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595: Deep End of the Pool

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Prologue

Ira Glass

When Aaryn was nine, her family moved from China to Canada. And there was this pool in their apartment complex. And one day her dad was like, let's try out the pool. And Aaryn's super excited and her dad is meanwhile thinking, she doesn't know how to swim. Time to fix that.

And as soon as they get to the pool he picks her up, throws her in the deep end.

Aaryn Zhou

And I start screaming. And I still didn't really know what was going on. And I was screaming and struggling in the water. And every few seconds I can kind of see above water my dad standing there like looking at me. And I'm screaming and he's not really reacting.

And then I see like the other kids and their parents. And they were looking really disapproving.

Ira Glass

Did you feel, like at the moment that he threw you in, did you feel betrayed by him?

Aaryn Zhou

I felt angry. I felt angry that I was embarrassed because of something he did.

Ira Glass

Did you feel angry that you might drown? I mean, aren't you leaving out that? I like that the embarrassment is a bigger thing in your head at that moment than like oh, I might actually just die right now.

Aaryn Zhou

I really didn't think I would. Like that didn't even crossed my mind. Like what I was thinking the most was oh, my god. All these white kids and their parents are watching me. Like I was trying to will myself into learning how to swim so I wouldn't have to keep embarrassing myself.

Ira Glass

It is literally only now, only once she started talking about this for our radio show that the thought occurred to her that maybe all those people weren't looking disapprovingly at her, but at her dad. Back when she was nine she just blamed herself for failing.

Aaryn Zhou

I remember thinking like how could you not know how to swim? You just have to swim and be OK. Look at all these people staring at you. And look at the look on your dad's face. Just swim.

And then I feel myself sinking and I can only see water around me. And then a few seconds later, I don't know how long, I feel someone grab me. And then I see that it's my dad. And we slowly get out of the pool. And he didn't really talk to me for the rest of the night.

Ira Glass

She did overhear him telling her mom, I don't know what's wrong, it should have been easy. She should've been able to do it. In the years since, she has never talked to him about it.

But this whole idea of sink or swim, I mean, the actual sink or swim-- you know, throw a kid into the deep end of the pool-- it seems so contrary to all of the other nicey, nicey ways that we try to teach kids about everything else. And it is way more common than you think. It happened to two of our producers here on the show, Emmanuel and Matt. It happened to my wife. They were just tossed in over their heads, no warning, totally caught off guard.

Aaryn says it didn't traumatize her. In fact, it motivated her to try to teach herself to swim a month later so there'd be no further embarrassment.

Ira Glass

You know what's the weird part of this strategy is the element of surprise.

Aaryn Zhou

Yeah.

Ira Glass

Like it seems like if you're going to do this with your kid you could say, here's what we're going to do. I'm going to throw you in the pool and you're going to swim your way out. Like the thought that he would surprise you, it just seems like a completely unnecessary extra bonus piece of trauma to throw on the whole thing.

Aaryn Zhou

Yeah, I don't know why he chose to do that. I should ask him some time.

Ira Glass

Can we call him?

[PHONE BEEPING]

Mom

[NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

Aaryn Zhou

Mama.

Mom

[NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

Aaryn Zhou

[NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

Ira Glass

This, of course, is the universal sound of one parent getting the other parent on the phone. Once her dad was on the line, Aaryn explained why we were calling.

Aaryn Zhou

[NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] Deep end.

Ira Glass

And I have to say, this must have been a very strange call for Aaryn's dad to get at 10:00 at night in China. His daughter lives in Europe these days, plus some man from a radio show in America he's never heard of asking about a totally random incident that happened in Canada 16 years ago.

Dad

I cannot exactly remember that. That's really a long time ago. I cannot remember it.

Ira Glass

The phone line is bad. He's saying I cannot exactly remember that. That's really a long time ago. I cannot remember it. Aaryn's dad said that being thrown into the deep end of the pool was not like some traditional way they taught swimming back home in the village he came from. He didn't learn that way.

And yet when I asked him would he teach a child today to swim that way, would he throw her into the deep end of the pool? He said yeah, maybe.

Dad

Maybe. I think maybe.

Aaryn Zhou

Maybe.

Ira Glass

So you don't think it's a bad idea?

Dad

No, I don't think so. No.

Ira Glass

Aaryn was unsurprised. When he got off the phone she told me even when she was nine and flailing around in the water, for him to throw her in like that, it wasn't like she was seeing some insane side of him she'd never seen before, some unheard of behavior.

Aaryn Zhou

No, that's not insane for my dad. Like it seemed really on character for him to do that. Like if it had been anything else, driving a car.

Like with roller blades he just dropped me off at a grocery store parking lot, made me put them on myself, and then gave me a shopping cart and said hold on to this and you'll learn. And then he drove away and said come home when you're tired. It's just how he thinks I'll learn best, I guess.

Ira Glass

This is a whole coherent strategy for life. It's tough out there. Stuff's gotta get done. Coddling ourselves, coddling others, that's not going to do anybody any good. Today on our program we have two very different stories in which people are thrown into the deep end of the pool, asked to do things they were totally inexperienced at and unprepared for in situations with very high stakes.

In one story, a man faces 20 years in prison. And in the other, the United States faces an implacable foe on a quest for global domination. I am not kidding, global domination. From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Stay with us.

Act One: If You Cannot Afford an Attorney, Some Random Dude Will Be Appointed to You

Ira Glass

Act One, If You Cannot Afford an Attorney, Some Random Dude Will Be Appointed to You.

So one of the many, many things that we all know from watching television is that when you get arrested, someone is supposed to read you your Miranda rights. And those rights include the right to an attorney. And if you cannot afford an attorney, one will be given to you for free.

Well, those free attorneys, public defenders, they have never been adequately funded in lots of states. And in recent years, the problem has reached crisis levels. Lots of public defenders offices around the country simply do not have the money and staff to provide a lawyer to everyone who needs one. And in some states, Florida, Tennessee, Missouri, Montana, Louisiana, the court just picks random lawyers and makes them take the cases.

A few weeks ago you might have seen this in the news, the public defender's office in Missouri tried to assign a case like this, it was an assault case, to the governor of Missouri, Jay Nixon, who's a member of the bar. The head of the public defender's office said it was appropriate to give the case to him because quote, "he was the one attorney in the state who not only created this problem, but is in a unique position to address it" by giving them more funding.

The governor, apparently, is not going to take that case. But other lawyers have to. And there's an interesting problem when they assign these random lawyers to these cases. Often, these attorneys have no experience at all in the kind of law they're going to have to use in the cases.

So for example, if you're picked up for marijuana possession, your fate might be in the hands of a lawyer who specializes in real estate. Reporter David Zax has a story of a case like that in Louisiana, Shreveport, which is in Caddo Parish.

The case went to a guy who is not prepared for it. Quick warning to listeners, there is no explicit or graphic content in this story at all, but there is some colorful cursing. That's actually true for both acts of today's program. And if you prefer a show that has been beeped, maybe you listen with kids in the car, you can get that at our website thisamericanlife.org. OK, here's David.

David Zax

This case is about a burglary. One night a few years ago, a woman woke up to a flashlight shining in her face. This was in Shreveport, Louisiana, in the northwest corner of the state.

The woman screamed and the burglars fled. They made off with two TVs, a computer, an iPhone. But they'd also left some evidence behind, a cigarette butt, a crowbar, and a hat, a black baseball cap.

The police bagged the hat and they sent it to the crime lab for DNA testing. It turned out that some DNA in the hat matched a man named Trastavien Hardy. A warrant was issued for his arrest and he turned himself in. Shreveport was one of those places assigning private attorneys to cases like this because they don't have enough public defenders.

So the judge, he looked at this list he had of private attorneys in the area. It was alphabetical, and he just picked the next name. Jack Bailey, one of those accident and injury guys whose ads you see all over the place.

Jack Bailey

I hope you work every day without being hurt on the job, drive without someone running a stop sign, go through life without ever being hurt because of someone else's stupidity.

David Zax

This one is beautifully lit and shot. Jack is sitting at a big desk. He's in shirt sleeves and suspenders looking quietly tough.

Jack Bailey

But bad things happen to good people. And if it should happen to you, you're going to want someone like me by your side. And around here, there's only one someone like me.

David Zax

Jack Bailey is 64. And for over 30 years, he's made his money on workplace accidents, car crashes, medical malpractice, that kind of thing. Jack likes to call himself a podunk shirtsleeve lawyer. But he's been really successful. He wears monogrammed shirts under those suspenders. He's got a huge stately office with bayonets and a Don't Tread on Me flag on the wall.

He's got a showy dog too, a bull terrier that hangs out with him all day.

Jack Bailey

Oh yeah, he's friendly. Hey Tater, somebody wants to meet you. Tater, wake up.

David Zax

Jack's always liked doing this kind of work. He gets to pick his clients, make his own schedule. He finds out he's been assigned Trastavien's case in April 2015 when a fax comes in, a single-page court order. Jack picks it up, looks at it.

Tammy Burdine

And he's very unhappy, and his face was kind of red.

David Zax

This is Tammy Burdine. She's been Jack's paralegal for over a decade. Jack took the fax to his office, made a racket. He was yelling to himself.

Tammy Burdine

He was in his office for a little while and he came out and he made the comment to me, well, it looks like we're representing a damn criminal.

David Zax

The court order was a form letter. Jack's name was scribbled into a blank. He still has it.

Jack Bailey

Therefore, it is ordered that Attorney Jack Bailey be appointed to represent the defendant in this matter. By the way, it doesn't say this, but for free at my cost. Because it cost hundreds of dollars an hour to operate my office. So I'm actually paying to represent somebody. This isn't free.

David Zax

Tammy was doing her best not to panic over how she and Jack were going to handle the case they'd been assigned. Because Jack doesn't do criminal cases. He doesn't deal with people facing prison time. But Tammy knew that Jack had at least dabbled in criminal cases for a few months early in his career. Maybe they'd be OK.

Tammy Burdine

Surely law school taught him stuff about criminals. Surely somebody taught them something about criminal.

Jack Bailey

I hadn't read the Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure in over 30 years when I got this appointment.

Tammy Burdine

I guess I just thought, well, Mr. Bailey has practiced long enough. He's a lawyer. He knows what to do.

Jack Bailey

I'm upset. I'm worried about whether I'm going to be able to do a good job or not. I'm worried about how much time I'm gonna have to invest in it. There is nothing good to say about it.

David Zax

So Jack came up with a plan. He thought the appointment had to be illegal. So he told Tammy, get me out of this.

She started drafting letters of complaint to send off to the judge and to the public defenders. But because she was worried they might get stuck with the case, on her own, she started doing something else. She started working it.

Tammy is super organized. Wire-rimmed glasses, late 40s, a smoker. And because Jack hasn't told her to do this work, she has to hide her tracks. When she wants to call the clerk of court to ask a question she makes sure she's out of earshot of Jack's office. Her desk is right outside his door.

Tammy Burdine

He would come out of his office and I'm minimizing WordPerfect. And I'm on Caddo's website. And I hear, you can hear his chair go creak. And I'm like, oh, crap. Here he comes. He's up, he's up. And I'm closing things.

And I'm trying my best. I don't want to poke-- we laugh about it here, but the rule is you don't poke the bear. And I am worried about him seeing things on my computer poking the bear. But I have to, but I was told he didn't want us to. And I'm so confused on this whole case on every level.

David Zax

She started where any of us would, Google. First she looks at the basics of criminal procedure in Louisiana and also the basics of her own case. The state had given them almost nothing. On the court order there wasn't even a charge listed, just a docket number and the guy's name, Trastavien Hardy.

In her googling, Tammy finds a mug shot and a rap sheet. Trastavien is 25 and his record goes back years. There is a marijuana possession, a car break in, and he's a registered sex offender. But that's all she can find.

So she just waits. She assumes that the DA's office or the court is going to send more information.

Tammy Burdine

I mean, you know, if you watch the TV shows, the Law & Order, the Criminal Minds, they have evidence. We have evidence in the civil matters. So I assumed the rest of it was coming, maybe in a box or a big envelope. And it never came. It just didn't.

David Zax

A month passed. Then on May 13--

Tammy Burdine

The phone rings and the receptionist answers it and he transfers the call and says Mr. Bailey, the court is on the phone. So he picks it up, this is Jack Bailey. And I can hear Mr. Bailey from where I sit. And he is telling them nobody told us about this date. And nobody said, and I wasn't aware. And you know, we'd missed the date.

David Zax

They'd missed a court date on Trastavien's case. Tammy took a closer look at the faxed court order. There it was.

Tammy Burdine

It actually is just handwritten at the bottom of the order and it looks like 5.13. And I know it says court date, but it is bad handwriting.

David Zax

Of course, there was one person who managed to show up in court that day. He was brought there directly from jail.

Trastavien Hardy

At that time, I really was just lost.

David Zax

Jack's client, Trastavien Hardy. He'd come to the courtroom in shackles hoping to finally meet his lawyer. But a bailiff in the courtroom told Trastavien that he hadn't seen Jack at all. Lots of these appointed attorneys weren't showing up.

Trastavien Hardy

You know, I asked him like, where my lawyer at, who my lawyer is. And he like, you probably never going to get to see him. He'll never really come to court. That's all he just said. Like you'll never get to see him in court. I'm like, dang.

David Zax

Trastavien was eager to see an attorney because he says he hadn't done the burglary. It's true he used to be mixed up in some bad stuff. He'd pled guilty to those things Tammy had read about, though they weren't all as bad as she'd imagined. That registered sex offense, for example, it was consensual. Trastavien was 17, his girlfriend was 14, which at the time was a felony in Louisiana. He served time for it.

Trastavien is slight and soft spoken. Says yes sir a lot. You have to lean in a bit to hear him sometimes.

And he says that since he got out of prison in 2011, he'd been keeping his nose clean. He was 25. He was a full-time student at a local college. He had just started dating someone, a nurse. He'd been sitting in jail since April terrified, upset, confused. He wanted to get back to his school, to his girlfriend.

At his first court date he found out that the Caddo public defender's office couldn't offer him a lawyer, so he went back to his cell, waited for a month. Then on May 13, he went to court and his new lawyer, some guy named Jack Bailey, didn't even bother to show.

Back in his cell, Trastavien sat down and wrote a letter to Alan Golden, the chief public defender in Caddo.

Trastavien Hardy

Dear Mr. Alan Golden, I was told you were the person to contact as far as reassigning me another public defender.

David Zax

Trastavien noted that Jack Bailey had ditched his court date, never tried to contact him, never visited him in jail.

Trastavien Hardy

So I would like to fire him and be appointed someone who is going to fight for me. Thanks for your time, and I hope this letter don't go unnoticed. Sincerely, Trastavien Hardy.

David Zax

There's one word here, it looks like you went over it several times with the pen. It's pretty thick there. What's the word there?

Trastavien Hardy

Fire. Fire.

David Zax

Trastavien couldn't fire Jack, of course. There wasn't a backup lawyer to assign to him. Meanwhile, Jack had been sending off his own letters trying to get removed from the case. And by June, he and Tammy realized it wasn't going to work. Jack was stuck with Trastavien, just like Trastavien was stuck with him.

First step, now that Jack was on board, he needed to visit Trastavien. But in order to get into the jail the warden said that he need a bar card, some kind of photo ID that the Louisiana State Bar Association issues. Jack had never needed a bar card in his civil practice. He was fuming.

Jack Bailey

Yeah, listen, I'm sort of-- don't take this wrong way, but I'm kind of a big fish in a small pond. I've been here 40 years. I'm in the phone book. I was on the spine of the book. I periodically run TV advertisements.

I mean, everybody knows me. The sheriff lives down the street from my mama on Moss Point Road. The sheriff has known me for 30 years. And they're telling me I gotta get a bar code to come in as an appointed lawyer to see some poor bastard that's locked up in the jail? I mean, really, theater of the absurd.

David Zax

They wasted two weeks to get the whole bar card thing sorted out. And then finally, almost two months after getting his appointment, Jack was going to meet his client. So Jack is sitting in the visiting room waiting for Trastavien.

