January 23, 2013 6:43 AM

"First, we'll kill all the lawyers"...sometimes I think Hamlet was onto something


(apologies to Keith Olbermann)

Thomas MacNair & Thaddeus Betz

Bennette’s lawyer, Thomas MacNair, said it was the decision of Bennette’s two defense attorneys — not their teenage client — to delay divulging where Bennette had dumped Vaughn’s body after his arrest…. “A decision was made to delay that — that was made by his lawyers, not by him, in accordance with our sworn duty to zealously defend Mr. Bennette,” MacNair said…. Police said Bennette fatally shot Vaughn in his bedroom on March 19, 2011. Bennette was accused in the killing on March 31, 2011. It wasn’t until four months later on July 15 that Bennette led police to where he had buried Vaughn’s body on Rocky Butte.

I realize that lawyers are often the butt of unwarranted jokes…but then there are the times when jokes don’t begin to do justice to the ridicule deservedly heaped upon them. Allow me to introduce Messrs. MacNair and Betz, who, in the course of representing their candidate committed an act that can only charitably be described as reprehensible and inhuman.

In March, 2011, Parrish Bennette, Jr., a 16-year-old Portlander, fatally shot his 14-year-old girlfriend, Yashanee Vaughn. He then dumped her body in a heavily wooded area on Rocky Butte in NE Portland. That salient fact is reprehensible on its own merits. His attorneys compounded the monstrosity by keeping the location of Vaughn’s body a secret for four months. During those four months, Vaughn’s family and friends searched diligently (and fruitlessly) for her body, even as Bennette’s attorneys stood idly by and kept the location of Vaughn’s body to themselves.

Try as I might, I can’t begin to understand how a human being in possession of even the barest shred of humanity and decency could do what MacNair and Betz did. I understand an attorney’s responsibility to mount the most effective defense they can for their client, but by the time they took Bennette’s case, it was pretty clear that Vaughn was dead and that Bennette was responsible for her murder. To know the location of Vaughn’s body and sit on that knowledge for four months as Vaughn’s family and the police searched for her body is…well, I’m not certain I possess the vocabulary adequate to express the degree of my revulsion. To call what MacNair and Betz did inhuman and reprehensible seems horribly inadequate.

Because in Bennette’s case a death occurred and the act was in the past, defense attorneys are not expected to disclose confidential information that could incriminate their client, Borg said. If a client told his defense attorney he planned to commit a crime in the future, then the attorney would be obligated to inform police….

Marc Blackman, a veteran Portland criminal defense attorney, said defense lawyers may not disclose any information obtained during the course of representing their client if that disclosure could be detrimental to their client’s interest, under Oregon’s professional conduct rule.

The only exception is if the disclosure would prevent damage or injury.

“It’s very tough to understand for people who aren’t lawyers or who aren’t familiar with the criminal justice system,” said professor Tung Yin, of Lewis & Clark Law School. “It’s all built on the belief that the system works best when criminal defendants feel they can trust their lawyers, without fear or concern it will be turned over to the prosecution.”

That’s correct; it IS tough to understand how an attorney could remain silent while watching the victim’s family suffer unspeakably when it’s within their power to end it. I have a difficult time believing that holding on to the knowledge of the location of Vaughn’s body represented some sort of trump card that enabled them to get an even better deal for their client. I may well be wrong on that count, but not being an attorney (and being in possession of a functional conscience), I don’t see it.

I can only hope that MacNair and Betz have found a way to square their inhuman behavior with their conscience. For my part, I can’t imagine living with the knowledge that I withheld information that could have significantly lessened the suffering of someone. Perhaps I’m being unjustly harsh, but since I’m not an attorney I can only think like the writer I am…and I know that my conscience wouldn’t allow me to do what MacNair and Betz did.

And then they wonder why so many think there ought to be a special place in Hell for lawyers….

In the case of Thomas MacNair and Thaddeus Betz, they should probably have reserved parking spaces.

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This page contains a single entry by Jack Cluth published on January 23, 2013 6:43 AM.

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