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Mental aspect of capital cases can be challenging

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Cost of Justice

When it comes to tallying the total price of capital punishment, the cost of those cases for the legal community is more than just expansive legalese and court procedures that span a decade or two.

The mental, emotional, and physical tolls add up for the lawyers handling these high-pressure and high-profile cases. Sometimes, a death penalty case can be a life- or career-changing experience for those on the legal front lines.

That happened to Indianapolis attorney Bob Hammerle following his representation of a convicted cop killer who, in 1994, became the last person in the state to die in the electric chair.

In the end, the emotional weight of that death sentence being imposed – the legal case and the experience of observing the execution – was too much for Hammerle.

hammerle-bob-mug Hammerle

“I tried to go back, but couldn’t do it anymore,” said the veteran criminal defense attorney who’s been practicing since 1973. “I was knee-deep in death penalty work at the time, and I really felt like I was abandoning everyone. Being a baseball fan, I flippantly say it’s like taking one too many balls to the head. In death penalty work, you can’t blink. You have to face 95 mile-per-hour fastballs and not blink, and I did. Fundamentally, in terms of trying to adjust to it all, things were never the same. I can’t go anywhere near it emotionally anymore.”

Hammerle argued and believes today that his client, Gregory Resnover, was innocent and that his execution followed a flawed legal process.

Opposite of Hammerle on that case was David Cook, who at the time was in the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office. Cook handled about a dozen capital cases during his time as a deputy prosecutor, with three resulting in executions. Ultimately, the amount and nature of those death penalty cases desensitized him and pushed him to leave that office. Instead, he turned to the defense side and ended up becoming the county’s public defender for 12 years.

“I wrote a letter when I was leaving the prosecutor’s office about the toll that type of case in the prosecutor’s office takes on everyone, and that I needed to move on from that for a while,” he said. “There are no winners in a death penalty case. Even times we received favorable recommendations from a jury or court, it’s not something you feel particularly good about. Everyone is torn apart by this process.”

Indianapolis defense attorney Rick Kammen, a state and national expert on death penalty cases, agrees that these cases have a significant impact on the legal system as well as the attorneys and judges involved.

cook-david-mug Cook

Kammen has handled six state death penalty cases and more than 30 at the federal level – the most recent being a three-month armored car robbery trial last summer in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan in Detroit. That case ended with a life without parole jury verdict rather than the death penalty, and Kammen said he took a long break during the winter before returning in full force to his practice.

“They can wear on you and you always have to be conscious of what’s at stake, but you can’t be paralyzed by it,” he said. “These are hard cases, and good trial lawyers who try these and other tough, non-capital cases can leave a lot of themselves behind. You have to have a way to recharge the batteries or this type of work can get the best of you.”

The impact is not the same for everyone.

Former Vanderburgh County Prosecutor Stan Levco, who has been involved in two capital cases in his career that resulted in executions, said the length of the legal process helped insulate him from the emotional torpedoes that those on the defense side might experience. He said he finds the process to be more physically and mentally exhausting than emotionally taxing.

secrest_gary-mug Secrest

“These cases do test your beliefs, they are very difficult, and there’s a lot of pressure. But for me it was a matter of being physically exhausted after trying one of those. You need a break,” he said. “Maybe, if a jury came back and that person might die sooner, I might react differently. But an execution is so far into the future that it really didn’t impact me.”

Indiana Chief Deputy Attorney General Gary Secrest and Appellate Chief Steve Creason say these death penalty cases can cause them to think a lot about the process and morality of this punishment, and at times they’ve found themselves questioning whether it’s really worth it. But it comes back to the gravity of the situation and making sure the circumstances of the crime are balanced with a defendant’s constitutional rights and what the survivor might want to see as punishment.

They say being slightly removed from these cases helps insulate the state appellate lawyers from being as affected as those at the local level or defense side who might be more intimately involved.

“We lose, someone lives. A defense attorney loses, their client dies,” Secrest said. “The reality of that speaks for itself at what these cases mean in the grand scheme.”

