Larry Webster: Some lives valued more than others

Contributing ColumnistJuly 6, 2014 

Larry Webster

A prominent lawyer is assured of knowing all the crazy people in his town, and they all think he owes them something. "Crazy" is not a favored word among mental health professionals, but it worked well enough for generations.

We, as a society, have no trouble figuring out the people crazy-as-hell, and putting them away. We only realize that others are crazy-as-hell when they assassinate somebody, which is often their lawyer or their psychiatrist, then it is too late. We put them away then, after we find them another lawyer to get to know or another psychiatrist to defend them.

When a lawyer who has spent his life involving himself in the murders of others is murdered himself, everyone expresses shock and disappointment, even those who are not shocked and not disappointed. The lives of defense attorneys are valued by the public, but not overly so, because we sometimes get people off.

We are often asked why we represent the guilty, and I answer by telling an old story that Dean Matthews at the University of Kentucky Law School told about a fellow from around Horse Cave whose name was, as I remember, Uncle Charlie Moran. He had retired after being a major league baseball umpire and they were having a big dinner to honor him.

Somebody asked Uncle Charlie if, now that it was all over, would he admit that there were times it was a ball and he called it a strike, or was there an out and he called it safe and he boomed out: "By God, boy, they warn't nothin' until I called 'em."

They ain't guilty until the jury says so.

When it comes to killing, not all lives have the same value. If a policeman shoots you down, your life is not worth much. Police are allowed to assassinate, even on video, but to be fair some states have a limit. However, if a policeman dies in an accident in which you are involved, it doesn't matter much whose fault the accident was, you are automatically guilty.

This is the Wasielewski Theory, named after a Lexington lawyer with courage and sense uncommon enough to speak truth.

Playing hip-hop music or being on the sidewalk in a community where people outside your race live permits white people to kill you fairly quickly, standing their ground.

If you are involved in a fatal car wreck and have in your system any trace of something jurors feel must be condemned, it matters not whose fault the wreck was. You are presumed guilty and will probably be convicted of homicide based on certain myths the non-drug using public believes.

This is especially true in Kentucky, where our Supreme Court has acknowledged that our statutes on vehicular homicide are indecipherable — not that they would want to do anything about it or anything like that.

If you are an infant unfortunate enough to lose your life because of some lapse of judgment on the part of your parent, whether or not your parent gets prosecuted for that will depend largely on your social status. Horrible accidents are more likely to be crimes if caused by the poor.

If you are a dog or cat and get murdered, your killer is likely to do more time than if you are a rabbit or squirrel.

Reach Larry Webster, a Pikeville attorney, at

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