I arrived in Northern Kentucky in June of 1969, a new lawyer, full of enthusiasm to learn the ropes of becoming a trial lawyer. I did well in criminal law and trial courses in law school, served a year with the Chief Justice of the Court of Appeals (now the Supreme Court of Kentucky). My Judge, Morris Montgomery, said that the only way to get to try enough cases was to become a prosecutor in Circuit Court. I found out about an opening that brought me to Newport, Campbell County, Kentucky. I was offered the chance to assist in a murder case by my boss, Frank Benton, the Commonwealth Attorney. My first trial was going to be a murder case! I’m pretty sure no other lawyer can say that.
Janet Finley Murder Trial
In June of 1969 I reported for duty all dressed in my new suit in the wonderful old 1885 Campbell County court house, replete with stained glass windows, marble and tile floors and walls. The halls even had spittoons. The facts of the case were not in dispute, Janet had waited for her abusive and drunken husband to pass out in bed. She had sent her small children to a babysitter, loaded her husband’s gun, shot her sleeping husband with a single shot to the heart. He regained consiousness long enough to look her in the eyes and say “You killed me Janet”. Which in fact she had just done.
I was certain this would be a clear cut case with a speedy verdict of guilty. It turned out that I was half right. The jury would surely realize that unwanted sexual demands and pouring a pitcher of beer on her head would never justify cold blooded calculated premeditated murder. I was wrong. When I shared my thoughts with Frank he chuckled at my naiveté and said “Bob we don’t stand a chance to get a conviction”. How could I get it so wrong? Law school didn’t prepare me for this. What had I forgotten?
What I had to learn about trying a case is that there are always two sides to every trial. Even if you know everything about your side of the case, you are only half prepared. I also learned that lawyers do make a difference. If we didn’t I wouldn’t want to be one. Dan Davies had read for the law, became a lawyer in 1916, before there was a state bar association. He never attended college, but he was the best criminal lawyer in Northern Kentucky. He was known as a mob lawyer, they certainly needed good lawyers. His reputation was above reproach among his peers. Dan Davies won this case; we didn’t lose it. How did it happen? More to follow . . .