Judge Hilburn, who had been a law school classmate of mine, proceeded to break the news that he was appointing me and another Jackson lawyer, Merrida (Buddy) Coxwell, to defend Byron De La Beckwith, the indigent defendant in the resurrection of an infamous but unresolved murder case from Mississippi’s violent passage through the Civil Rights Era of the 1960s. He went on to tell me, as he was concluding that short phone call, “About fifty lawyers have asked me to appoint them to represent Beckwith.” “Then why the hell didn’t you appoint couple of them?” I asked, making no effort to conceal my incredulity. “Because I don’t want his conviction to be reversed because of ineffective assistance of counsel,” he answered. “Oh, he’s going to be convicted?” The judge quickly responded, “I mean if he’s convicted.” “See you tomorrow morning,” he concluded. The only thing I could say was “Yes, Sir.”
Excerpt from presentation materials by Mississippi Supreme Court Justice James Kitchens to the Kentucky Bar Association 2015 Convention.
June 17, 2015 Lexington, Kentucky