about the case. I was heartened by the genuine support of people all over the place for the Evans & Finnerty & Seligmann families, as well as the pursuit of justice & truth. That support also brought a great deal of comfort to the families in an otherwise very difficult time. And, as a person who tends to migrate toward the underdog & the outsider, I was pleasantly amazed by the dedicated work of people outside the mainstream media--who had no funding or agenda to push--but who put countless hours into the exposure & destruction of this hoax.

Regarding the claim that the language of DNA Security’s May 12 report gave us notice of the exculpatory results we ultimately had to fight for and identify over the next seven months, that is preposterous & indefensible. Dr. Meehan himself acknowledged the inappropriate use of that language in a letter to the defense lawyers in January.

Regarding questions of defense team legal strategy, I can assure you that, however people out there may attempt to demonize “trial lawyers,” Dave, Collin, and Reade were represented by people who were driven for one year by the absolute belief in their innocence and the desire to exonerate them and expose the truth about this wrongful prosecution. We started by trying to have civil & professional conversations with Mike Nifong and to share evidence of innocence with him. When he chose to remove the forum from that appropriate place (the courthouse) to the place where he had so many willing aiders & abettors (the courthouse steps), we used every other method available under our laws & ethical rules. If that meant filing motions that began to tear down the wall of lies, that’s what we did. If that meant fighting in court for the evidence we were entitled to, that’s what we did. If that meant challenging the credibility & propriety of investigative & prosecutorial actions, that’s what we did. If that meant fighting back against Mike Nifong’s reckless & misleading public comments, that’s what we did. If that meant correcting media accounts that were driven by agenda rather than truth, that’s what we did.

And contrary to many media accounts, we were not acting under the guidance of any high-powered PR firms or media consultants. As someone who has worked with him for 10 years, I can assure you that no one needs to tell Joe Cheshire what to say, and he did not need PR firms or media consultants to go out there on March 30, 2006--when the lacrosse players were being pilloried as a “Blue Wall” of racist rapist hooligans--and begin the push-back against the public & prosecutorial condemnation of them. Nor did he and Dave Evans need anyone to tell them what to say, how to say it, or whether to say it on May 15, 2006, after Dave was indicted and when he had the courage to let everyone know that they had all been told some fantastic lies.

As Joe mentioned at the press conference on Wednesday, each person on the defense team played an indispensable role. But whatever our individual roles, we performed them in collective service to the truth and for the sake of all of our clients, not just one. Collin, Reade, Dave, and their families always stood united against this injustice, and so did their lawyers. It was a team in the greatest sense, no one player more or less important than the other, and I am eternally grateful and proud of the fact that I was on that team.

But no matter how hard we all worked for the right result, it could not have happened in this case without Special Prosecutors Jim Coman and Mary Winstead, their investigators, and Attorney General Roy Cooper. With Jim and Mary in the lead, they approached this case with an open mind and looked for one thing: the truth. Thankfully and finally, through their diligent & professional efforts, the State of North Carolina let the truth prevail on Wednesday.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

what high grade bs.

at least these pompous asses are up front on their strategy:

get Nifong
avoid a trial at all costs
expose even sealed info in motions despite the gag order
fight the case entirely in the media