Closing Arguments and the Downfall of a Prosecutor

Freda Back During Peterson Trial
Freda Black during trial of Michael Peterson

If you are a survivor of crime, a fan of legal dramas or have read my former blog discussing closing arguments, you understand that the closing argument can be thought of in many ways. It can be the icing on the cake, the last nail in the coffin, the bow tying it all together,  the crescendo of the symphony,  or it can even contain the rare “gotcha” moment as in the Drew Peterson trial, for example.

The stakes are so very high for the defendant.  As accused murderer, Michael Petersen so aptly put it, no matter which side you’re on, “It’s all about winning, truth is lost.”

You will find attorneys who are very skilled at theater as that’s what the closing argument truly is. The quality of the argument surely is influenced by the evidence, or lack thereof, and the character of the defendant. Other crimes not relevant to the current case are typically not allowed to be part of the scenario.  Even when the evidence of the defendant’s guilt is unquestionable, as was the case in the murderer of my father, prosecutors still engage in character assassination of the victim.

This brings me to the fascinating closing argument of former assistant prosecutor, Freda Black, in the initial Michael Peterson trial. A hearing in November 2011 ruled that Michael Peterson was eligible for a new trial due to the lies and incompetent methods used in many cases by special agent Dwayne Deaver. I remain steadfast in my opinion that Michael Peterson is guilty, but can respect the intense, strategic and intelligent defense provided by David Rudolph.

As for Freda Black, she was an enigma, very complex and just plain bizarre. She reminded me of a real-life caricature of the cartoon character Cruella Deville. To truly capture her unique persona, one would need to view the full 384 minutes or 6.5 hours of The Staircase to truly capture her unique persona.

Her clothes and make up were very intense, her mannerisms, and interactions were out of the 1940s or something, combined with the speech pattern of a “true Southern lady.” And yet, you may know the theory of the case and the motives presented. It was NOT the prefect marriage at all, with the discovery by Kathleen Peterson of gay porn on Michael’s computer and his bi-sexuality with revealing e-mails the night of her killing in which an argument ensued.

Freda Black
Freda Black

Despite Freda Black’s uniqueness, the doubt about the true murder weapon and the other women killed from a fall down the stairs, Freda delivered her portion of the closing argument flawlessly, as only she could do, with Jim Hardin adding a little icing at the end.

It’s a bigger impact to see the closing arguments of Freda Black and Jim Hardin, and I encourage you to find a copy of The Staircase to be able to experience all the nuances she brings to the case.

From my personal copy I’ve transcribed the complete closing arguments so readers have the opportunity to know what she said, and how she said it.

Freda Black & Jim Hardin’s Closing Arguments (PDF)

 

NOT included in her closing argument was the infamous Owl Theory put forth by attorney Larry Pollard. In an interview from August 20, 2008 Freda Black discounts the the Owl Theory, explaining why she feels it’s not a legitimate theory.

The Next Chapters –

Freda Black, the sometimes villainous assistant prosecutor and southern lady extraordinaire, had a legal career spanning from 1991 to at least 2008 according to internet sources. Perhaps it is customary to be dismissed when you run for elective office against the head prosecutor, I don’t know.

Durham County Rocked by Scandal and Corruption- 

As reported in the Washington Post in March 2014, Michael Nifong was the assistant district attorney for Durham County. He would later be appointed, and then elected to district attorney. He was Freda’s boss.  He make national headlines in 2006 when he falsely charged three Duke University lacrosse players with sexually assaulting a stripper. In 2007 Nifong was disbarred for his handling of evidence in that case. He was also found in contempt for making false statements about the case in court and faced potential civil suits.

In 2010, a report from the North Carolina Attorney General’s office as a follow up to a prior local newspaper investigation, uncovered widespread corruption and malfeasance in the state’s crime lab. This included the infamous special agent Dwayne Deaver (associated with the Michael Peterson trial and many others.)   Fallout from that scandal contributed to the removal of Nifong’s successor, District Attorney Tracey Cline, in 2012. (Prosecutors are rarely ever removed from office for misconduct.)

Freda Black ran for the top prosecutor’s office in 2006 and 2008, but unfortunately lost both times.

In 2010, Freda Black and Kerry Sutton were among those who sought Judge Anne McKown’s 14th District Court seat in Durham, according to the State Board of Elections.   Doretta Walker wins the seat.

