He walked into The Kit Kat Club, a raunchy bar room in a bad part of town, to break up a fight. One of the chronic inhabitants of the low life gin mill slipped a 25 caliber Saturday Night Special from his right boot, and pumped two rounds into the young cop’s belly. Despite being hit twice, D. P. Fuller Jr. ripped the gun from the shooter’s hand and damned near beat the shooter to death with his own weapon. Medics attended to both men and transported them to a local hospital.
D. P. recovered from his wounds and took a leave of absence from the City Police Department where his dad had governed with absolute authority for twenty years as Chief of Police. D. P. employed his ample financial resources (mostly derived from the family-owned gambling casino), a strong political organization founded by his father, his reputation as being a fearless crime fighter, and his personal charm to get elected to the Parish Council.
D. P. cherished the independence his wealth gave him. His maverick spirit and disdain for chicanery compelled him on many occasions to prance impatiently up and down at Council meetings, denouncing publicly and with great passion a proposition he thought smelled of corruption. He had the well-deserved reputation of being above bribery–which could not be said of all of his colleagues on the Parish Council.
When D. P.’s father became too ill to continue his duties as City Police Chief, D. P. Jr. resigned his position on the Council to administer the family business—being Police Chief. Of course he had to get elected, but that was just a formality.
The City Police Department, under the leadership of D. P., Sr. had long since established the reputation of being tough on crime, especially drug dealing. Most smart criminals avoided doing business in that jurisdiction because the treatment they received from the police could be much worse than any sentence a judge would meet out. Besides, crime was not good for the gambling business which supplied many jobs and votes.
Some thought a relatively crime free city came at a cost of loss of civil liberties for those suspected of criminal activity. I suppose that D. P. Jr. thought more about keeping his city safe than the civil liberties of those he believed to be criminals. On at least one occasion, a civil rights organization brought D. P. Jr. into Federal Court on Civil Rights violations. In casual conversation with me one time at one of his famous Christmas parties, he said, “You know Tom, they said I broke that man’s knees to get him to confess. Now you know that isn’t true because I have bad knees myself.” D. P.’s logic in defense of himself escaped me, but I didn’t pursue the matter any further. We all have friends, relatives, professors and clergy who are good people but do and say things that are indefensible. We don’t just write good people off because of some of their shortcomings.
About the spring of 1972, two punks from New Orleans made the mistake of burglarizing D. P., Jr.’s home. Had D.P., Jr. arrived at his house two minutes earlier, I would not be writing this account of events. D. P., Jr. reached his home just after the burglars fled, but ever the policeman he had noticed their strange car leaving his neighborhood and made a mental note of its description. As soon as he realized he had been victimized, he accessed his police radio and put out an APB (all points bulletin) with a description of the car and its two occupants. Sure enough, the two punks were caught on the Crescent City Connection (the bridge that crosses the Mississippi River) .
The two hoods had the proceeds from the burglary, a gold Rolex watch and a 38 caliber Smith and Wesson snub nose revolver in their possession when they were captured.
Since I had known D. P., Jr. for a long time, and I was the first assistant prosecutor in the Parish, he requested—no, insisted—that I personally try his case. Because D. P. Jr. and my boss were also good friends, he got his way.
In preparation for trial, I met in my office with D. P., Jr. and the evidence clerk, Henry Blank, a meek little man. We discussed whether we would use the gun or the gold Rolex as evidence to connect the defendants to the scene of the crime. When I suggested to Henry we should use the gun in evidence, he tucked his head down in shame and muttered under his breath, “I don’t have the gun”.
“You lost the gun!” I blurted out in frustration.
D. P., Jr. interrupted the conversation. “I have the gun right here”, he said emphatically, pulling his coat aside to show me the gun in a holster on his belt. “I couldn’t be without my favorite gun so I went to Henry and got it back”, he further explained.
“I wanted to use that gun in evidence,” I angrily told the two of them.
“Well, I’ll just give it back to Henry until the time of trial,” D. P. Jr. offered.
In total disgust with the pair, I explained what both of them knew or should have known, “We can’t do that because you have broken the chain of evidence. We will just use the Rolex instead”.
As the case proceeded toward trial, the families of the two young defendants hit up other family members and had fish fries to raise money for their sons’ defenses. They were able to hire experienced criminal defense attorneys. The lawyers did a good job and exhausted all pretrial discovery procedures.
D. P., Jr. kept badgering me to get a quick trial date. He insisted that the two punks who had the audacity to burglarize the police chief’s house should go to jail for life–if not get the chair. I told him time and again that these novice burglars probably had no idea whose house they were breaking into. Furthermore, I explained, “I doubted that any judge will give the maximum sentence because these young fools don’t have much of a rap sheet”.
The day of trial arrived. D. P. Jr. showed up early, strutted about the courtroom, tossing his head from side to side and saying under his breath “They should go to the Joint for life”.
The defense attorneys started plea bargain negotiations with Judge Boutall, a man of extensive judicial experience and a good sense of humor. I told the judge, who knew D. P. Jr. and his family well, of the victim’s desire for a maximum sentence. As was my standard practice, I made no recommendation as to sentence.
Plea bargaining went on during jury selection. D. P. Jr. became more and more agitated. I told the judge, “I am ready for trial, and I don’t know how much longer I can control D. P. Jr.”
Time and again, Judge Boutall had offered sentences of ten years and seven-and-one-half years to the respective defendants if they pled guilty. The difference in sentences was based on the disparity in their rap sheets. Time and again, the attorneys presented the judge’s offer to their clients, who refused to plead to those sentences.
About the time D. P., Jr. was about to blow his stack, Boutall tired of the dickering, turned to the first attorney and said, “Tell you what I will do. I will give your boy ten years.” Then he turned to the other lawyer and said, “I will give your boy seven-and-one-half years.” Then addressing both defense counsels the judge said, “Or, in the alternative, I will give each of your boys fifteen minutes alone in this room with D. P. Fuller, Jr.”
The startled lawyers brought the disquieting news to their clients. They advised them plea bargaining was over, and they should consider themselves lucky to be breathing and sound of limb.
Pleas were entered, sentences imposed and D. P., Jr. left the courtroom muttering to himself, “They should have gotten life.”