The most stressful part of investigating a death penalty case for a defense attorney is talking with the family members of the murder victim. Needless to say, many survivors of murder are not expecting to be contacted by the killer’s attorney – especially years after the trial — and many are not happy when they are contacted. But when the family members of the victim are also the family members of your client, you have no choice. If you want to be a diligent and effective advocate, you have to reach out to your client’s family.
We had one reason for hope of victim family cooperation in Zane’s case: he and his wife Frannie had reconciled. After an initial period of shock and anger, and after Zane had been tried and sentenced to death, Frannie began making the four hour trek once a month to Central Prison to visit the man who had killed her son. According to Zane, she had forgiven him and she would help us. See post at https://cadcocknc.wordpress.com/2012/10/12/meeting-my-first-death-row-client/
This news was good, but it wasn’t news I could count on. Frannie still lived in the same small house in which Zane had shot and killed her son — on Beaverdam Loop Road, set far back in a holler. Zane had given me a long list of his friends to contact, many of whom lived on Beaverdam Loop Road. There was only one way in and out of the holler and that was by Beaverdam Road, a long winding country road through beautiful farmland. We had to take all precautions to protect our investigation, in case Frannie would not speak with us or, worse, tell others not to speak with us. Thus, my plan was to talk to as many friends that we could, and before any of the Hills found out we were in the holler.
Zane had given me many addresses of his family and friends, which was helpful. In the early 1990s, there was no internet you could use to find people. Without an address, the resources were the phonebook and good old fashion gumshoeing. If you couldn’t get an address, you could often find someone who could tell you how to find person you sought. Directions given often were descriptive in nature: “Go over two hills, turn right at the tree with a big split in it, then go past the red barn and just past the pasture with the big black cow, you will see the trailer on the left.”
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Zane’s neighbors. These people may have once been Zane’s friends but would they still think of him that way? Or would they want to have nothing to do with their friend-turned-murderer? After all, Frannie still lived among them. Would they be willing to help Zane without her okay? So, our first trip into the holler was not preceded by any phone calls. We just showed up, hoping people were home.
Stealing my nerves, my investigator and I began knocking on doors. To my great relief, Zane’s friends — young and old, male and female alike — were welcoming and eager to help. They accepted that Zane had shot his son, Randy, a man they all liked. He was the “good” son, the one that caused no trouble. But, person after person believed that Zane would not have shot Randy if he had been in his right mind. Yes, they knew about the reported history of domestic violence but most minimized it. More than one neighbor explained, “Frannie could give it as good as she got it.”