And Then Something Happened to this Legal Servant-

Let’s be clear. I would not be the fan club president for Ms. Black. However, it appears she was just doing her job to the best of her ability, coming out of a trail with more permutations and layers than one could imagine that continues today.  She ran for other offices and appeared to have support in a community tainted by scandal.

 

Freda Black
Freda Black

 

As reported:

One of the key figures in the Mike Peterson murder trial is now facing her own legal challenges.

Former Assistant District Attorney Freda Black is due in Durham County Court on Dec. 10 on drunken driving charges.

A former Durham County Assistant District Attorney was arrested Tuesday night in Orange County after police allege she was driving while impaired.

Freda Black, once a high-profile prosecutor in Durham, was arrested about 5:26 p.m. on the 200 block of East Corbin Street in Hillsborough, according to her arrest report.

This isn’t the first time Black has been accused of driving while impaired. In October 2012 she faced the same charge in Durham County. Black is due to appear in Orange County Court on Feb. 5. She was released from custody under a written promise to appear, according to arrest records.

It is unclear if Black is practicing law, but she is still an active member of the North Carolina State Bar.

According to Orange County Sheriff’s office arrest document Black’s current employer is Durham Cleaners. As Jim Hardin stated at the Peterson trial, “This picture speaks a thousand words”

Commentary 

Judge Jim Hardin
Judge Jim Hardin

I don’t disparage anyone working at a dry cleaning business if that’s all they can do, or if they really love it.  All of us age and frequently gain weight. All of us have problems and many turn to drugs or alcohol to numb the pain. I just wonder if the Michael Peterson trial and all of the Durham scandals, or simply a lonely life contributed to Ms. Black’s current situation. We may never know. It is very tragic when the full extent of the impact and the toll on lives is measured. I prefer to think of her when she was at her best closing argument ever!

PS. Jim Hardin has been on the bench as a practicing judge at least since 2011.

 

 

Additional References –

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-watch/wp/2014/03/20/darryl-howard-and-the-rampaging-prosecutor-durham-learns-little-from-duke-lacrosse-debacle

http://www.heraldsun.com/news/showcase/x1351410967/Former-Durham-prosecutor-Freda-Black-charged-with-DWI

http://abc11.com/archive/8845874/

19 comments

  1. McLennan County, Texas District Attorney, Abelino ‘Abel’ Reyna, has many problems going with the Twin Peaks Shooting in Waco, arresting 177 bikers on a fill-in-the-blank warrants, speaking out with a Gag Order in place, and ignoring The Michael Morton Act.
    Reyna, in my opinion, is a classic Narcissist!
    Hopefully, the voters will see the error of his ways and vote him out!

  2. Freda Black and Jim Hardin both did a terrible job in the Peterson case. It was laughable. Did they even investigate at all? Most likely not. The judge was biased and on their side from day one. What a waste of time and money and years.

    • And she had the worst closing argument ever. I was cracking up the entire time. Sure Peterson was an arrogant narcissist, but that doesn’t change the fact that her closing statement was so embarrassing!

    • Completely agree. Freda Black’s closing argument was ridiculous and the whole trial was a sham. I don’t believe they investigated and I also think there was some degree of evidence tampering (and not just Deaver)

  3. I found Freda Black to be outrageously bizarre in her closing statement. If I had been a member of the jury I would have had a difficult time identifying with her and taking anything she said to be credible.

  4. Having watched “The Staircase” it is amazing to me that anyone would think that her performance was anywhere close to being professional. This woman is a monster, as was her District Attorney. She was far more concerned with salacious details that facts. She was an embarrassment to the criminal justice system. Peterson may have been guilty but the prosecutors had no case. Lies, BS and her grandstanding is all that got a conviction. She should never set foot in a court of law again.

  5. Err, there’s no proof his wife found any “evidence” of his extramarital activities, that was a motive produced by the prosecutors after they gained complete access to his computer. I would NEVER search my significant other’s computer because I trust them, but beyond that, what they’re doing outside of our relationship, if we’re happy and healthy otherwise, is actually none of my business. Monogamy is not the way for all people, and you’re also assuming she wasn’t having her own activities outside of the marriage with his blessing. See? These are assumptions I can jump to about a dead woman without any proof to the contrary.

