Public defender coulda done it
Let me commend you for your detailed and informative coverage of the Andrew Alston trial [November 18 cover story: "The verdict: Sisk's family speaks out"]. Your comprehensive reporting explains the many factors that resulted in the voluntary manslaughter conviction and three-year sentence.
I was concerned by a comment of a friend of Walker Sisk's who speculated that the defendant would do 40 years if he had been represented by a public defender. The misperception that public defenders are inferior to privately retained counsel is persistent.
I am confident in saying that the local public defender office does not provide inferior representation to its clients. Hard working, talented, and experienced staff are committed to maintaining high standards of quality. Don't take just my word for it.
In a 2002 report, the Virginia State Crime Commission found, after a comprehensive study, that public defenders' representation of their clients was comparable to the performance of privately retained counsel.
In the end, the jury made decisions on the grade of the offense and the degree of punishment that both prosecutors and defense attorneys declined to criticize. In fact, the jury was praised all around for its diligence.
Justice was done, and I don't believe the outcome was substantially affected by the ability of the defendant's family to pay for private counsel. James Hingeley