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.
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.
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.
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”
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 –