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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, November 04, 2016

Hit-And-Run Verdict Proves System Still Works

Darious Condash's football helmet
at Wawa exit, on Schoenersville Rd
Following a four-day trial, a Northampton County jury found Royce Atkins, 23, guilty yesterday in a fatal hit-and-run that killed nine-year old Darius Condash. The accident itself occurred almost exactly one year ago when Condash, accompanied by an older friend and cousin, crossed busy Schoenersville Road - a five lane highway - at night. But this case was about much more than the actual verdict. The question to me was whether money buys justice.  In this case, the answer is No.

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.


Anonymous said...

Disagree, you had this guy guilty before the trial. You are playing this off as class warfare instead of a quest for justice. You hate the attorney because he is Pawlowski's attorney and you hate all things Pawlowski, so this young man must suffer your wrath.
we don't know exactly what happened. We know that unsupervised kids were in an unsafe and dangerous area(where were the parents to supervise?). Tragically a boy died. The young man panicked and made a mistake after an accident that was not his fault. Your graphic details notwithstanding.
You are hardly the person to be judging what happened and why.

maverick said...

Bernie, I couldn't have agreed w/ you more!

C said...

Lugubrious, thanks for the new vocab word!

Anonymous said...

If 3:39 AM is a parent, I feel sorry for his children.

Anonymous said...

This 3:39am making some sort of claim to entangle the mayor with a childs death. All lives matter here in the USA, this man left the seen of a accident and also punched out early from work. The after work cocktail was not seen as a hide nor hair was mentioned. Fleeing itself is an act to cover a act and most deffinatly there is more than just scared explination. Accident, there was no need to run from the seen and than hide the car until police had to search it out!

Children were not givin by God to be burried by there perants just because they are inner city children and there perants votes are needed, sounds like the team snake oil salespersons trying use one example of such a tragedy as a spinning point and another as a entirerly different spinning use to sway public oppinion and the actors future.

There used to be a great opening to a 70's sitcom, that began with "Don't do The Crime if ya Can't do The TIME"!
REpublican redd

Bernie O'Hare said...

3:39 is likely Constable cRaZy. Not much we can do with her. Actually, I went into this leaning on he side of Atkins, more or less. I also have a high opinion of Jack McMahon when he's prepared, but that hasn't been the case in his last two appearances in NC. He did his client no favors by refusing to pursue a plea.

The facts that she recites (attempting to blame the pedestrian and the parents) might be relevant in question of negligence, but that is not the issue here. The issue here is the duty to stop. A jury has concluded that duty existed and was violated by Atkins.

Anonymous said...

I don't disagree with the jury's verdict but why does a parent allow a child to cross a 4 lane state road to get to Wawa at night. Contributory negligence?

Bernie O'Hare said...

That is irrelevant to the question whether a crime is committed. It is a red herring. That is only relevant to the question whether Atkins was negligent. He was not. All the more reason for him to have stopped. If I ran into the middle of Route 22 to be hit by an 18-wheeler, that would be suicide on my part. No one would blame the driver of the truck. But he still has a duty to stop. I think that testimony concerning the failure to use a crosswalk about 1/4 mile away could have been excluded.

Anonymous said...

Nobody wins in these type of cases very sad story so many what if 's what is 9 year old doing alone on shoernsville rd. without any sidewalks sad or all involved

Bernie O'Hare said...

He was not alone. He was accompanied by a 15 yo cousin and friend.

Anonymous said...

While I'll start off by admitting I don't know the details of this case, other than as presented in the post, it was very unusual to see this presented in a way that played up the "class warfare" aspect so much. A tragedy happened, and the boy was killed. As Bernie stated, if the driver had stayed, it's very unlikely that there would have been any charges. The young driver panicked and left, and is being punished accordingly, which is the correct decision by the jury, based on the facts as you presented them...no more, no less. The second tragedy here will be the effect the decision to hide will have on the life of the driver - it obviously pales in comparison to the death of the young boy, but there's no punishment that can change what occurred and he'll be dealing with this for the rest of his life. It's no less a tragedy because he apparently comes from an affluent family.

Anonymous said...

This area has become the second 7th street of the Lehigh Valley.

Anonymous said...

Ono, don't go there, that is the sacred cash cow campaign contributors that you are speaking of!

Anonymous said...

BO, question. If the young man had panicked and left the scene but realized his mistake and went to police the next morning and gave a full account, do you think he would have received any jail time? He had still fled the scene but he would not have appeared to be trying to hide.

Anonymous said...

anon 3:20, had he gone to the police he may have received a suspended sentence and avoided jail time. Hard to say since did not do that. He screwed up and parents did not supervise their child. Sadly, a child is dead.

Bernie O'Hare said...

As I have pointed out several times, whether the parents failed to supervise their child is irrelevant to this crime. Who the fuck are you to say the parents did not supervise their child? What do you know about that? I doubt you have any understanding or empathy for what happened. I cannot begin to tell you the number of times my own kids did things I would never have allowed, or the number of things I did that my parents would never have allowed. You are talking out your ass and have absolutely zero understanding of what it is like to raise a family, and are reaching conclusions because the color of Condash's skin is a little too brown for you. You also have no idea what would have happened had Atkins turned himself in. Had he done so, he would not have been charged at all. Had he done so the next day or perhaps two days later, it is possible he could have pleaded to an offense that would avoid a mandatory jail sentence.