“Where I come from we call that sort of fellow an O.B.K.” I must have looked perplexed, because my friend Gorman quietly continued. “Yeah, you know; O.B.K.—Oughta Been Killed,” my friend and former prosecutor Judge Gorman Taylor explained to me. We were sharing our experiences as young prosecutors, and I had just finished my tale of Mabel and Vick Bezou.
The story I related to Gorman described how Mabel stabbed Vick to death on Christmas Eve night at The Canal Bank Inn that served the workers of the industrial West Bank of Jefferson Parish, La, and the trial that resulted from the killing. Many patrons saw Mabel dispatch Vick with her six inch butcher knife in the lively river front joint that smelled of marijuana and stale booze. Forensic evidence confirmed Mabel’s fingerprints on the knife and Vick’s blood type splattered on Mabel’s dress.
Vick and Mabel lived “common law” for many years and brought four youngin’s into the world. Vick had a history of being mean and abusive to Mabel and the kids. Mabel had no history of violence, but did carry a knife in her purse for protection since she couldn’t afford a Saturday Night Special.
The cogent legal question in this case was: On the night in question did Mabel have a sufficient, legal justification to use her knife in self defense? A Grand Jury said she didn’t, so my boss assigned me the task of trying Mabel for murdering Vick.
Bob Zibilich was a friend of mine and one of the best, if not the best, trial lawyer I ever encountered. Every time I stepped into a courtroom with Bob, he taught me a lesson or two. His lean six-foot-four frame, long, wavy brown hair tinted with grey, a shaggy aristocratic mustache, and tweedy clothes made him an imposing figure. His deep, warm, resonate baritone voice reminded one of a grandfather reciting Aesop’s fables to his grandchildren.
The Jesuits formally educated Bob in Greek, Latin and the classics, and even persuaded him to try the seminary for a brief while. Despite his astute education, he communicated in any vernacular with ease and grace. Not pretentious nor condescending, Bob was always warm, sincere and truthful. People, especially juries, instinctively liked and trusted him.
As was the custom in Mabel’s neighborhood, her friends and relatives put on a community “fish-fry” to raise money for her defense. Bob’s defense was going to be simple–justifiable homicide in the exercise of the ancient right of self-defense. Put more crudely, Bob intended to convince the jury that Vick was an O.B.K.
The day before trial, after Judge Cocke ruled on all pretrial motions, Bob and I repaired to the local watering hole, Whitesides, to imbibe, listen to courthouse gossip, and tell tales. Young lawyers kept Bob’s glass full as long as he would tell courtroom stories, which could be all night. I gave up around midnight when Bob was just getting into high gear.
The next day we came to court before the appointed time. It wasn’t wise to show up in Cocke’s court even a minute late. I sat at the counsel table, nursing the mother of all hangovers and promising God I wouldn’t do that again if he would just relieve me of my misery. Bob came strolling in, chipper as usual, and looking as though he had just stepped out of a photo session for Esquire magazine. I knew he must have been hurting as much as me, but the rascal didn’t show it.
We went through the voir dire process with the jury venire (pool of prospective jurors) and selected twelve solid citizens to decide Mabel’s fate. I gave my opening statement and now it was Bob’s turn to explain his defense to these twelve fine people. Bob rose to his full six-foot-four, with nary a note in his hand, strolled behind me, patting me lightly on the shoulder as he went by, and stood directly in front of the jury.
“My name is Bob Zibilich, and I am here representing Mabel Bezou who is charged with murdering her common law husband Vick Bezou.”
He then turned in my direction and extended a hand toward me and said to the jury, “Tom, here is the Assistant District Attorney and he will bring many witnesses and much evidence to show you that Mabel did, in fact, kill Vick on Christmas Eve at the Canal Bank Inn here in Jefferson Parish. That’s Tom’s job and he will do it well–as he always does.”
Bob went on, “After Tom does his usual good job and proves to you beyond any reasonable doubt that Mabel stabbed and killed Vick… the only thing I can do is show you WHY Mabel had to kill Vick.”
Bob went on to explain his theory of self-defense and why Vick needed a good killing because of his continual and recent battering of Mabel and her children. By the time Bob got through with his opening statement I even sat there thinking to myself, “That no-good S.O.B Vick needed a good killing.”
We tried the case for two days and concluded final arguments and instructions to the jury on Wednesday evening. The jury deliberated for four hours and concluded Mabel had acted in self-defense and rendered a verdict of Not Guilty and set her free. Bob had convinced them that Vick Bezou was indeed an O.B.K.
Mabel’s neighbors and friends had another fish-fry to raise money for her and her kids. I later learned that she eventually took up with a kind, hard-working man who was good to her kids and helped bring them up. As far as I know, she stopped carrying a butcher knife and never got in trouble with the law again.