When I heard the news some part of me stopped cold. A former client's sister called late yesterday. She had horrible news. Her brother, Tony, was murdered. Would I please return her call? She needed to talk. I heard the message this morning. Getting to court suddenly seemed less important than talking to Tony's sister.
Tony Perez was sentenced to multiple life terms after a trial on federal murder for hire charges. The federal government elected not to seek death. In the government's view, he was a lieutenant in an organization headed by his brother. The two men were convicted of conspiring to have a rival shot to death. The shooting was in retaliation for another gang's kidnapping and torture of a trusted friend.
Tony was a heroin addict of limited education. He knew the stakes at trial were enormous. From the day I met him until the last time I spoke to him, he insisted that he was merely present as the hit was planned and executed. He did not know it was going down. He'd follow his older brother anywhere, even to the gates of Hell. But he was no killer.
The jury rejected the defense of mere presence. There was a suspicious phone call moments before a man was savagely gunned down on a busy Hartford street. There was motive aplenty. The government introduced dangerous looking guns and big bricks of cocaine, together with photographs of my client always at his brother's side. He was more than a mere sidekick, the government argued.
When Tony was sentenced, the judge imposed multiple life terms. Those terms were imposed consecutively, meaning, somehow, that once one life term was satisfied, Tony would be required to serve another. She tacked on several score more years for good measure. She wanted to make sure he never walked our streets again.
"What does this sentence mean?" Tony asked as the judge left the bench. I resorted to gallows humor. "It means that once you die, the government has to revive you to start serving another life term. Otherwise it is an illegal sentence."
Tony looked at me for a moment, unsure whether I was kidding. Then he smiled. He hugged me and then turned to say good bye to his family. It was a bitter moment, the sort of moment you learn to bury and then avoid in the practice of criminal law.
His sister reports that in the past seven or so years, he'd kicked his drug habit. He was healthy, clean and looking forward to transferring to a prison closer to home. The family hoped he would be incarcerated with his older brother not far from Connecticut. "You should have seen him," the sister said. "He looked good."
I'll be at his memorial service on Monday. It is hard to believe he is dead, although I cannot honestly say I wish he had the chance to begin serving the second of his several consecutive life terms. Prison seems pointless. His life was hard, except when he smiled. It is his smile I will remember.