“There’s nothing in this case that your client did to merit a criminal conviction,” Almeida said during opening statements last week. “In fact, there’s little to no evidence against him at all.”
A criminal trial brings with it an opportunity for a vulnerable client to defend themselves against charges that could create a meaningful amount of harm. For the defense attorney, the job is to be respectful, patient and professional. Of course, in the end, justice ultimately must be served. But first and foremost, the attorneys and judge should fully understand the law and always be objective and unflinching.
Taking too long is never a good thing in any law firm, particularly a serious criminal trial. The trial can go on for days and weeks, if not months. The defense team must manage all sorts of logistical issues like reading notes, coordinating transport of experts, preparing strategy, getting back-ups, updating dockets and perhaps even drafting a juror questionnaire for the side presenting the case.
In Rittenhouse’s case, defense attorney Jerry Cohen represents against Rocco Salerno, and Craig DeRamus is representing Alberto Magana. The Middletown Police Department started investigating Salerno in 2014 after someone made a tip about a shooting at a home there, but by July 2016, they were alleging Salerno participated in the death of Daniel Comer. In January 2017, police charged Salerno in connection with Comer’s shooting and named him as a co-defendant with Magana. All the defendants have pleaded not guilty. Magana has pleaded guilty in the case but on an unrelated, non-Murder 0 charge. He is serving a prison sentence of 10 to 23 years.
Many criminal cases consist of a tangle of letters and emails between defendants and their lawyers. In this case, the defense team does not have much of a playbook. For the rest of the week, members of the defense will each have chances to give opening statements, and the first group will be asked to briefly explain the case.
During his opening statement, Almeida also laid out specific questions his team intends to ask during the trial. One relates to the reason why Salerno and Magana were arrested at such great length: “How did they know each other?”
“I think the answers are clear,” he said, referring to the photos released of the crime scene of the murder of Daniel Comer. “This was a falling out between the defendants who are friends.”
This back and forth should be a lesson to lawyers working with vulnerable clients on days like these. In general, be patient, respectful and unbiased. Even if a client is guilty, an average lawyer is doing the right thing by asking the tough questions. The jurors will likely throw a case based on reasonable doubt, so the most they can ask is an average crime scene photo.