    I don’t believe you actually watched The Staircase and walked away with any kind of clarity about him being absolutely guilty when the experts proved what happened. Furthermore, the owl theory is far more viable of an explanation as to cause of death than ANY evidence to prove he threw his wife down the stairs and beat her to death. His interactions with the children (the spiteful daughter aside) proves he doesn’t have some kind of crazy evil temper like his dead wife’s family wanted us to believe. They have a very loving camaraderie with their father, even leaving their small children alone with him, and that alone proves he was a loving, caring, even tempered man. As a survivor of childhood abuse, I can tell you 100% I would never leave my children, or anyone’s children, alone with my abusers.

    That whole entire trial was a ridiculous circus of mishandled evidence, including the fact that they knew the blowpoke theory was garbage because they found it, looked at it, then put it back and told the jury and all the world that he had “gotten rid of it” because that’s what he used to beat his wife to death. Radisch even said the woman died from bleeding out, not from blunt force trauma. There’s zero evidence whatsoever to show that he had anything to do with her dying, and the fact that you believe them? Ridiculous. That woman fell down the stairs, cracked her head, struggled to get up, floundered in her own blood on the stairs, got her own blood everywhere, then passed out from it and slid to the bottom of the stairs. That’s the only thing (besides being attacked by an owl that had attacked someone else in that neighborhood prior to this incident) that makes any sense.

    And he didn’t throw that woman to her death in Germany, either, she had a damn brain aneurysm and fell down the stairs. End of story. A doctor proved that on the scene. Just because people want to have a bad guy to blame for inexplicable medical tragedies, it doesn’t make it true. What a crock.

    This was straight karma for this evil woman, and the fact that the man who was the lead prosecutor is a judge is absolutely sickening.

    • I could not agree more! Everything you stated is 100% on target! This entire trial was a hogs mess from the very start. I live in NC and it doesn’t suprise me the least bit. The court system is ran by a bunch of glorified hillbillies in this state, and Miss Black proves that to be true. The minute I saw that mugshot, the words karma left my mouth immediately! Michael lost his life,poor Kathleen lost hers, and because of the evil lies Miss Black contributed to she now essentially looses her life as she once knew it. Looks like I might need some dry cleaning done. Hopefully she will be working Lol.

  6. Are you sure you were watching the same doc as the rest of us? Hardin and Black could barely speak on the subject of homosexuality. You have so much insight and opinion as to “how Hardin and Black did their jobs and how they were perceived by the community”, but you didn’t observe their BLATANT homophobic attitudes, speech, and general contempt when they had to speak about Peterson’s sexual preference? And Black’s closing statement? I AM STILL CACKLING.

    Hardin and Black were shining examples of how homophobia is rampant, especially in the southern USA. These “professionals” you praise so highly had a dead mother’s body exhumed for no good reason, cops spoke as if they had a genuine vendetta against Peterson among a slew of other botched procedures.

    ….maybe they DID have a vendetta, as Peterson wrote newspaper articles about police corruption. And they did a poor job of hiding their homophobia so that gets tacked on, too.

    Police corruption+Police homophobia = you guys are making it way too obvious.

    Look, I don’t have anything personal against you – you’re probably a very nice person but this article is absolute trash. Your article plays out like, yes, it was written by the President of a Fan Club.

    There was absolutely nothing tieing Peterson to his wife’s death, but OVERWHELMING proof on the part of the prosecution of mishandled
    evidence, perjury, etc. And you take the side of the bumbling homophobic liars?

    Really????

  7. You must be mentally handicapped if you believe the work done by the prosecution was even remotely competent. It was a sham, the entire trial was corrupt. Beyond the fact that it was rigged, the District Attorneys were still both awful. Completely unconvincing, unintelligent, and generally incompetent.

  8. It was not their job to “investigate”. It was to prosecute. Obviously you think Peterson is innocent. Who then made the seven lacerations on the top his wife’s best friend Liz Ratliff’s head and left her in a pool of blood at the bottom of a staircase in her home? And who then made the seven lacerations on the top of his own wife’s head leaving her in a pool of blood at the bottom of the staircase of her home? Michael Peterson is a cold blooded murderer who was fortunate to have enough of his wife’s money left to hire the best defense attorney he could.