Hammerle agrees, as someone who’s felt the full weight of losing a death penalty case and walked away from that type of work. Given the economic cost and overall toll these matters take on the legal community, he doesn’t see how it’s possible to justify pursuing death penalty.

“This whole capital system exploits the victims and prevents them from fully healing for at least 10 years, and it brutalizes the participants like defense attorneys and prosecutors … who are forced to go through this,” he said. “From that moment, it was an experience of trying to bear witness to that and not walk away as a broken human being. I may have psychologically survived, but I became a casualty of the capital punishment system and couldn’t go back.”•

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  1. This guy sounds like the classic molester/manipulator.

  2. Louis D. Brandeis was born in 1856. At 9 years of age it would have been 1865. The Brandeis family did not own slaves. My source Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, by Melvin L. Urofsky.

  3. My name is Matthew Lucas Major, I recently went through a jury trial in Bloomington , In. It was the week of Feb 19-21. Although I have been incarcerated since August 5, 2014. The reason I 'am writing to you sir is on the 21 of February the jury came in with a very excessive and wrongful verdict of guilty on 6 child molesting charges against my daughter who was 9 at the time I was accused. I also had 2 other Felonies one of Intimidation and 1 of Sexual Vicarious Gratification. Judge Marc Kellam on the second day of trial gave me a not guilty on those 2 felonies. The jury was sent out during that time and when brought back Judge Kellam told them to not concern themselves with the 2 Felonies that he ruled on them. They were told to not let evidence they had already heard influence there verdicts. I never in my life touched any child sexually and definitely not with my own daughter. When I was arrested Detective Shawn Karr told me I would be convicted guilty just on my daughters word even without evidence. That's just what happened. my public defender did me so wrong he never once proved to the court and jury all the lies the child told, and Jeremy Noel my public defender could of proven the lies easily. The stories in Serenity's depositions and Forensic interview changed and were not consistent as Prosecutor Darcie Fawcett claimed they were. Yet my attorney never mentioned that. The facts that the child accused me of full penetration in her vagina and rectum was proven lies. Doctor Roberta Hibbard of Riley hospital in Indianapolis confirmed Serenity's hymen intact, no scars, no tearing, no signs of rape to her. Yet my attorney didn't use that knowledge . the DNA was all in my favor. I tell you I will spend my entire life in prison going through rape and beatings etc. even Judge Kellam abused his authority by telling the jurors to listen and believe what the prosecutors side in evidence like my daughters testimony. In one interview with the detectives my daughter got flustered with her mom and said on camera " I'm saying what you told me to mom"!! Yet Mr. Noel said nor did anything to even resemble a defense attorney. Judge Kellam allowed edited version of a taped conversation between the child and her mother. Also Judge Kellam allowed the Prosecutor too bring in to my case a knife found under my seat, the knife wasn't part of my case. She was allowed by my attorney and the judge to put a huge picture of it on the screen and huge picture of my naked privates in a full courtroom and open court. Ms. Fawcett says to jury see how easy Mr. Major could reach the knife and cut his Childs throat. Even though I had no weapons charge against these cases. This gave the jurors prejudice thought against me thinking I threatened her with that knife and how scared she would of been knowing i could get it and kill her. On my sentencing court March 19, 2014 my public defender told Judge Kellam he wish to resign from being my attorney and wished for the court to give me outside council to file a error to trial or appeal. We were denied. Now after openly knowing my public defender don't want to represent me he has to. Well when as parents we make our kids clean a room when they really don't wish to, well the child will but don't mean she will do a good job, that's where I'm at with Mr. Noel. please dont ignore mine and my families pleas for your help . we have all the legal proof you could need to prove Im innocent. Please dont make my spend years in prison innocent when you can fix this wrong. Im not saying Im a perfect man or that I was a perfect dad to my 2 children none of us are. Ive made some bad choices in life and I paid for them. But I didnt ever touch or rape my daughter . I love my children with all my heart. And now through needing attention and a ex-wife who told my granny several times she wish she could put me in prison to get me out of their lives. Well my ex finally accomplished her goal. Sad part is she is destroying