Jack Bailey

He comes in, I introduce myself. He doesn't know who I am. I have to explain to him who I am, what I'm doing there.

So then he starts telling me, I need to get out of jail. I need to get out of jail. I've lost my job. I've had to drop out of school. Well, the first thing I'm telling him is whoa, slow up, man. You know, tell me about what happened. Are you guilty of this or not?

David Zax

Trastavien said he wasn't guilty. He said he didn't know anything about the burglary. But Jack pointed to the warrant which said Trastavien's DNA had been collected from a hat. Trastavien explained that he'd had lots of hats over the years. He'd collected hats. He'd lost hats. He'd traded hats. Even if his DNA was on a hat at the scene, it wasn't proof he'd been there. Jack believed him.

Jack Bailey

You know, look, if you're a good trial lawyer you can detect the BS, right? OK. I mean, you get pretty good at it. I just walked out of there and my gut was telling me this kid wasn't guilty of what he was charged with.

Also, if he had done this burglary, he would have had more information to give me. I don't find that clients are shy about sharing information with their lawyer, OK. So it's not like the other conversations I had in my career with criminal defendants that were guilty.

Because let me tell you, they all know what's going on. And they all ask you, well, does the state know about this? What witnesses do they have? Did they find this? And Mr. Hardy knew precious little about this.

David Zax

Jack was suddenly invested in the case. Up till now he'd assumed Trastavien was probably guilty. In his experience, that's true of most people accused of crimes. Around the office, Jack had been calling Trastavien "our criminal."

But now he was ready to fight for him, go to trial. Which presented a problem. His client didn't want to do that. Unlike Jack, Trastavien did have some recent experience in the criminal justice system. He'd stood in front of a lot of judges. He'd spent three years in prison. And he knew most everybody takes a plea. Nobody goes to trial. He told Jack--

Trastavien Hardy

I'll just plead guilty to anything within a year to go home. I'm like, I just want to go home. I could take a year of something, two years of probation.

David Zax

So you were saying you were ready to plead guilty to just about anything if you could get out in a year. I mean, you've kind of--

Trastavien Hardy

Misdemeanor, that's what I was really trying to just get a misdemeanor.

David Zax

But Jack was not hearing that. He wanted a trial.

David Zax

Did Jack explain to you that he was not a criminal defense attorney?

Trastavien Hardy

Oh, yes, sir. He had let me know that from the beginning.

David Zax

How did you react when you heard this was his first criminal case in like 30 years?

Trastavien Hardy

I really was like, after I just really sat down and talked to him I was like at peace. Like, I know I'm in here. I know somebody, somebody came to see me. I know somebody that wants to help me.

David Zax

So now Jack had to prepare a case. Luckily, Tammy had been doing all that secret work on the case behind Jack's back. Or not so secret, it turns out. Turns out the bear knows what's going on in his woods.

Jack Bailey

Well yeah, I walk right by her desk all the time. I see what's up on her computer screen.

David Zax

By the time they got to trial, Tammy worked up a master timeline, a list of evidence, a list of evidence and discovery not produced, questions to use in cross-examination, and 126 pages of details on other possible suspects.

June 22, 2015, on this date, Jack and Trastavien had their first preliminary examination. Basically, it was a pre-trial court date where the DA was supposed to outline their case against Trastavien and prove why he should still be held in jail. Now remember, Jack and Trastavien were going to walk into court and plead not guilty. That was the plan.

But in court that day, Trastavien got cold feet.

Jack Bailey

When he walks in and he comes up to the counsel table, when they brought him down from the jail. First thing he said to me was--

Trastavien Hardy

I plead guilty right now.

David Zax

That is, cop a plea, take a deal, no trial.

Jack Bailey

I said no, you're not doing that. And he goes, but I want to. And I said shut up. Just trust me for a minute.

Trastavien Hardy

His confidence, it's how he talk with that baritone voice, you can't help but be like, well yes, sir. I'm going to just sit back and let you do it then.

Jack Bailey

I'm sure that here I was, this old, rich, fat, ugly, white guy telling this young black man the way of the world and the lay of the land. And I'm sure he thought man, what have I gotten stuck with?

