Monday, November 30, 2009

When You Make a Closing Argument with a Grenade, Don't Pull the Pin.

Yes, that's right, when you bring a grenade to court, and set it out on the jury rail to make a point during closing argument, in this case about "imminent threat," don't pull the pin. 

The Above the Law Blawg links to the following story recounting the tale of the Hutchinson, Kansas lawyer, Sam Kepfield who was defending a Hutchinson, Kansas resident.  The grenade being used for "illustrative purposes" was a dud. The classic moment in this account of courtroom tactics gone awry was when Kepfield pulled the pin on the grenade and asked the jury, "Are you afraid now?"  The jury took all of 15 minutes to convict Kepfield's client.  

The unique courtroom performance by attorney Kepfield triggered a county and state investigation.  


  1. Ahahaha WHAT THE HELL KANSAS. That is ridiculous.

  2. I don't know that I've talked about closing argument much, it is an art form. Maybe the greatest example being Johnny Cochrane's famous "if it doesn't fit, you must acquit," argument in the OJ criminal case.

    The best closing arguments are short, sweet, stitching together of testimony and evidence into the party's narrative. And like Johnny Cochranes' glove the closing argument should fit like the hand into the glove of the opening remarks during voir dire, opening statement and especially the evidence admitted by the Judge at the close of the case. Of course,what constitutes short and sweet depends on the scale of the evidence. But I can assure you juries hate pompous lengthy closings where the lawyer deviates from the truth.

    Closing arguments begin with an "opening closing" from the party with the burden of proof, either the prosecutor in a criminal case or the plaintiff in a civil case. The defense then gets to present their (usually) only opportunity to make an argument, followed by a "closing closing" argument that may not delve into any new topics or areas of argument. Frequently, at the stage where defense counsel makes his or her close, he or she will say,"this is my only chance to argue and Plaintiff's counsel Mr. 'Big Liar' is going to get up here and say some pretty persuasive things that you know I will have a response to, so when you get back in the jury room will you take a moment and think through what my response would be?"

    Surprisingly, good closing arguments can be made in really boring cases by the lawyer who listens carefully to the evidence and continually asks him or herself, what is the jury making of this and what would I want to know if I were sitting on the jury. The courtroom gimmicks, like the grenade are often huge duds.

    A dear old friend of mine died recently. I may have actually talked about this in the blawg, we were trying a case against one another. My client had testified that an occurrence took 10 minutes in her estimation. My colleague, the defense lawyer sought to impeach her testimony, and discredit her generally. He pulled off his big-ass gold watch and the courtroom sat silently as an impossible long time passed, he looked up and said, "OK folks, that's 30 seconds."

    When given a chance to respond, I looked at my friend and smiled, "I'm sure we are all impressed with Hank's Rolex." Everyone laughed. Inadvertently, Hank's Rolex reminded the jury of just how much money these bastards had and the jury acted commensurately when they awarded my client $500,000 for the sexual harassment that transpired over "only ten minutes."