Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Crockefeller, His Lawyer, and the Media

As I previously stated here right after "Clark Rockefeller" was arrested, there's got to be more to the weird story of Crockefeller and Snooks, and we're bound to hear more soon. Well we have now heard quite a bit more, and even some from Crockefeller's own lawyer.

The Boston Globe had an article in today's paper, Lone defender savors high-profile case - by Jonathan Saltzman, about Crockefeller and his lawyer, Stephen Hrones, who has taken his case to the press with a vengeance. This is precisely the kind of case in which going to the press is necessary, as the case is going to be tried in the media initially anyway, and something from the defendant needs to be heard.

But the article discusses speculation and second guessing by other lawyers about the lawyer's tactics, particularly Hrones' decision to reveal some rather uncomfortable facts about his client's past. I wouldn't second guess this very experienced, and very effective attorney's decisions. It is hard for any of us to know whether Crockefeller's attorney is making the right moves or not, because we don't know what he knows from his own client.

But there are some beliefs I have about the case as a result of what he is doing. Given the way that Crockefeller's attorney is handling this case, and divulging information, I would assume that there is too much bad news and he has a huge, huge need for damage control. It's akin to bringing out some very inconvenient truths by your witness on direct to take out some of the sting of cross examination.

"I'm going to enjoy the ride as long as it goes," said Hrones, who characterizes the case as the climax of his career. "But I'm protecting my client. He goes first."

But whether Hrones is helping his client or hurting him through news interviews is a matter of debate in Boston legal circles.

Damon Scarano, a lawyer who has known Hrones for years, said Hrones has humanized his client by sharing what Rockefeller says he remembers about his past. Hrones has told reporters that Rockefeller speaks German but does not remember growing up in Germany. Rockefeller also remembers "bits and pieces" of his childhood, a Scottish nanny and a visit to Mount Rushmore in a station wagon, for example, Hrones said.

"I think he's handling it very well," Scarano said of Hrones. "He's been very low-key on this. Usually, he's very hyper."

But other lawyers say privately that Hrones may have hurt his client by telling reporters Monday that Rockefeller recalls living in a guesthouse in San Marino, Calif., that he rented from John and Linda Sohus, a young couple, and John's mother, Didi, in the early 1980s. Hrones said Rockefeller also recalls when John and Linda Sohus went missing in 1985. The remains of a man believed to be John Sohus were found on the couple's property in 1994, and his wife has never been found. Both are presumed dead, authorities say.

The alleged admission by Hrones, said some lawyers, may have put his client at the scene of a homicide.

Hrones has also confirmed Rockefeller's use of aliases, saying there is nothing wrong with using another name if one does not commit fraud. "You members of the press, you could call yourselves Joe Blow or anything, and it'd be no crime," he told reporters Monday evening.

As it happens, Hrones said, he met Rockefeller several weeks ago, before the alleged kidnapping. A mutual friend whom Hrones declined to identify introduced the lawyer to Rockefeller in Boston. After Rockefeller was arrested Aug. 2 in Baltimore and his daughter, Reigh Storrow Mills Boss, was found unharmed, Rockefeller called his friend and asked him to get in touch with Hrones.

Hrones, a Harvard-educated son of an MIT professor, has long had a deep distrust of authority and sympathy for people in trouble. In the 1960s, he protested the Vietnam War outside the Pentagon. In recent years, he has denounced the Boston Police Department for several wrongful convictions.

His successes included a 2004 ruling that erased the conviction of Angel S. Toro, who was sentenced to life in prison for killing a Howard Johnson's clerk in Dorchester during a 1981 holdup. Toro is still serving a sentence of three years to life for an unrelated murder conviction in Florida.

"I had about 14 attorneys since he was arrested, and without a doubt, he was the most effective," said Toro's wife, Debra, of Melrose.

Robert A. George, another defense lawyer, said that "when the world seems to be crashing down all around a defendant, there is not a better person to be fighting for your life."

For information about Massachusetts divorce and family law, see the divorce and family law page of my law firm website, and for information about Massachusetts criminal law, see the criminal defense page.

No comments: