Mar
30

Dead Man Fighting

In the small hours of the night, I still root for Daniel Webb. So even though he has now injured several more people in an act of defiant rage, I wish there were a way I could encourage him. But I no longer speak to him. Our paths parted when it became apparent that my liberty might be in jeopardy as a result of things I learned while representing him.

I recall years ago pleading the Fifth Amendment in open court to avoid self-incrimination in Dan's case. It involved one of the most difficult decisions I was ever to make as a lawyer.

Dan is on death row. He's been there forever, it seems. He was convicted of the abduction, rape and murder of a bank vice president in Hartford, Connecticut in 1989. She was picked seemingly at random and then senselessly shot to death as she crawled, wounded across a municipal golf course pleading for help.

I wince as I write these words. And I make myself face them. The acts of this man, a former client, and once a friend, are savage. I do not mean to avoid that.

But I represented him for several years. I was asked to research and write appellate briefs for him by my former boss. I spent more than a year reading tens of thousands of pages of transcripts and researching all the issues I could imagine. I then argued his case for hours in the State's Supreme Court. In the end, we won but one issue: His case was remanded to the trial court for a hearing on whether lethal injection was cruel and unusual punishment under Connecticut's Constitution.

As those proceedings were pending, I came into possession of detailed escape plans involving Dan that would almost certainly have involved the death of prison guards. Ironically, those plans fell into my possession during a trial in which I had accused several guards of beating a prisoner. It was a case we won, making national news, and my only appearance on a television show I had never heard of at the time: The O'Reilly Factor.

By day, I was adverse to prison guards, attacking them and calling them criminals. But when the Sun set I sought opinions from ethics experts. What was I to do with the escape plans?

The opinions were diverse. One extreme counseled that I remove the plans out-of-state, so as to be beyond the easy reach of the state's subpoena power. This required that I say nothing; let events take their course. At the other extreme, I was told to go immediately to the police, to prevent harm to third parties.

I followed the advice of neither. But I did arrange to meet with the Commissioner of Corrections and his lawyer one Sunday afternoon. I turned over the plans, and refused to comment further. I then moved to withdraw from Dan's case without telling him why. The State opposed my motion to withdraw as a stunt to delay Dan's execution. I was called to the stand to explain. I plead the Fifth.

I remain these many years later ambivalent about my decision, and feel that I betrayed the man who had come to trust me.

So this week when I read that he had attacked several guards in the super maximum security prison in which he housed, some part of me wished him success. The state seeks to kill him. For year upon endless year he sits, while the courts dither over post-conviction claims. Justice delayed is justice denied; holding a man in a box so that you can someday kill him is torture. I am glad that Dan has not lost the pride to strike back.

Even Thomas Hobbes, the seventeenth century political philosopher who invested the state with great authority in the name of security in his work Leviathan, understood that a citizen lost the obligation to submit to the state when the state sought to kill him. When the state breaks its contract with an individual, all bets are off. Dan has returned to the state of nature, where, from the confines of his cell, life is nasty and brutish. He need not lay supine while the state twiddles its thumbs over how, when and why to put him to death.

I could not assist him years ago in a plan that would have cost the lives of innocent men merely doing their jobs. The corrections officers are mere agents of the thing we call the state. By attempting to make me complicit in a struggle that would have taken me to the other side of the law, my client made me choose either law or lawlessness. I chose the law, and it broke my heart.

Some part of my heart was restored upon reading that Dan is still defiant. For all his crimes, he is as any man -- so much more than the sum of his worst moments. He is still fighting for dignity. The state has not killed him yet. He is within his rights to resist the state's efforts to kill him.

Daniel Webb is no longer a client. I do not speak to him any longer. Nor will I speak to him again. But I have not forgotten him, and I will not let his act of resistance go unnoticed. He is hated. And he is alone. But I know the man is more than that. We laughed once together, and I saw the spark of something divine even the eyes of a killer.


News Story:

HARTFORD, Conn. - Connecticut's highest security prison was locked down Monday after a death row inmate allegedly attacked a guard.

The inmate punched a Correction Department captain in the head just before 10:30 a.m. Monday inside the Northern Correctional Institution, said Brian Garnett, a department spokesman.

Garnett refused to identify the inmate, but state Rep. Karen Jarmoc of Enfield, who served as chair of a task force on safety issues in the prisons, said she was notified that it was Daniel Webb.

The 47-year-old is awaiting execution for the 1989 murder of bank executive Diane Gellenbeck in Hartford.

"This is what the correctional staff calls a Pearl Harbor attack," Jarmoc said. "That means the inmate, unprompted, attacked the captain, just pounding him in the head."

Garnett said four other staff members were injured while subduing Webb.

All five staff members were taken to outside medical facilities for evaluation. None of the injuries appeared to be serious, officials said.

"The injuries included injuries to the shoulders, back, hands and those sorts of things," Garnett said. "State police have been notified, and we will seek outside charges."

Jarmoc said a legislative subcommittee has been working to come up with measures to keep guards safer and provide more consequences for inmates who attack prison staff.

"There is not a whole lot holding them back from doing this type of thing," she said. "In the case of Daniel Webb, the guy's on death row, you can't add on to a death sentence. But, do you make his life more miserable within that facility?"
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About Norm Pattis

Norm Pattis is a Connecticut based trial lawyer focused on high stakes criminal cases and civil right violations. He is a veteran of more than 100 jury trials, many resulting in acquittals for people charged with serious crimes, multi-million dollar civil rights and discrimination verdicts, and scores of cases favorably settled.

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I believe that the state is a necessary fiction and that failing to combat it is the first step toward tyranny.
– Norm Pattis

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Nothing in this blog should be considered legal advice about your case. You need a lawyer who understands the context of your life and situation. What are offered here are merely suggested lines of inquiry you may explore with your lawyer.

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