On the Monday after the Luigi’s night of horror, there was a pall over the Resource Center. The ripples set in motion by the murders were already being felt two hours away by people who didn’t know the victims or the killer. My colleagues and I gathered in Henderson’s office hoping to learn more about the killings and the latest about Mr. French.
For capital defenders, a high-profile killing is a shock to the system. You battle — day in and day out — the hate directed at your clients and at you, a more accessible surrogate for your clients. You battle the misperceptions of the causes of crime and the efficacy of the death penalty as anything other than a blood-letting. Some days you battle your client who would rather die than live on death row, and some days you battle your own feelings of inadequacy. Then, the news of another killing grabs your attention. You know in the pit of your stomach that for you and your clients, the news is not good.
There was a buzz in the room. The State had already charged Kenneth French with four counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder. They had already held French’s probable cause hearing in his hospital room.
Henderson interrupted the chatter, “Jim Parrish will be representing Kenneth French.” Jim was a well-respected criminal defense attorney in Fayetteville. “And I have been asked to co-counsel,” he added.
It had not occurred to me that our office would get involved in the case. Our primary mission was to improve the legal representation of prisoners already on death row. However, we all knew that it would be good for our team to get involved in a trial — if for no other reason to gain the experience to help us in attorney consultations and in attacking them on appeal. In a sense, we needed our “street cred.”
At first there was silence; then, one by one the attorneys and the investigators stated their willingness to help. “Count me in,” I said.