|Darious Condash's football helmet|
at Wawa exit, on Schoenersville Rd
At a wedding, guests for the bride and groom often sit on opposite sides of the church. So you can see that one side of the family might appear to be much better off than the other. It was like that here, except this was no wedding.
On one side of the courtroom sat the Atkins family. They were all well-dressed and seem to be well-off. Royce's father, Carter, is an MBA and well-regarded investment advisor at Wells Fargo. He was advised to hire Philly lawyer Jack McMahon, who is very good in a courtroom but very expensive. They were all very nice people, too.
On the other side of the courtroom sat the Condash family. Though they dressed as respectfully as they could, there were no three-piece suits. They were also a bit darker. They were nice, but a little suspicious.
Would money win the day? Would our inner prejudices make themselves heard? Would DA Joseph Lupackino and Detective Gary Hammer just go through the motions in what was an admittedly hard case? Or would they present the facts in all their unvarnished details?
Lupackino and Hammer were superb. Instead of engaging in a game of courtroom theatrics, they presented facts, bad and good. They were fair and honest, and gathered a considerable amount of evidence that only happens when you care about what you're doing.
Gary Hammer, in particular, is a class act. He must have told Atkins 1,000 times he had a right to a lawyer. He let Atkins speak in his own words.
Judge Michael Koury was more interested in the facts and the law than Atkins' financial resources. He made sure that both sides were heard. Though McMahon pretty much ignored every court directive, Koury often responded with humor instead of bile.
Once the verdict was in, Judge Koury was correct to revoke bail. Atkins had just been convicted of fleeing a fatal accident and he did admit to a lie when he testified. He is a flight risk. Since he's facing a mandatory three-year sentence, there's little point in allowing him to remain free. Jack McMahon called this "cruel," but Koury may have been doing him a favor.
Despite the money of Atkins' family, Judge Koury treated the Defendant the same way he would have treated someone else found guilty of a similar crime.
This is one case in which persons of limited means were given the same treatment as multi-millionaires.
Was the verdict correct? I think so.
The one image from that trial that haunts me is one that, by itself, seems relatively benign. It was a picture of one of Darious' multi-colored sneakers, sitting by itself by the side of the road. That was the shoe worn by a boy who, only moments before, had his entire life in front of him.
He apparently loved football, and played for East Side, like so many other kids I know. He broke free from his older cousin and darted out into the street to pick up a piece of fallen candy, just as the light had changed and traffic was coming at him. He may have even gone into a football stance, something Judge Koury noticed.
When Atkins's car hit Darious, traveling at what Atkins himself said was about 40 mph, it picked young Darious up from the roadway. This child's face was dragged up along the grill, and his head and shoulders hit the hood of Atkins' car with such force that his eyelash was imprinted onto the hood.
Atkins claimed he never saw the child, who was eventually sent airborne and was knocked completely out of his sneakers. He pulled over at Oasis, a nearby restaurant, but never got out of his car. He went home and kept the battered car in a garage, away from prying eyes. He showed it to friends later that night, but asked them not to discuss or photograph it. He explained he was embarrassed. When a friend asked him for details, he said he had hit a deer on Steuben Road. He would later admit that he lied. He also punched out of work about two hours earlier that day than he testified.
The jury rejected Atkins' explanation after about two hours of deliberation. But he's no monster. He does seem like a "good kid," and obviously panicked. I wonder how many of us might instinctively flee at first. Had he come back from the Oasis, he probably would never have been charged. Had he called police that night or the next day, he might have avoided serious charges.
But he doubled down. He waited for police to come to him. Then his family hired a person who is reputedly the best criminal lawyer money could buy - Jack McMahon.
He's good, but being a good lawyer requires a bit more than courtroom presence.
He filed no pretrial motions. He failed to read documents that Assistant DA Joseph Lupackino sent to him in March, including a timeclock print out showing that Atkins had punched out of work about two hours earlier that day than he testified to from the stand.
He also ignored Judge Koury's Order instructing him on presenting points for charge.
His most execrable error is that he never even attempted to negotiate a plea agreement with the DA's office. He likely could have worked out a plea to vehicular homicide and could have avoided the mandatory three-year sentence his client now faces. He instead just went to trial, which meant more money in his pocket. When he wants to talk about being "cruel," he should look in a mirror. He should have encouraged a plea arrangement, but rolled the dice with his client's freedom.
He lost, something that's happened to him in every case he has tried in this county, though he could claim a partial victory in the south side shooting trial.
The jury deserves the most credit. They jury put aside their individual prejudices and decided this case based on the facts presented during the trial, not who was whiter or who had more money.
I'm a lawyer who was involuntarily retired before my time. Though I love reading opinions, I get lugubrious about criminal cases, which are always so sad. This is no exception. But I find myself very optimistic about the future of criminal justice after sitting in on parts of this case.
The system still works.