Reel Life vs Real Life

According to Google Maps, 1,150 feet separates the Pittsfield Massachusetts courthouse from the police station. Coincidently, Pittsfield’s most prestigious law firm also sits 1,150 feet from the police station. Google Maps equates 1,150 feet to a five-minute walk.

Five minutes…

Five minutes that changed my life.

In 2005, I was wrongly arrested by a Pittsfield Massachusetts police detective named James Casey. Casey, an individual who views the world with a “burn” or “bury” mentality, is so obsessed with apprehending a suspect…any suspect, that he’s willing to go anywhere at the bidding of apparent facts, unconcerned about rational probabilities. He gobbles up details that bear little validity, or even no validity at all, as long as the information supports his irrational notions.

As Casey knocked on my front door, poised to arrest me on charges of public lewdness, he was completely oblivious that he’d been set up. Casey, who was moments away from publicly humiliating me and forever ruining my life, remained clueless that his facts, information, and evidence had been carefully assembled and laid out for him to find.  Casey was being steered and driven through a course of someone else’s making, much like a child operates a remote-control car.

The events leading up to my arrest had been choreographed by a seasoned ex convict whom I’d crossed paths with but had never actually met.  Our lives intertwined when he began stalking and terrorizing a close female friend of mine, compelling me to intervene.  Now, in an act of retribution, this career criminal was using the Pittsfield Police Department to do his bidding.  By rather ingenious means he’d left a trail of breadcrumbs that led right to my front door.  All that was needed now was a sap, someone within the police department who was gullible enough, impulsive enough, and myopic enough, to take the bait. And along came detective James Casey.

As Casey slapped the handcuffs around my wrists he must have realized that my arrest could serve more than one purpose.  Or perhaps I should say, he realized my arrest could be used to conveniently wrap up more than one unsolved case. He was thinking specifically about a fellow detective who’d recently hit dead ends in a sexual assault investigation. Four months had transpired since the assault and no suspects were in sight. Casey recognized this as a golden opportunity to gain favor. He must have thought, “Seeing as how the real culprit was never going to be caught, who cares which scumbag we pin it on, as long as the public is assuaged, I look good, my colleague looks good, and the department looks good?” At that moment my fate was decided. Not only was I being arrested for public lewdness, I would soon to be arrested again. This time for sexual assault.

Casey was familiar with the assault case and knew that witnesses had described the perpetrator as wearing a dark-colored, hooded sweatshirt. All Casey had to do was find such a garment in my possession and, voila, the start of something good!  With complete disregard for proper police protocol he rummaged through my house, despite having no search warrant or legal authority whatsoever.  He was hunting for something that could be used as make-shift evidence.

Coming up empty-handed, feeling foolish, Casey surmised: “If I can’t actually find a dark-colored, hooded sweatshirt, why not just perpetuate the myth that I did? Nobody will question me, I’m a police detective.” And so he doctored his arrest report to reflect that he’d confiscated a dark-colored, hooded sweatshirt from my home.

Casey crafted his report in such a way as to circumvent the lack of search warrant or legal authority.  He wrote that he saw, in plain view, a dark-colored, hooded sweatshirt lying in the center of my bedroom floor.  Well isn’t that convenient!  He even went so far as to augment his report with fake dialog; comments I’d supposedly uttered upon seeing Casey clutching my sweatshirt. He wrote that I’d nervously denied ownership of the sweatshirt and that I’d expressed concerns over it being tested for DNA.

Sadly, Casey was correct, no one ever questioned or doubted the details contained within his report. No one in the Pittsfield Police Department, no one in the District Attorney’s office, and certainly no one in the prestigious law office of Cain Hibbard Myers & Cook; the firm hired to represent me. In fact, during the 23-month interim between arrest and trial, not one soul attempted to fact check anything in the report. Instead, the bogus information was simply conveyed to the grand jury and represented as being the true and accurate word of a respected Pittsfield Police officer.  For all intents and purposes, Casey could have documented in his report that he’d been abducted by space aliens. No one would have challenged him and the grand jury would have believed him.

Five minutes…

Five minutes that changed my life.

A key player at my trial was Second Assistant District Attorney Joan M. McMenemy. As an officer of the court, she worked 1,150 feet South of the police station. Her job was to prosecute me. Another key player was criminal defense lawyer Leonard H. Cohen. As an attorney with the law firm of Cain Hibbard Myers & Cook, he worked 1,150 feet West of the police station.  His job was to defend me.

