A couple of weeks went by. I had a few things going on but I was looking to make some money – not a lot, but more than, say just a few thousand – as fast as I could and leave town to join my wife and daughter who had already left for Canada. A client referred the Davis family to me. Their daughter, Sephora, was in a lot of trouble and they wanted to change attorneys. As Tom Moran kept saying later, they had done a number of attorney change ups. He found this very annoying for some reason.
I first met them in my office in Rochester. The parents came in with Sephora. They did most of the talking. She had been charged with armed robbery and kidnapping stemming from an incident the previous December in Geneseo, Tom Moran’s jurisdiction. Right up the road from his office and the courthouse, in fact. Her current attorney, Steven Sessler from Livonia, had arranged a plea deal involving two years in state prison.
But Sephora was innocent, they said. She didn’t know anything about an armed robbery. Why should she go to prison for two years?
Sephora mostly sat there while her parents talked, looking sad and teary. She was 19, pretty like a lot of 19 year old girls if a little overly made up. She had been out on $25 thousand bail since her arrest in January. She allegedly had three accomplices, all older men, who had already pleaded guilty and were serving their sentences.
And, you know, I’m looking at her and one of the first things that occurred to me, in a musing kind of way, is that this was a weird kind of gang. Three relatively experienced criminals and…her? Not impossible, of course. Just not the kind of thing you usually see. You remember that song from Sesame Street, “Which of these things is not like the other”?
Sephora had gotten in trouble a couple of times since being released on bail and there were new charges, not all from the same jurisdiction. Now, attorneys see this kind of thing a lot. It tends to make them skeptical of protestations of innocence, and I am no exception. Strike one. She gives an account of the events as she sees them. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, seems to raise more questions than it answers. Strike two.
Kidnapping was an A-1 Felony carrying a minimum 15 years to life sentence. This justified a substantial fee, and I was in need of a substantial fee. Check. There was $25 thousand in bail that could be signed over to me and collected at the end of the case, which shouldn’t be much more than six months. Check. The parents were good for a few grand more. Check. There was room or potential to improve the girl’s legal circumstances; in other words I wasn’t taking on the case just to get a fee, with no hope of improving her lot. Speculative, but that one always is. In any case, no question that I’ll put in the effort, so check.
I’ll take it, I said. Sign over the bail receipt and bring another $5K post haste. Package deal. I’ll handle everything. And that’s what we did.
Pretty cheap, really, but this was a small rural county with nothing better to do and their charges had gotten out of hand here. That was my thinking. I didn’t really think about my conversation with Schiener a couple of weeks earlier at that point.
I should have.
Never mind. Time to get the file from Steve Sessler.
The client’s account was, shall we say, less than adequate so the file might help fill in any gaps. In addition, of course, you have to know what is being alleged based on what kind of evidence. Some of the evidence, at least, should be in the file, though you’d be amazed at how little a prosecutor in New York actually has to turn over.
So I get the file and about a one hour briefing over the phone from Sessler. It was obvious he had done a lot of work. Then I start reviewing the file.
The most significant thing in the file is a written statement dated January 23, 2004 from one of the co-defendants, Eric Harder. This was taken about six weeks after the incident. According to Sessler, this was the statement that cracked the case for the police, and everyone they could find was arrested and charged that day, including Sephora.
Here is Harder’s statement:
There was another statement, typewritten by the police in Geneseo dated December 22, 2003, which was supposed to have been signed by Sephora herself. But it never was. Even so, this was not good: