Finding Money for Defense – Part 4

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned that Steve’s first attorney, Roland Mathis, within his first six or seven months, had been paid $7,500 by Newbold and Vanderhoop (N&V), our mother’s lawyers, and that money was borrowed against Steve’s eventual inheritance. Within nine months that amount had risen to $27,928. Steve and Robin paid N&V $13,928 of that back from their retirement account. Mathis told Tom Swearingen, during an early brainstorming session, that “Steve’s money comes out of Yankeeville. They give me money, and I spend it for a while, and I go ask for more money.” According to Harry Newbold, Mathis told him when Steve first hired him that it looked like a simple “he said versus she said” case, with no physical evidence, and thought the case could be done for $5,000 to $15,000. Obviously, Mathis got a lot more than that.

Steve hired a new lawyer early in 2006, for reasons I make clear in the book, but Mathis got two more checks from N&V, bringing his total up to $30,612 for a trial that he originally said he didn’t think would cost more than $15,000. When I told Steve in 2010 that Mathis had been paid that much, he was shocked, and said he thought it had been about half that amount.

Harry’s firm paid Bevin Jenkins, the new lawyer Steve hired to replace Mathis, a flat fee of $25,000 from Steve’s inheritance money in March and April 2006, to represent Steve in the first trial. He worked for Steve for roughly five months. Almost $60,000 had been paid out to lawyers at that point. After the first trial, which was a mistrial, Jenkins wanted another $20,000 to do the second one, but the family just couldn’t afford it.

During the two years or so between the accusations and the first trial, Steve lost his job, Robin began to drink more, and her health began to deteriorate. When the second trial was over, and Steve had been convicted, the family was broke. Things got worse once Steve was convicted. Robin deteriorated further. Her worsening health and her despondency at the family’s downward turn of events culminated in the loss of the job she had held for nearly thirty years. She died within six years of the verdict, at the age of 51. When you add the cost of the bail bond, the payments to lawyers (there were more to come) the loss of Steve’s job during the pre-trial period and the fact that no one would hire him, plus the lost income from both Robin and Steve during his incarceration, it added up to the loss of a few hundred thousand dollars for his family.

Winning court cases, whether you’re guilty or innocent, is vastly more certain if you’re wealthy. If you can afford to hire a passel of high-powered attorneys, the odds that you won’t be convicted rise considerably. On the other hand, if you’re poor, your chances of success are far worse. Steve and his family weren’t rich, but they hired what they felt were the best attorneys they could afford; and they did that to the detriment of their financial well-being.

What about financial costs for the accuser, Hanna? How much did her family pay for attorney’s fees? Nothing. Her interests were represented by the State of Texas, and the Ashwell County prosecutors and investigators and sheriff’s deputies were all paid by taxpayers. The costs of the two trials, and salaries for the time spent by the judge and other court employees were also borne by taxpayers. Did Hanna and her family have any expenses? Sure they did, but in comparison to Steve’s family it was a minuscule amount. The only actual fees or costs I know of for certain, that were paid by her family (other than time spent and gas traveling back and forth to the courthouse, some doctor’s visits, etc.) were Hanna’s sessions with a therapist/counselor, Ada Dixon. Those sessions weren’t entirely paid for by her family, though.

Soon after the charges had been filed, Hanna’s family was given a form from the Crime Victim’s Compensation Program. This program’s stated purpose is “encouraging greater victim participation in the apprehension and prosecution of criminals and reimbursing innocent victims for certain out-of-pocket expenses incurred as a result of violent crime.” The program is supported with money “collected from convicted offenders through criminal court costs, fees, and fines,” in order to support victims of violence “with expenses related to the crime.” They program also gets some of its funding from state court costs, paroled offenders, donations, and federal grants. In other words, much of their funding also comes from taxpayers. Hanna’s family was paid some money (I don’t know how much, and haven’t tried to find out). She told Tom that they wouldn’t have been able to afford to go to Dixon without that money.

All of that made me wonder. In what legal sense was Hanna a victim in 2004 if the trials didn’t happen until 2006? If our judicial system’s entire framework is built around the idea that the accused is innocent until they are proven guilty, doesn’t that also mean that the “victim” is actually an “alleged victim” until proven otherwise. If I’m correct in my theory that Hanna was never abused, and that her lies were the basis for the entire case against Steve (and I strongly believe that I am right), isn’t Steve the actual victim? Should we, as taxpayers, have given her money to compensate for a crime when we didn’t even know that the crime had been committed? Should taxpayers be forced to pay “compensation” to victims simply because a “victim” says they were victimized?

Next we’ll turn to the subject of prejudice against Steve that might have been spawned when he testified against someone in another trial a decade before his own.

Michael Sirois

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