In June, I received a call from my good friend Beth Tibbott, a dynamite young Pittsburgh criminal defense lawyer.
Mike, I have been asked to take on a first degree murder case. Will you help me? Of course! Tell me about the case.
She did. It seems that one Edward Merritt had been arrested by detectives from the Johnstown Police Department. They claimed that Merritt and an unidentified other man shot and killed a man named Zachary Andrews in his home. While there, claim the police, they also shot and wounded another man.
I am coming up to Pittsburgh this weekend, I told her, to watch my beloved Pirates at PNC Park. I will be meeting my parents there. My parents have not seen the Buccos play in person since they took me to Forbes Field in 1969. I will be free Saturday morning, I said. Why don’t you meet me and let me take a look at the file.
We met that Saturday. Looked like an interesting case. Eyewitness? Maybe. Confessions? To jailhouse snitches? Could be. Forensic evidence? Hmmmm. Right up my alley.
I agreed to help, and we began work preparing for the preliminary hearing scheduled for July.
We got together again in early July at a seminar in Chicago. While there, the District Attorney’s Office called her to say they were requesting a postponement of the prelim. Until September. Sigh.
The more Beth and I brainstormed, the more interesting the case appeared. One thing led to another, and I applied for formal admission into the Pennsylvania Bar, on a pro hac vice (one case only) basis. In August, the judge approved my application.
In September, I got a call from the prosecutor. Another postponement request. I cannot agree, I said. My client is in jail without bond, and we need to move forward. I flew up, and Beth and I met the prosecutors and two detectives in the magistrate’s chambers, where the magistrate presided over informal negotiations regarding discovery deadlines and the prosecutors’ witness problems.
In a compromise, they got their postponement, but we got an enforcement hearing before the trial judge. A discovery deadline order, and a February trial date, resulted.
The discovery deadline was set by the trial judge for December 18. I made plans to fly up and meet Beth that Saturday. Of course, I would go to the Steelers-Broncos game the next day at Heinz Field.
Earlier that week, I spoke with the lead prosecutor. Just touching base, I said. Are you going to comply with the discovery? Um, no, he began. He had more to say. A whole lot more. I can’t quote him, because I promised I wouldn’t.
Instead of providing discovery materials, he filed a motion to withdraw charges. The trial judge signed an order granting his motion.
Case dismissed. Game over.
I am undefeated in Pennsylvania.
If only my Pirates and Steelers could say the same!