The attorney-client privilege prevents lawyers from telling the most interesting stories they know. Those, we take to the grave. But from time to time, enough truth is evident to permit a tale to be told. Today, for Mother's Day, I relay one that still haunts me, many years after the fact.
Raymond was a man in his late 50s. He lived with his mother, C., in a down-and-out town in Connecticut's Naugatuck Valley. The brass industry once thrived there. Now the region struggles to maintain its dignity in the face of an uncertain future.
I represented Raymond in a federal case. He was accused of trying to pay a man to burn down an apartment building to prevent Hispanics from moving into his town. Raymond, a convicted felon with little money, sought to pay for the arson with firearms. It was Raymond's misfortune that the man agreeing to burn down the building in exchange for guns was an undercover agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF).
Because Raymond was a convicted felon, he should never have possessed the guns he used as tender. He faced charges relating to the arson and to the possession of firearms. He was in a difficult spot.
But Raymond had the undying love and devotion of his mother. The two wrote one another constantly while he was incarcerated awaiting trial. Both wrote in a tiny, curlicue script that had the look and appearance of ancient Greek, line upon line jammed together without apparent regard for punctuation or space between the words.
I read these letters when the prosecution handed me a sheaf of them. They were intercepted at a federal facility. They were the principal exhibits in the new charges being lodged against Raymond, attempted murder of a federal official and a witness.
"Mom, if you read that that sick fuck, BLANK, is dead, send $1,500 to ...," and he relayed an address out of state. "The same is true if that bastard [the ATF agent] gets killed." It turns out Raymond had tried to persuade some cell mates into brokering two contract hits.
This was not welcome news. A bad situation for my client got worse.
I tried to talk to C. about this new bend in the road.
"Oh, that's my Raymond," she said. "He don't mean nothing by that. It's just talk." She stood about 4 feet eight inches tall. The largest feature about her, frankly, was her mouth. When she spoke about her son it always felt as though her need would swallow me. She was a hungry Pelican.
In the end, we decided to negotiate a plea for Raymond. The evidence was overwhelming and he stood little chance of success at trial. I hoped for a sentence of 10 years. Raymond had mental-health issues and poor physical health. The judge had a reputation for leniency.
I argued at sentencing that his letters really weren't the product of a tough-talking Tony Soprano. Rather, he was a trash-talking Danny DeVito. He didn't intend to kill; he was merely venting, indulging in jailhouse fantasy. The judge didn't buy the argument, and sentenced Raymond to 14 years.
"What about me?," C. bellowed as her son was led in chains from the courtroom. "Who is going to take care of me?" She was in the front row of the spectator's gallery. She looked like a frightened robin, mouth spread wide, eyes wide with panic.
"The Government does not care about you, Mrs. D.," I tried to reassure her. It was no use. "My Raymond. My Raymond," she kept saying.
I spoke to her several months later. The FBI had learned that Raymond was still trying to recruit hit men in prison, only this time he was now seeking to have me killed.
"Mrs. D.," I said, "tell him to knock it off. This is going to get him in a lot of trouble." I worried, too, that the dark market in human misery behind bars might just find someone willing to put an end to me for a pittance. It takes far less to arrange a contract murder than most folks realize.
"Oh, Raymond doesn't mean anything by all that," she said. And, frankly, I agreed. "He's just running his mouth."
C. turned out to be right. Years later I am still here. The last time an FBI agent called to ask me whether I noticed anything different in my routine I told him the following: "Yes, you people keep calling and scaring the shit out of me. I'd rather be dead than beholden to you. Stop calling. Raymond's just blowing smoke."
I don't know whether C. is dead or alive now. She'd be in her nineties if she is still living. I think about her today, on Mother's Day. I failed her in unavoidable ways. I will never forget the sad sight of her in the courtroom as her son was led away.