Courtroom Warrior by Nile Stanton (2024)   
  

  
   Below are highlights of three dramatic nationally-publicized criminal cases I tried and have written of in my memoir as a defense attorney.

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The Death Penalty Case of Larry Hicks

Larry Hicks

    Look into the eyes of this good young man, then clearly understand this: Larry Hicks came within four days of being executed in Indiana's electric chair for supposedly stabbing two men to death in a fight inside a Gary home and was thereafter represented by a public defender who wholly failed to investigate the case, did not know Larry faced the death penalty until a week before trial, and then presented almost no defense.

    After Larry was convicted in a day-and-a-half trial and sentenced to death by the judge when the jury could not decide on a penalty, the PD failed to initiate any appeal and had not applied for a stay of execution by the time I met Larry at precisely* the essential moment and got involved. A stay of execution was granted; and, after I hired the recently retired polygraph expert from the Indiana State Police Department and later the nation's top polygraphist at the Keeler Institute in Chicago to run tests on Larry, both concluded that Larry was telling the truth when he claimed he was not involved in the double homicide.

    With that information in hand, I was awarded a grant from the Playboy Foundation to help defray expenses after Playboy magazine's senior editor, Bill Helmer, had a private detective conduct a preliminary investigation into the case as well as Larry himself. Then, a few months after the trial judge was persuaded at a hearing to grant a new trial, Helmer published an article about the matter titled “The Man Who 'Didn't Do It'” in the August 1980, issue of Playboy.

    At Larry Hicks' new trial, in my opening statement I reminded jurors of the judge's earlier instructions that the burden of proof was on the state to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and that the defendant had no burden to prove anything at all and then told them that, in this case, the defense would accept the burden of proof and affirmatively prove that Larry was innocent – which we powerfully did.

    Then, after Larry was found not guilty and the jurors were still in the courtroom about to leave that night, I invited them and the judge to celebrate the acquittal at the Holiday Inn, and 11 of the 12 jurors and the judge (the same one who had once sentenced Hicks to death) celebrated with Larry and the defense team, with the last people leaving after the sun came up the next day. A Chicago newspaper promptly blared the front-page headline "A lawyer snatches man from Death Row" and an Indianapolis newspaper wrote, "Forgotten man is rescued from death row." Bill Helmer's second article, published in the May 1981, issue of Playboy was “The Ordeal of Larry Hicks.”

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    Special note: Larry Hicks was a deeply religious man who prayed for God to help him and got others to pray for him as well. We met* by mere coincidence (some people might think, but reread the previous sentence and below) a mere eight days before he was set to be executed. He was sure that God sent me to save his life and told this to a psychiatrist, who told Larry that he probably should not mention it to the judge at an upcoming pretrial competency hearing or the judge might think he was crazy.

    * I was leaving the state prison (170 miles northwest of my office in Indianapolis) after having met with a few clients and prospective clients and was passing through a small secure room approaching a door of bars. Larry was passing through the same secure room. Handcuffed in front with a chain connecting the cuffs to leg-irons, he was being escorted to a different door than I was heading to. I was approaching a sliding door of bars through which I would go to the front of the prison, proceed out into the parking lot, and head back to Indianapolis in my new Jaguar XJ-6. Larry Hicks, on the other hand, was heading toward an iron door opening to a hallway that would eventually take him to a special cellblock where men waited for an opportunity to sit in the Indiana electric chair.

I was near the sliding gate when, from slightly behind me and to my left, I heard a man say, “Sir... Sir.” I turned and listened for a minute while the guard escorting Larry patiently waited. - Larry had been in a visiting room meeting with a Chicago-based journalist who had interviewed him to get his thoughts about being the next person in America scheduled to be executed after John Spenkelink would be the following day in Florida.

Had I left the attorney-client visitation room a minute or so earlier than I did, or had Larry come out of his interview a minute later than he did, we never would have met. Or, if the guard had said something to Larry like, “Let's keep moving, young man; if you want to talk to Mr. Stanton, write him a letter and make an appointment,” the train on the fast track to death would have kept chugging along.

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    The Shocking Insanity Defense
    Case of Tony Kiritsis

    This was one of the most highly publicized cases of 20th century.

