Monday, November 7, 2011

A master and his craft

The other day I was stuck in the Harris County Criminal (In)justice Center a bit longer than anticipated. There was a trial going on in the 232nd - a young man was charged with murdering another young man. The young man was convicted. The punishment hearing happened to be going on the day I was in there.

The young man was represented by my esteemed colleague, Tyrone Moncriffe. I've seen Mr. Moncriffe give a couple of presentations at CLE seminars I've attended over the years. I hadn't, however, had the opportunity to watch him in person. What I saw amazed me.

His closing argument was eloquent. He stood before the jury and told them that he felt he had let his client down. He told the jury that he wasn't mad at them for their verdict - he was mad at himself. He also told the jury that he was afraid of them.

He pointed out that his client had no criminal history and that no one who took the witness stand had anything bad to say about him. He told the jury that what happened that night was out of character and he asked them to keep that in mind when they retired to the jury room.

He told the jury that they didn't know his client. They only saw him a few hours a day sitting at counsel table. He told them that he sat beside his client. He had met with his client's family and friends. He pointed out that once the jurors had rendered their decision that they could walk away from the case and forget all about it. But, the one thing that would stay with them was their decision.

It was a very powerful close. He never once raised his voice. He expressed his sorrow for the victim's family.

But, more than that, he expressed the feelings that all of us in the defense bar experience. There are few things harder than standing beside your client and hearing a jury declare him guilty.

Mr. Moncriffe's client was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

That's ten years of asking yourself if there was anything else you could have done.


I spoke with Mr. Moncriffe this morning about his close and he told me the last offer from the prosecutor was 45 years. I would consider that a good outcome.

1 comment:

Norm Pattis said...


Great story about a great lawyer. Can you write an idiot's version of Texas jurors' role in sentencing? I practice in Connecticut, where jurors have no role. I lost a young-man-murder case this year. When one juror later learned my client pulled 45 years, a light sentence for murder after a verdict in Connecticut, she was outraged. I'd like to know more about how Texas handles sentencing to press for reform here.