Q: How Does A Fish Get Caught?

A:  He opens his mouth.

The single most important advice I give my clients is to keep their mouths shut.  In fact, I give this “advice” in the form of an absolute directive.  Now I’m certainly not Moses, but a person charged with a crime should follow this advice as though it were the 11th Commandment.  A defendant who runs his mouth about his case is committing a cardinal sin, which will send him to hell on Earth, also known as prison.

Obviously, a person accused of a crime should never, ever talk to the police.  But the same thing goes for non-law enforcement people.  Don’t talk about your case to friends or family, either.  And if you find yourself in custody, you damn sure don’t talk to a cell mate.  Anything you say to a fellow inmate will (not “may,” will) be repeated to the police.  Jerry Mitchell, investigative reporter from The Clarion-Ledger penned an article in today’s paper that shows what happens when a defendant talks to a cell mate.

Edgar Ray Killen was convicted of manslaughter for his role in the civil rights-era murders of three civil rights workers.  He was sentenced to a total of 60 years in prison, which he is currently serving.  Even though he was convicted, his case is being appealed through post-conviction remedies.  If his appeal is successful, the convictions will be reversed and a retrial would likely be impossible.  In other words, if he wins on appeal, he goes home a free man.

Apparently, Killen just couldn’t keep his mouth shut, and started talking to the guy in the cell next to him about other murders in which he may have participated.  According to Mitchell,

[FBI] Agents have interviewed former inmate Larry Ellis, who collected handwritten and verbal answers to questions he posed to Killen from an adjacent cell. After analyzing Ellis’ documents, Memphis handwriting expert Thomas Vastrick concluded the documents match Killen’s handwriting. ‘The writers are one and the same,’ he said.

In his interview, Ellis told FBI agents that Killen talked of witnessing the killings of 11 black Mississippians, saying, “They’d disappear or get arrested and end up hanging themselves in their jail cells. Our boys was a hot group, protecting the home front.”

Ellis told the FBI that Killen said those who joined the Klan ‘couldn’t just watch – you were made to participate, well, not made to ’cause most of them wanted to do the punishments to the heathens.’

Ellis told the FBI that Killen mentioned another Neshoba County killing – a black man whose body was dragged “all through n—– town” until there was nothing left but rope.

Even though Killen has a shot at getting out on appeal, he starts popping off to a cell mate and implicates himself in other murders.  If he ultimately beats the rap on his current charges, he will then have to face potential charges as a result of his confession to his “friend.” 

This is a perfect example of why absolute silence is required if a person has been accused of a crime.  If a person finds himself in custody, he needs to understand that the guy in the cell next to him is not his friend.  He’s looking to trade up, and will sacrifice another inmate without a second thought if it helps him.

The dangers of loose lips are also abundant even if the accused is out on bail.  If a person talks to a “friend” about his case, what’s going to happen if said “friend” gets in trouble himself?  He’s going to rat his buddy out to get a softer deal.  Even if the “friend” doesn’t get into trouble and intentionally snitch, people like to gossip.  Gossip has a way of finding its way to informants, who promptly pass it on to the police.

A person accused of a crime is not even safe talking to his own family.  Family has a tendency to want to help.  Usually, this “help” takes the form of talking to the police, thinking they can convince the police to take it easy on the accused.  And they invariably tell the police what the accused has said about the crime.  This misguided, jailhouse lawyering virtually guarantees a conviction.

If you’ve been arrested for a crime, or think the police may suspect you of committing a crime, the first thing you need to do to help yourself is to be quiet.  The second thing you need to do is call me.

Remember:  Think.  Don’t Speak.  Call Me.

Mississippi Criminal Defense Lawyer Curt Crowley

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