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Every defendant has a story

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The lady of the night arrested plying her trade offered some words of encouragement as Stacy Uliana, then a law student, and her professor prepared to defend the woman in court.

“You ladies go get ’em,” the prostitute said.

Recalling that client and her words still makes Uliana giggle. It is a funny memory, but it is also the point where she became assured of her career path.
 

uliana-stacy-15col.jpg Attorney Stacy Uliana (IL Photo/ Aaron P. Bernstein)

“That’s when I knew I would like this,” Uliana said. “I had a skinny, crack-addicted prostitute saying, ‘You ladies go get ’em.’”

Since that time, Uliana has spent much of her legal practice working as a defense attorney. A 1997 graduate of Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, she found criminal law to be the most interesting with its courtroom confrontations and constitutional issues. She confessed she ended up on the defense side partly because that was the job she was offered.

Much of her work is at the appellate level. She will take just about any case that lands on her desk, but she prefers cases that have a legal or factual issue in dispute, giving her something challenging to argue rather than falling on the mercy of the prosecutor to get a good plea.

“I’m not very good at that,” she said.

Freeing David Camm

Her biggest and most exhausting case has been fighting for David Camm. The former Indiana State Police trooper was arrested in 2000 and twice convicted for the brutal slayings of his wife and two young children.

Uliana and her mentor, Bloomington attorney Katharine “Kitty” Liell, became familiar with the case by chatting with Camm’s first attorney, Mike McDaniel. After the trial ended in a guilty verdict, Camm’s relatives approached Uliana and Liell for help.

That began Uliana’s 11-year commitment to a defense that would include two reversals, changing theories of the crime and two additional long and brutal trials. Uliana worked on the appeals and second trial with Liell. For the third trial, she worked with Indianapolis attorney Richard Kammen.

Camm was tried three times for the murder of his family before a jury in Boone County acquitted him in October. When the not guilty verdict was read, the defense table was overwhelmed while Stanley Levco, the special prosecutor appointed for the third trial, was devastated and certain he would forever be known as “the guy who lost the Camm trial.”

Watching the closing arguments, Liell saw Uliana speak to the jury for one-and-a-half hours, summarizing evidence, cutting through the red herrings and appealing to the jurors’ common sense.

Like Uliana, Liell maintained Camm did not commit or have any involvement with the murders. She is not surprised that he was arrested, charged and sent to prison, nor does she believe he is the only wrongfully convicted individual serving time.

“I think there are more innocent people in prison than we would ever care to think about,” Liell said.

The third trial turned on forensic science and the testimony of convicted felon Charles Boney.

When she started the case, Uliana, who holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, saw problems with the evidence. Part of her focus on the defense team was to separate the real science from what she called the junk science.

“If you look at the entire case, it is so clear he did not do it,” Uliana said of Camm. “And not one piece of evidence that has surfaced since the first three days when Dave got arrested, not one piece of evidence has shown guilt rather then innocence.”

In fact, Uliana said, the defense discovered Boney, whose DNA was later identified at the crime scene, and exposed the state’s key expert, Robert Stites as, in her words, “a complete fraud.” He had, she said, never been to a crime scene, never testified before a jury and had little background in science.

Levco concedes that with hindsight, the state could have waited instead of charging Camm three days after the murders and should not have relied on Stites.

The defense contended Boney was responsible for the Camm murders and, Uliana said, during the third trial, the jury was able to see the type of person Boney really was and that he was playing games.

On the stand at the third trial, jurors saw Boney making hand gestures which Uliana said were to convey to Camm that he did murder his family. Also, the jurors saw Boney continually staring and nodding at Camm as if, Uliana said, taunting Camm.

Ten hours after getting the case, the Boone County jury had reached a verdict. Uliana was at home, starting to sort through a pile of household papers that had gotten put aside during the 11-week trial.

After the guilty verdict in the second trial, Uliana said she needed a couple of months before she could make the decision to continue helping defend Camm. Turning it over to the Boone County jury, she said the third trial was fairer. The defense felt they had done everything they could to win.

Levco credited the defense team for their work in the courtroom.

“They were really well prepared as any defense attorneys I ever saw,” he said. “I didn’t see them miss anything.”

The verdict and her conversations with the jurors afterward led Uliana to believe the third jury may now view the criminal justice system differently after the Camm case. They may see the system is not always right or just and much comes down to hoping the people in power are right or they can see when they are wrong.

Telling their stories

Uliana’s office is on the second floor of a massive brick building next to the railroad tracks in the tiny hamlet of Bargersville. Up the stairs and down at the end of the hall is her workspace, brightly lit and decorated with her children’s crayon-colored artwork on the walls.

She peers at visitors through plastic-framed glasses, holds her hands in her lap and turns her head to look out the window when she finishes answering a question. She is relaxed and smiles easily.

Uliana does not consider her approach to defense as pushing back against the state or “getting ’em.” Rather she wants to give a voice to the other side.

“I see it as everything in gray,” she said. “Nothing is really black and white. Well, sometimes it’s black and white … but most of the time it’s gray, and the defendant always has a story and they just need someone to tell it.”

She remembered one client who came to her after he had been convicted and sentenced. He had a criminal record and a reputation from a courtroom outburst where he had yelled and cursed at the judge.

Uliana braced for what she expected would be a difficult client. She fought on what she thought was a good search-and-seizure issue but she lost. Her client, to her surprise, was grateful for her hard work.

“It made me understand what our role is,” Uliana said. “You’re not always going to win. Your clients most of time are not innocent, but there is a story and they do have something that needs to be heard.”•

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  • cool article
    hey this is a neat story and the kind of stuff I like to read. I am really impressed with trial lawyers who can stick with a case that long. With all the phony murder dramas cluttering up the television its good to be informed about pertinent details of real cases

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