Saturday, July 25, 2009

Newspaper Reporters Love Affair With Prosecutors

Well there was a big defense win in ultra-conservative Pensacola, Florida Friday. A young defendant was charged with vehicular homicide in the deaths of two people as a result of a car accident deemed drag racing by the prosecution. He had the honor of being represented by defense lawyer Jack Wilkins.

As a result of the great work of Jack Wilkins, the defendant was found not guilty of the vehicular homicide and guilty of misdemeanor reckless driving.

Wow, Jack Wilkins must be some defense lawyer to be able to refute the state's evidence in a case like this one where two people died.

Clearly the public would want to know who the defense lawyer was and how this seemingly hopeless case turned into an almost across-the-board acquittal? What was the turning point in the trial? What was the impact of the defendant's testimony? How did Jack Wilkins attack the weak points, otherwise known as "poke holes" in the state's case?

Here's the front page story from the Pensacola-News Journal:

Man convicted of lesser charge in fatal crash

Man convicted of reckless driving in what troopers called drag race

Kris Wernowsky

A jury found a Pensacola man guilty of misdemeanor reckless driving late Friday in connection with a 2008 crash that left two dead.

Christopher Borgesen, 23, of Pensacola originally was charged with manslaughter, vehicular manslaughter and leaving the scene of a crash involving death in the high-speed Sept. 11 crash that killed Morgan Walsh, 19, and William Schaefer, 21, both of Pensacola.

The jury found Borgesen guilty of the lesser offense after more than five hours of deliberation.

Circuit Judge Frank Bell will sentence Borgesen in August. He faces up to 90 days in county jail. He would have faced up to 15 years in state prison had the jury convicted him on the original felony charges.

Florida Highway Patrol investigators and witnesses said that Borgesen was drag racing with Schaefer when the crash took place. To obtain a manslaughter conviction, the state was required to prove that both cars were engaged in a race.

Assistant State Attorney John Simon spent most of his lengthy closing argument Friday trying to convince the jury that Borgesen shouldered responsibility in the deaths because he was a willing participant in the drag race.

Borgesen was arrested in October and accused of racing Schaefer, 21, the driver of the Honda Prelude that crashed through a guardrail on New Warrington Road and went airborne, the Florida Highway Patrol said.

The accident happened as the BMW Borgesen was driving and the Honda were headed south on New Warrington Road at a high rate of speed, according to an FHP report.

The Honda hit a fence and a guy-wire connected to a utility pole before slamming into a house at 16 Pen Court, killing Schaefer.

No one in the house was hurt.

Jennifer Velazquez was driving along New Warrington Road the night of the crash and testified that she witnessed Borgesen's BMW swerve past her. She saw Schaefer's car lose control. She also said she thought the two cars were engaged in a race.

Borgesen told the FHP that he knew the Honda had crashed, but he continued south on New Warrington Road, the report said.

"(Borgesen) stated that he ... went to Georgia's Laugh Inn to shoot in a pool tournament," according to the report.

Walsh, 19, a passenger in the Honda, died Sept. 14 at Baptist Hospital. Aaron Bates, 25, of Pensacola, also a passenger in the Honda, was injured in the crash.

No, I didn't leave any of it out. Apparently, there was no defense lawyer in this case.

In 15 years, I've never seen a prosecutor edited out of a news story about a criminal case. I often see no mention of the defense lawyer. This is sometimes due to pissy reporters acting spiteful towards defense lawyers who won't give a quote, and other times due to the reporter's bias against the defendant. Then there's the canned "tell me if you've heard this" response: "my editor cut it out."

So it shouldn't surprise me in this case that even in a case the prosecutor effectively "lost," that the paper couldn't help themselves. I guess the fairness in it is that reporters love prosecutors when they charge, when they win, and when they lose.

Now I know Jack Wilkins, and he's a pretty low key guy who probably doesn't give a crap, but in this case, regardless of whether Jack offered comment, his name belonged in this story. The public deserves to know that there are good prosecutors AND good defense lawyers in their community.

Having been one of those lawyers who didn't take the advice of "don't talk to the media, ever," I've developed great relationships with good reporters, and of course been the brunt of biased reporters wasting my time only to have any evidence of my involvement in the case or interview be cut out. I've written about this here, and here

As to the stale excuses, I wrote:

"My editor cut you out" and "I had a space issue," have run their course.

Do all of you in the media know that we hear these excuses daily? We would more believe the dog ate your homework. And why do you not tell your editor that the defense lawyer was very helpful in the story and you would at least like the story to be fair to both sides (THERE'S a concept!).

Last time I heard this excuse from the reporter, I called the editor. He told me the original draft never included any mention of me.


So I played a little ping pong with the reporter and editor on that one and got two people trying to remember who was lying.

So here, in this Pensacola case, I emailed the reporter:

"Jack Wilkins must have done some job to win this case. Any particular reason the story is devoid of any mention of him?"


"It was edited out."

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court. Read his free ebook The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer. To learn more about Brian and his firm, Tannebaum Weiss, please visit

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