On April Fools Day 1983 I was in a Fort Lauderdale bar getting a buzz and trying to hustle some nameless girl. Poor thing, she was as lost as I was — only neither of us knew it.
“Can I have another beer?” I asked the bartender.
“I don’t know, can you?” the smiling bartender replied facetiously.
Sporting a Hawaiian shirt and a tan, this wannabe comic behind the bar looked like one of the Beach Boys. He provided the perfect visual to blend in with the fragrance of suntan lotion and the sound of the Jimmy Buffet song cranking away in the background. Wasting away again in Margaritaville .
He put another bottle of light beer in front of me and asked, “So, do you live here?”
Not sure if he was asking if I lived in Fort Lauderdale or if he was being sarcastic about my recent nightly appearances in the bar, I chose to answer the more straightforward question.
“I just moved down here to stay with my father. I’m waiting for the bar exam results,” I said while raising my eyebrows to signal my uncertainty about whether I would ever be a lawyer.
“You keep killing those brain cells and you’ll have nothing left by the time they make you an attorney,” he quipped, laughing good-naturedly.
“You gonna be a lawyer ?” asked my potential target on the next barstool, sitting up a little straighter.
“Oh, now you’re interested,” I responded, teasing her. I leaned in a little closer to her, figuring I had nothing to lose.
Just then, the overhead lights by the entrance turned off and the dance floor lights blazed on. Under that kind of wattage, I could see my barstool-mate was no belle of the ball. But she did a double take, too. I didn’t exactly look like anyone’s Romeo after a hard day of drinking at the beach.
In that bright light, the streaked bar mirror revealed that my hairless baby face looked tired, and my brown hair was sand-matted and sticking up all over the place. And as if that weren’t enough to attract the lonely young waif, my tanned face had white rings in the shape of my cheap sunglasses. They made the perfect frame for my tired, bloodshot eyes. I was just the kind of guy you’d want to take home to mom.
“Last dance, last chance for romance,” crooned the DJ, as the bar-back cleaned up around us. Aside from the weight-challenged co-ed in the Ohio State T-shirt and the old guy flashing his Rolex knock-off to her, everyone in the bar emptied onto the sandy and slippery wooden dance floor.
“Can my future ex-wife and I have one more for the road?” I slurred, figuring I needed it now more than ever.
“Oh, great,” she complained playfully, “we haven’t even started yet and I’m already your ex?”
Little did I know that while we were flirting and drinking, three men were being murdered in Miami . I also was clueless that seven years later I would be retained to defend the ex-cop accused of being their cold-blooded killer.
The jury was out on whether I had killed too many brain cells that night. With any luck, I had at least a few left. That bartender was right; I was going to need them.
“Mr. Contini, do you have any questions for the witness?” Tyson asked.
“Just a few hundred,” is what I wanted to say. Instead, I rose and said, “Yes, Your Honor.”
Not able to sleep the night before, I kept getting up to scribble notes on blue three-by-five-inch index cards. It took 11 hours over several days to meticulously record all the inconsistent statements Carbone had previously made under oath. These cards, which had the page and volume numbers from each of Carbone’s previous statements, depositions and Grand Jury testimony, would serve as cross-examination tools for quick and easy impeachment and cross-reference purposes. The goal was to blow Carbone’s and the jurors’ minds, quicker than anyone could say, “Could you please repeat that?”
The stack of cards was in my left hand as I held a five-by-seven-inch photo of Carbone in my right. Before I left the defense table, I heard Gil mutter encouragement: “Go get ‘em.”
As I approached Carbone, I thought, “How am I going to reconcile my desire to be a good Christian boy with my need to eviscerate this thug who’s killing my guy?”
“I’ll tear him up and repent later,” I said to the guy in my head.
I stood in front of Carbone, holding the photo of him from his bodybuilding heyday, when he was a huge and scary-looking steroid freak.
“This animal depicted in the picture, is that you?”
“That’s the biggest I ever was,” he responded.
“I certainly hope so,” I replied sarcastically. “Isn’t it a fact that you were bench pressing 565 pounds at the time?” I asked.
“Yes,” he replied.
“Isn’t it also true that you had the reputation of muscling people around and not taking no for an answer?” I pressed.
“Is this is how you looked when you held the three victims at gunpoint with your Thompson sub-machine gun, while you listened to them beg for their lives?” I asked.
Frowning at me, all he said was, “Yes.”
“And this is how you looked when you drove them to their deaths and walked them down Danger Road in the middle of the night?” He didn’t answer.
“And this is how you looked when you made them kneel in the water and you shot each of them in the head?” I persisted.
“Gil shot them, not me. I wasn’t in the water,” he replied coldly.
Getting closer to him and raising my voice, I asked, “And of course we’re supposed to just believe you because you say so. Right ?”
“It’s the truth,” Carbone remarked.
Carbone shifted in his seat and coughed, allowing me a millisecond or two to nonchalantly rifle through the systemically arranged index cards. I quickly found the reminder for which I was looking.
“And was it also the truth when you stated in your sworn deposition that Mr. Fernandez drove the car to the murder scene? You just stated under oath on direct examination that you were the one who drove the car.”
“It was a long time ago. I don’t remember,” Carbone said defensively.
I kept my eyes locked on him as I walked over to the round metal trashcan I’d strategically placed between the witness stand and the podium . I gently flicked the card into the can without skipping a beat. The card made a soft thumping sound as it hit the inside of the empty receptacle.
“Mr. Carbone, are you telling this court that on that night – a night that had to be the most horrific of your life – that you don’t remember who drove the car that delivered the victims to their deaths? You don’t remember who drove the deathmobile?”
“I don’t remember ,” Carbone repeated, sounding annoyed.
“You said it was your white Grand Prix that was used that night. Is that correct?”
“OK, I’m really curious. You said your car was a 1980 Grand Prix. Right?”
“That car had bucket seats in the front, according to Pontiac records for the 1980 Grand Prix. So, if that’s true, then your car was a five-seater, wasn’t it, sir?”
‘Now, sir, you were huge, as we’ve already seen from this photo. And you said Gil and Tommy were with you — and we know they were huge. And then there were the three victims. They weren’t small, either. So then, let me ask you, how on earth did the six of you fit in that five-seater car?”
“We squeezed in.”
“Sir, are you telling this jury.