our daughter with all this horrific lies and things she taught my daughter to say. My daughter will need therapist to ever hope for a chance of a normal life after what she had done to her by her mom and their side of the family. My daughter told everyone even on stand she had a dream months before i supposedly molested her in this dream I was molesting her and when I finally did it matched her dream perfectly. She admitted to watching movies about little girls being molested and watching U-Tube videos about child molesting all before it happened supposedly to her. Doesn't that sound very unusual that a non molested 9 yr old would need to know so much about being molested? The only reason I could think a 9 year old would need so much information is to be prepared to know what to say and be able to say how it felt what took place etc.. So when questioned by authorities she would be prepared. And there again sir if a parent is pre grooming a 9 year old child she would need intimate details . Like telling her daughter about a couple moles on my private area. The child admitted to sneaking my cell and looking many many times at nudes of me and my girlfriend even one where my penis was entering my girlfriends vagina. In that picture my moles are obvious. Yet when prosecutor showed everyone in court my privates and pictures of the moles she said the only way the child would know about them is if she saw them for herself. My attorney once again said nothing about the pictures my child saw. Or could a ex-wife be able to describe my moles to help her case against getting rid of me? I beg you help me. This is my very existence. Ive lost everything , a good job, a wonderful girlfriend, my freedom, but worse thing Ive lost is my children. They were my reason to get up every morning and strive to be better. The wonderful bond I had with my Serenity is gone. After this I would be afraid to even hug her for fear of what next can they do to me. I'm not afraid to tell you I sit here in this cell and try to hold back my tears. Everyone knows you cant show weakness in prison. My life has already been threatened here at Wabash Valley Prison. After only 3 days of arrival. I was tricked into signing a waiver now Im in G Block General Population with 6 child molesting felony charges. Mrs. Hart as a 18 year old I almost died hooked to machines in hospital almost 1 month and now I know that fear was childish compared to this . I cant help but put emotions in this, after all Mrs. Hart Im human and God help Me I never been more afraid in my life. I didnt hurt my little girl I didnt touch her sexually. As much as it shreds me and fills my mind what Im facing I worry more about my mom and granny because of their great love for me mam they are suffering so deeply. I aint done this things but my loved ones suffering right along beside me and If you take my case you will be in essence freeing them also. I sent momma this letter and asked her to email it to you. I'm scared I have been done so unjustly by our legal system and I need you to fix this and give me freedom. I ask you please don't just ignore my pleas. Here in America its nice to be able to trust our legal justice system, well they destroyed my and my loved ones trust in our justice system . And I'm trusting in You !!! My entire family is suffering this nightmare with me. My 77 year old granny had a stroke and isn't doing so well. My single mother that raised 3 kids alone is dying from Lupus and since my arrest has stayed so sick and weary. Our lives torn to peices by a government I was taught I could trust in. my momma has tried so many innocent project and wrongfully accused and cant get anywhere. please please help me. A quote from the late Nelson Mandela: To be free is not merely to cast off ones chains, But to live in a way that respects and enhances The Freedom Of Others. I have Faith in you and your clinic to cast my chains off and give me freedom I do deserve as a wrongfully accused Man, son, brother, father, friend. Matthew Major DOC# 246179 Cause # : 53c02-1308-FA-000779 God Bless you. Please contact me with your decision so I know you made a life changing decision for me , just please at least write me so I know you care enough about your citizens to respond to cries for your help. You can speak openly with my mother Charlotte Spain (828) 476-0406: 71 Lakeview Dr. Canton, NC 28716 Thank You Matthew Major I know yall get thousands of request and inmates claiming innocence, and each person who are innocent deserve to have organizations like yours willing to fight for them and I give yall so much Thanks and I thank God everyday yall are out there caring enough to help free the innocents. Since discovering firsthand how easily lives and families can be destroyed by Poor Defense attorneys not doing their job . And Prosecutors allowed to do as they please in court

  4. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  5. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

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