Bad behavior: Huguely tests limits of lawyers

By David L. Heilberg

Whatever George Huguely gets convicted for (second degree murder seems most likely from what unfolded at trial), it won't be the result of his legal defense.  As embarrassing as it was for defense counsel, the only logical explanation for those disclosed emails that limited some of the defense expert testimony was that defense counsel affirmatively revealed their mistake to the prosecution before calling these witnesses. This is the kind of ethical integrity that, for many years, Mr. Lawrence, Ms. Quagliana, and Mr. Chapman have always displayed.

The entire three-ring circus resulted from Mr. Huguely's serious homicidal misconduct. Family dysfunction and failed intervention were secondary contributing factors, but experienced criminal defense attorneys see their clients in these situations almost every day.

These antecedents are no more than unsurprising explanations for every kind of criminal activity, but these are never legal or moral excuses for misbehavior. It's rare that all of these predictive factors coalesce into such a dangerous mix that homicide is the result. This killing was far from inevitable because of what led up to it. It occurred because George Huguely lost control of himself.

Case outcomes, whether more harsh or lenient than expected, are influenced by a defendant's original bad behavior more than any reason including the work of capable and experienced attorneys. The next time any attorney perfectly prosecutes or defends a case will be the first time this has occurred in history anywhere.

No doubt that Rhonda Quagliana was seriously ill. Outsiders can't fathom the strain of almost two years of steady work culminating in what likely were work days exceeding 12 hours for six or seven days each week during the month before the trial. The prosecution worked equally hard to get ready.

During any trial, opposing attorneys work on a case for 14, 15, or even 16 hours each day, with almost every waking moment outside the courtroom spent getting ready for the next day. The unavoidable fatigue of such a grueling responsibility almost always leads to mistakes. I have no doubt, as Fran Lawrence stated, that Rhonda Quagliana's email lapse was unintentional.

Fran Lawrence has been in such combat before. A number of years ago in federal court, we handled a trial side by side for co-defendants that lasted more than three weeks. I respect the quality work of a great number of excellent attorneys I know, but I never worked on a single case in court with anyone longer than that jury trial with Mr. Lawrence. My first-hand personal experience with him back then left me the highest level of respect that anyone can have for a professional colleague. As attorney John Davidson effectively wrote in on the Hook website, nobody likes a criminal defense attorney until you actually need one.

Dave Chapman deserves credit too for his obvious preparation and focus to overcome difficulties with his case from beginning to end. If there is a manslaughter or lenient sentencing verdict, it won't be because he did something wrong.

Likewise, a murder conviction and harsh sentence won't be mainly caused by questionable work of defense counsel. More than anything else, the outcome of this case will result from the jury's judgment about the culpability of one man: George Huguely.

Heilberg has tried more than 100 cases before juries, including capital murder charges.

1 comment

these trials hide more evidence than they present. the attorneys work to not let the jury hear evidence. why? because it would prejudice the jury. no evidence should be held back. the jury should hear and see all. that is what they are there for. to make a decision. if you hide facts from them, you limit their ability to make a more informed decision. oh well. it is a court of law, not a court of justice.