McMenemy and Cohen. Two legal gurus who, while on the clock, probably thought nothing of a ten minute stroll to pursue an $8 iced white chocolate mocha latte. Yet, despite having almost two years to prepare for their courtroom skirmish, neither individual thought to stroll five minutes to the police station in order to pursue justice. Had either lawyer done so, had either lawyer done their job properly, they would have discovered that detective James Casey had flagrantly lied in his arrest report. They would have learned that no dark-colored, hooded sweatshirt had ever been catalogued into police evidence.

Five minutes…

Five minutes that changed my life.

During trial I was a sitting duck on the witness stand. While grandstanding for the jury, McMenemy launched into a tirade.  She grilled me incessantly about the sweatshirt she believed to exist. Courtroom attendees became riveted, listening intently as I rebuffed McMenemy’s attacks, vehemently denying her unfounded allegations of a sweatshirt. But as McMenemy’s barrage continued, my credibility deteriorated. She had successfully convinced jury members that I was lying.  And if I’m lying then I must be guilty.

McMenemy became enraged at my refusals to admit ownership of the sweatshirt.  In desperation she called a sidebar conference and consulted with the judge. At that point the jury was immediately sequestered, no longer privy to what was being said in the courtroom. With jury members safely out of earshot, McMenemy told the judge that she couldn’t understand why I was being allowed to deny the existence of evidence when said evidence was documented in full by a police detective. As a result, she requested a 30-minute recess. At that point she summoned her intern and gave orders for the sweatshirt to be retrieved from the police station.

Attorney Cohen approached me and said, “Well, you’re in trouble now, they’ve gone to get the sweatshirt.  How am I supposed to defend against this?  What do I say when the prosecutor starts waving your sweatshirt in front of the jury?”  I was flabbergasted.  Here it was February of 2007, detective Casey had falsified his arrest report way back in February of 2005, and in all that time my attorney had never made a five minute walk to the police station to personally lay eyes on the sweatshirt?  This is something a second year law student would have done, instinctively.

Five minutes…

Five minutes that changed my life.

I wasn’t being represented by just any lawyer, this was Leonard H. Cohen one of the preeminent lawyers in Massachusetts. A man who rose to prominence by serving as the criminal defense attorney in thousands of cases and hundreds of high-profile proceedings. A man who was recognized by Lawyers Weekly as one of the most influential lawyers in the state and a powerhouse within the criminal law community. How had Cohen failed so miserably to perform such a routine task as verifying and examining evidence?  To curry favor with the District Attorney?  We’ll never know.

McMenemy’s intern soon returned, looking rather sheepish, reporting that no sweatshirt had ever been catalogued relative to my case. And like lava spewing from a volcano the sordid details emerged.  Pittsfield police detective James Casey had made false statements within an official arrest report.  He’d offered a false instrument for filing.  He lied to the district attorney.  He intentionally mislead a grand jury. All criminal offenses for which he should be held accountable.

Unfortunately, jury members heard none of this.  They were still conveniently out of earshot when the shocking new developments were revealed. When the jury finally did reconvene, McMenemy merely stood up, stone-faced, and announced: “The prosecution rests.” I grew incredulous. A Second Assistant District Attorney was covering up the illicit activity of a corrupt police detective. In the process she was concealing the fact that she hadn’t done her job, hiding the fact that she had crucified someone using evidence she’d never verified.  Evidence that didn’t exist.  She was going to allow the jury’s last impression of me to be that of a liar.

When it was Cohen’s turn to shine, did he bring jury members up to speed?  Did he bring to light the illicit antics of a corrupt police detective?  Did he expose the inexcusable actions of a prosecutor who violated the sacred oath she swore to uphold? The answer to all of the above is, NO.

James Casey is now an Arizona state trooper, a position that affords even greater opportunity for abuse of power.  And McMenemy?  Well, in exchange for debilitating the legal system and facilitating police corruption, she’s now a judge in Berkshire Juvenile Court.  Of all the attorneys in Berkshire County guess who publicly voiced support for McMenemy’s appointment, going so far as to call her: “Eminently well-qualified to sit as a judge”  Why Leonard H. Cohen of course!

Five minutes…

Five minutes that changed my life.

In any theatrical production nothing happens without the help of secondary characters. They contribute more to any story than just “being in the background”. Their importance shouldn’t be ignored – they don’t just interact with the main character or provide a foil, but instead they help advance the plot, they move the story forward, carry subplots, heighten conflict, reveal information and do much more.

Well there you have it.

A theatrical production starring James Casey.

Supporting cast: Joan M. McMenemy and Leonard H. Cohen

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