    Interest in the Tony Kiritsis case of 1977 persists to this day due to the spectacular nature of what he did (kidnapped a mortgage company executive, wired a sawed-off shotgun to his neck, marched him around the icy streets of Indianapolis, and held him hostage for 63 hours), several terrifying lengthy portions of which were broadcast live on radio and television.

    In 2017, Alan Berry and Mark Enoch co-produced the award-winning documentary titled “Dead Man's Line: The True Story of Tony Kiritsis.” That same year, Richard Hall (Tony's kidnapped hostage) published Kiritsis and Me: Enduring 63 Hours at Gunpoint, with Lisa Hendrickson. In early 2022, actor Jon Hamm co-produced and voiced the role of radio talk show host Fred Heckman (who aired Tony's obscenity-laden rants), in a podcast of eight episodes titled “American Hostage” written up favorably in Variety, GQ, and elsewhere. I blasted Hamm's podcast in an op-ed piece for the Indianapolis Star.

    The “not guilty by reason of insanity” verdict stunned almost everyone, especially because Kiritsis had repeatedly shouted over the airwaves that he was not crazy, knew perfectly well what he was doing, was getting revenge for having been cheated – and had made detailed written plans to do exactly what he did.

    When the verdict was returned in October of 1977, it was promptly announced during a break in an NBA basketball game going on in Indianapolis between the Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls, and the stadium erupted in a standing ovation of loud clapping and cheers. The outcome was hugely popular both locally and nationally, but many politicians, business people, and others thought the verdict was outrageous.

     The verdict acquitting Tony Kiritsis was broadcast live on television across Indiana. The reading of the verdict was then quickly aired on nationwide TV, an unprecedented media event.

     Indiana's insanity defense laws were promptly significantly changed (gutted), as were most others around the nation within the next few years
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    The Case of the Highly Talented
    but Coerced Smuggling Pilot Rick Curry

    Rick Curry of Venice, Florida, was the “Ace,” allegedly the main pilot and trainer of other pilots for the international drug smuggling organization known as The Company, who was indicted and tried in federal court for having flown multiple tons of drugs, primarily marijuana, from Colombia and Mexico into Florida, Texas, and elsewhere on several occasions over a period of years. In an effort to pressure Curry into pleading guilty, the government also charged him as a “special dangerous offender” claiming his piloting skills were “critical to international narcotics smuggling,” a charge that mandated an enhanced sentence of 25 years to life imprisonment and could be read to the jury only in the event of convictions on the underlying charges.

    I interposed a coercion defense for Curry, who testified on his own behalf and admitted to making the smuggling trips the government's witnesses claimed and, further, to getting paid a great deal of money for those trips. But, Curry also testified that he had no alternative but to make the trips else he, and likely his wife, would have wound up as alligator bait in the swamps of south Florida or in Biscayne Bay wearing concrete shoes. The evidence regarding Curry's flights was dramatic: E.g., getting forced down over Colombia by its Air Force, captured by Air Force ground security then stolen from them by threat of superior force by the Army, then freed when a smuggling organization paid a large bribe for Curry's release.

    Think Tom Cruise as Barry Seal in “American Made” but without the farcical trimmings or the federal government's assistance.

    Curry's not guilty verdicts outraged the district court judge (who had generally acted as co-prosecutor) so much that he told the jurors to join him in chambers after they were excused and then excoriated them for the verdicts, causing one juror to cry and try to change her vote. Which conduct was reported to the chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago, who gave the district court judge a written reprimand, with a cc: to yours truly.

    These verdicts of acquittal based on a coercion defense in a case wherein a smuggling pilot stood accused of making multiple flights over a period of years are, to the best of my knowledge, the only such acquittals in United States history. I served as counsel for Rick Curry in four states.

   In the last case in which I briefly represented him (until he absconded to Canada), the charge was that Curry flew a planeload of Quaaludes from Colombia to Florida, landing in the dead of night on the private airstrip at the governor of Florida's ranch.

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   All told, six nationally publicized criminal cases, including my own, are discussed in my memoir, which also relates stories of several much less publicized but fascinating cases involving allegedly “impossible” (incomprehensible even to me) acquittals, cheating cops and prosecutors, clearly incompetent defense attorneys, and other matters.

~Nile Stanton

A succinct biography is available here:
https://occasionaljustice.com/NSASB.html