Q: I hear you’re a born-and-bred
A: I grew up in Rock Hill, a relatively small
Southern town. Most people worked in
the textile industry. My grandfather ran a
country store about 20 miles south of Rock
Hill, out in the country, and had a farm. I
was influenced by a bunch of farmers.
Q: No lawyers?
A: No lawyers. When I was growing up, I
read a lot, and I was aware that a lot of
people in this country that I admired were
lawyers—people like Abraham Lincoln.
I was interested in American history,
and it seemed like all the early people in
American history, for the most part, had
studied law. At some point, I thought I
wanted to be a trial lawyer. I think anybody
who ever saw To Kill A Mockingbird—
especially a Southerner who saw To Kill A
Mockingbird—would think that was a great
way to make a living.
Q: Your first stop after law school was
the district attorney’s office.
A: Now that was a steep learning curve.
The office was understaffed at the time
because Charlotte was in a big growth
spurt. There was a fair amount of crime
and not enough people to take care of it in
the prosecutor’s office. So it was kind of all-hands-on-deck. Even the new people who
were inexperienced had to learn fast. It was
kind of like what I’d imagine being a fighter
pilot at the beginning of World War II in the
Battle of Britain felt like. You had to learn
fast, or you wouldn’t make it.
Because of the turnover in the office and
so forth, I only spent about 16 to 18 months
handling misdemeanor cases in the lower
courts before I was trying cases for the state
of North Carolina. I was in the DA’s office for
4½ years. It was a wonderful experience.
Q: Any favorite war stories?
A: Not so much a story, but I’ll never forget
Judge Frank Snepp, who was the senior
resident superior court judge, [and] who
was a Pacific War veteran. He’d been
island-hopping across the Pacific in World
War II. He was a tough old guy, not all
that patient. I got very close to being put
in jail a time or two by him. He would just
lose his temper when you were arguing
with him, and he would threaten to put
you in the lockup. He was a lot of bluster. I
learned that it was bluster because I got to
a lockup but got immediately released. He
put you through the fire.
Q: Do you miss it?
A: Well, I joined this law firm because they
needed to do civil litigation. I wanted to
make the switch. I’d done criminal work
all my career. When I first left the district
attorney’s office, North Carolina had
reinstated the death penalty. To be eligible
to be appointed to defend a death case,
you had to have had experience as a first
chair in a death penalty case. Because
we had not had the death penalty for a
number of years, there were not that many
defense lawyers who were death-qualified.
Q: And you were?
A: Right. So Judge Snepp, in fact, called
me not long after I left the district
attorney’s office and asked me to take an
appointment to defend a capital murder
case. It was a fairly notorious case from
many years ago, with some young people
from an underprivileged background who
were out trick-or-treating. What they were
doing was looking for the opportunity to
rob and steal. A retired elderly librarian
was assaulted and robbed, and then the
young man I represented, who was quite
troubled, went in and beat her and raped
her and killed her.
It was a really bad case, got a lot of
attention in this community. We got a life
sentence out of it, principally by putting
on a lot of evidence about what a difficult
upbringing he had.
For about a decade, I probably defended
10 or 12 capital murder cases. I almost
always had one. Finally, I just went to see