    • Thanks for all of the comments! I thought Freda was good theater. That afterall, is what prosecutors do. If it was tried in a progressive New England State where I originate, it would have been a whole different trial. My opinions have evolved on guilt or innocence. I just can’t conceive of Duane Deaver having had any credibility all of those years. He was a clown. Yes, Michael Petersen is a narcissist and a flawed man. I think this experience has shown him he needed to come down from his pedestal. It will be debated forever… No one truly knows the truth except the two parties involved. And… yes I think it remains sad that Freda ended up the way she did. I hope since then she has gone to AA and had recovery. Crime had many backstories to tell. I know author Diane Fanning and hope she will accept an invitation to return to my national radio show, Shattered Lives Radio. If you have interest, here is a link to her book- http://dianefanning.com/project/written-in-blood. Thanks to all! Ladyjustice

    • There were no lacerations on the top of Liz Ratliff’s head. There was no indication he left her in a pool of blood at the bottom of a staircase in her home. There is also no indication Kathleen Peterson had the occasion to meet Liz Ratliff invalidating your assertion about “his wife’s best friend Liz Ratliff”.
      Mike Peterson was fortunate enough to have the money to defend himself. One of the biggest take-aways of the docuseries was that only those who live in privilege/financial wealth can afford a good defense team. Despite having the resources to afford a great defense attorney like David Rudolf, justice cannot be found.
      It was sickening to watch the ease with which the State displayed their unbridled homophobia. After watching the unethical abhorrent behaviors of those representing the State, I found myself sympathizing with Michael Peterson and watching in horror as this parody the State called a trial illuminated the fact that no matter how corrupt, ridiculous, illogical, illegal, immoral and unethical the case/contention/evidence or lack thereof the State (not limited to NC) presents, a jury will convict out of an abundance of hate and their inability to accept realities that fall out of their own realities (people believe that a relationship/marriage cannot be healthy and even idyllic if it does not look like a traditional marriage- one man+one woman= marriage. Perhaps that does not equal idyllic?). When Deaver lied to increase his credibility, stature, ego and the case against Michael Peterson for the State, his contempt for justice and science oozed from his pores. He was arrogant and argumentative, just like most of those who represented the State.
      If you look at the State players in this case, they all worked seamlessly together in concocting something that simply wasn’t there in order to “win”. It is heartbreaking to see the lack of justice in this country. This does not mean every legal jurisdiction is corrupt and perverted but when an entire community convicts a person based on lies and an orchestrated story, it brings to life the scariest scenario of the unthinkable science fiction created; an Orwellian State.

  9. This article is hilarious— but not as hilarious as assistant DA Freda Black’s entire argument was. Their case was based off of speculation, subjective thoughts, bribery and evidence tampering, not actual facts. Regardless of guilty or not guilty, there was insufficient evidence to find Peterson guilty. Oh and furthermore, you might want to update your article because the documentary you speak of and the court records indicate that only ONE WOMAN, not women, who died- not killed- by falling down a staircase, something Peterson was not charged or convicted with. Freda Black is just a bigot who tried to lie and cheat her way to a win all while under oath. Try reporting the facts next time.

  10. I’ll concede that Black had an entertaining manner to watch, only in the capacity that she was so put out by Peterson’s personal life it became funny almost seeing that southern hate bubbling up.

    Beyond that, she was complicit in falsified evidence and so entirely untrustworthy.

    The simple evidence is this, never in North Carolina had there been a beating enough to kill someone and not cause brain injury or skull fracture. I don’t think this is the sudden first case where on alleged multiple blows, somehow every strike was enough to cut and not break bone. If one laceration had happened with fractures, sure. But seven apparent perfectly tempered blows? No.

    Even the owl theory, of which feathers and leaves were never mentioned in the staircase, is more plausible by injuries than a beating. I believe the defence experts on forensics and biomechanics came closest to the answer. Anyone still believing in the beating still has overlooked how much of the initial evidence was tampered, falsely sold in the stand or withheld if against their case. How can even their base theory and assumption be trusted anymore when nearly everything it was built on has been dismissed or proven in some way wrong.

  11. The owl did.

    Smashing someone’s head in over and over again with a large metal rod would damage the skull.

    Come on. Use your brain.

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