Justice sometimes is about money, says Phil Mahoney, the Seattle attorney who represented Lorraine Netherton, subject of last week's SW cover story. After reading that the convicted murderer's ex-husband has spent over $100,000 on her appeal, Mahoney says "It's a damn shame." If he'd had that kind of a budget, rather than the $800 he earned (Donna Johnston, who sat second chair for the defense, received nothing), "our chances of success would have been substantially improved.
"Unfortunately this is common on the part of defendants. They are so blinded to the difficulties with their defense due to their sense of being right and the mistaken feeling that no jury could think otherwise." And there's more detail from the trial record, he says, that supports Netherton's appeal claim that she was wrongly convicted. For example:The issue for the jury was to decide if Lorraine's claimed self defense response - three shots fired, two of which struck victim Desiree Rants - was reasonable to the threat posed. As the prosecutor contended, you don't bring a gun to a fistfight.
"The record showed that Desiree opened her car door directly in front of Lorraine as she chased kidnapper Willie [Rants], knocking Lorraine galleywest. Desiree then leaped out of the car and knocked Lorraine into the berry bushes, shown by the numerous fresh thorn scratches on Lorraine's leather coat exhibited to the jury, and then broke Lorraine's nose, shown by medical evidence."
Desiree Rants, Mahoney notes, "was 20 years younger than Lorraine and, to the best of my recollection, heavier than Lorraine. Is it reasonable for someone trying to make a justifiable citizen's arrest of a kidnapper to fear severe bodily injury from the kidnapper's accomplice who was engaged in a continuous assault against the citizen? The jury thought not but a less gun-fearing jury east of the mountains might very well have come to a different conclusion."
Mahoney thinks the county's pathologist from the Medical Examiner's Office was the "most obstructionist, biased expert witness I have encountered." One eyewitnesses claimed Netherton shot Rants in the back while she was on the ground, even though evidence clearly showed Rants was shot from the front.
"When I asked the pathologist if it wouldn't have been impossible to shoot Desiree in the back in that situation, the pathologist just 'couldn't understand the question'...I finally had to lie on the courtroom floor for the pathologist to finally understand the question." A prosecutor almost mockingly also laid down on the floor. "This type of hostility," says Mahoney, "translates to the jury a sense of guilt from a supposedly neutral witness."
While a bigger budget at trial would have been of great help, Mahoney says his only regret is that, looking back on his closing argument, "I believe now that I would use an analogy with a police officer. That is, no jury would ever convict a cop of using excessive force in shooting a kidnapper while trying to effect an arrest as opposed to a citizen in the same circumstance, rather than just arguing that a citizen arresting a felon has the right to use necessary force.
"The moral is, if you're a citizen, let the felon go rather than risk your future by trying to stop the crime."