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April 16, 12:07 pm CT. The ground proximity alarm called out their height
above the terrain 200 feet ... 150 feet ... 100 feet ... 50 feet. Just before
touch down, the Captain applied hard left aileron to correct for a gusty
crosswind. The small business jet made a dull thud as she plowed into the desert
sands at 120-mph.
The wheels on the left main gear hit first and dug into the sand. The aircraft twisted left. Then when the wheels on the right main gear hit, she twisted right. She spun like a whirling dervish. She almost ground looped. The nose wheel came down hard. She pitched forward. Anything unsecured in the cabin sailed like a missile toward the front of the airplane. The Captain had both hands on the tiller steering the nose wheel. It took all his strength to maintain control. He yelled to First Officer Matt Glamary to deploy the drag chute. They both pushed hard on the pedals to apply maximum braking.
The tired old lady bounced along the sand for another half-mile. She moaned. She groaned. She sounded like a wounded animal. It was a ride like none they'd ever experienced.
When the airplane finally ground to a halt, all was quiet. Too quiet.
Brad Anderson glanced over at Matt. He had a deep gash on his forehead, also a bloody knee. Anderson thought he was okay. That was before he felt the big knot on the side of his head ... before he realized he couldn't move his left arm. When he tried, he felt a bolt of lightning shoot up his arm to his shoulder. The pain was excruciating. It made his head spin. He drifted into unconsciousness.
Randall Richards grabbed for the cell phone lying in the seat beside
"Attorney Richards," he answered.
"Randall, it's Roberta. The jury is in. They're on their way back down to the courtroom as we speak." Roberta Phillips was his administrative assistant. She sounded excited, almost out-of-breath.
It was 5:12 pm. The jury had been out for over a week. Richards feared that they were hopelessly deadlocked.
He'd experienced an anxious few days. Richards always got antsy waiting for a jury to reach a verdict.
At 4:30 pm on this Wednesday afternoon in mid-April, Randall Richards had decided to call it a day. He was winding north on Peachtree Road, a six lane thoroughfare that would take him from mid-town to his home in the suburbs.
Traffic was light for a weekday afternoon in Atlanta. The weather was warm. Richards opened the sunroof to make the most of it. Mellow sounds from National Public Radio filled the car with the peaceful strains of classical music. The ring of his cell phone snapped him back to reality. Seconds later, he made an illegal u-turn. He sped back toward the Federal Courthouse. He dashed into the courtroom. Richards took his seat behind the prosecutor's table seconds before the bailiff called the Court to order.
"All rise, he commanded, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia is now in session, the Honorable Wilbur Heaslet presiding."
Out of breath, Randall Richards stood-up then sat back down. He glanced over at the defense table. Defense counsel was reading over some court papers. He didn't look up. However, the four defendants seated at the table beside him glared back at Richards.
Two years ago, a jury had acquitted the four young men on murder charges brought by the state. The defendants were black. The victims were white. The defendants ranged in age from 18 to 22. They came from very well-to-do black families. They'd received the best defense money could buy from one of the area's best-known defense attorneys.
Everyone thought the state's case was a slam-dunk. But a jury made-up of six African-American women, two Hispanic males, one Asian woman, two African-American males and one male Anglo, had found them innocent.
A City of Decatur Police Officer discovered the two white male victims in an alleyway behind a nightclub frequented by gays. They'd been sexually assaulted with a baseball bat before being savagely beaten to death.
Witnesses testified that earlier in the evening, the four men on trial were harassing the victims inside the club. But evidence tying them to the murder scene was circumstantial. Strong, but circumstantial.<P>At trial, witnesses for the defendants provided them an alibi for their whereabouts for an hour each side of the time the medical examiner testified that the killings took place. Without an eyewitness, that was enough to get them off.
The case had received a lot of media coverage, before and after the trial. Its brutality caught the eye of Randall Richards, the Chief U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia. Richards reviewed the transcript. Afterwards, Randall Richards surprised everyone by filing federal charges for the commission of hate crimes also for violating the victims' civil rights.
Judge Heaslet jogged a stack of papers in front of him. He looked up, peering
over his granny glasses at the twelve men and women seated on his
"Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury, have you reached a verdict?" The jury foreperson replied, "We have your honor."
She handed a piece of paper to the waiting bailiff. The bailiff passed it to the judge. A stone-faced Wilbur Heaslet reviewed the jury's findings. He nodded and then directed the defendants to stand. He ordered the bailiff to read the verdict aloud.
"On count one, violating the civil rights of the decedents, we find the defendants 'not guilty.'
"On count two, the commission of a hate crime resulting in the death of both decedents, we find the defendants 'not guilty.'"
The four defendants all exclaimed "yes!"
Judge Heaslet rapped his gavel and said he wouldn't allow such outbursts. The defense attorney smiled. He began placing all the items scattered about the defense table into a large, black alligator briefcase.
Randall Richards sat motionless in his chair behind the prosecutors table.
Dumbfounded. He shook his head. He tossed his pencil high into the air. He
couldn't believe that after deliberating for eight days, this jury had let these
On his way out of the courtroom, the young prosecutor congratulated defense counsel the venerable Austin Boyd.
Randall Richards was in a deep blue funk. He disliked losing as much as anyone. But it really went against his grain when the guilty went free and unpunished. Richards also dreaded breaking the news to his boss Warren Simpson, the Attorney General.
Richards pondered his future. Was it time to consider a career move? Was the frustration he felt professional or the beginning of a mid-life crisis?