David Zax

I've talked to a couple defense attorneys about Jack's strategy to go to trial. And they agreed it was risky. A public defender who was in the courtroom that day told me she thought it was reckless. Because first of all, if your client is interested in a plea deal, you're supposed to explore that, see what the DA might be willing to offer. Jack refused to do that.

And Trastavien was right, he really could face a lot more time if he went to trial. This was, after all, Caddo Parish.

Derwyn Bunton

Caddo Parish is unique for how harsh their system is and can be.

David Zax

This is Derwyn Bunton, a public defender who spent the early part of his career working cases in Caddo. These days, he's the chief public defender across the state in New Orleans.

Derwyn Bunton

Caddo Parish has a reputation for tough, long sentences. And up until recently, led the state in capital convictions, in death sentences for a number of years.

David Zax

Derwyn told me the story of one case he handled in Caddo. He was representing a 14-year-old who coincidentally was charged with the same crime as Trastavien, simple burglary of an inhabited dwelling.

Derwyn Bunton

And the allegation was he went into a neighbor's house without permission and took a Pepsi and a Hot Pocket. So he drank the Pepsi, ate the Hot Pocket, knew the neighbor. He got caught. And he got sentenced to seven years. He was going to stay in juvenile prison until he was 21.

And I just thought that there was some sort of typo. No damage, no one was hurt, and he was 14. And they're going to leave him in jail till he's essentially a grown man. We were able to get him out early with some good work. But they gave him seven years without blinking and didn't even go to trial. That's Caddo Parish.

David Zax

Attorneys told me if Trastavien took a plea, he'd probably get about the same as that teenager, five to eight years. But if you push for trial in lost, the minimum he'd get, given his priors, would be 20 years. And he could get life.

So through the summer, Jack and Trastavien have this series of pre-trial court dates. The main reason they're noteworthy is because at every one, Jack is being a giant pain in the ass, demanding a speedy trial, berating the young DA on this case, insisting they free Trastavien without bail.

Trastavien says people in the stands were oohing and ahhing at Jack's performance. One old woman said, God is good. A trial date was set for November 30. And the judge released Trastavien to wait out the days till trial at home. At that point, he'd spent 105 days in jail.

Here's the riskiest thing about Jack's demand for a speedy trial, he demanded it without even knowing all the evidence the state had on Trastavien. Not till September did that big box of files Tammy was expecting finally come in from the DA's office. It was more of a packet, 54 pages stuffed into a manila envelope.

Tammy tore into it as soon as it came. And it turned out that the case against Trastavien was even weaker than they thought. Because the crime lab report, the one that pointed out Trastavien's DNA had been found on a hat, it said there was actually DNA from two people on the hat. Someone else besides Trastavien had worn that hat. So they had a good case after all.

It's the Saturday after Thanksgiving, two days before the trial that could send Trastavien away for decades. Jack and Tammy are supposed to be preparing, but when Tammy gets to the office--

Tammy Burdine

I have a note in my chair that says I'm sick.

David Zax

The note, of course, was from Jack. He came into work, just wanted to complain.

Jack Bailey

I got some horrible Siberian death crud upper respiratory infection.

Tammy Burdine

And I'm like what?

Jack Bailey

Instead of being at home Thanksgiving with my family, Tammy and I are up here getting prepared for trial. We're working on PowerPoints, timelines.

Tammy Burdine

Preparing documents, making sure I's are dotted and T's are crossed. Because I'm freaking out. I am freaking out.

Jack Bailey

Years ago I had gotten a series of videotapes, VHS tapes from Gerry Spence about voir dire and opening statement.

David Zax

Gerry Spence is a famed trial lawyer, a kind of legal guru. Voire dire is jury selection.

Jack Bailey

And I pulled my old TV out in the back that you can still play VHS tapes in. And I'm sitting in here, you know, drinking tea and eating ibuprofen and watching Gerry Spence tapes, taking notes to remember how to do this the right way, you know?

David Zax

Monday, November 30, the day of the trial. Jack, Tammy, and Trastavien all enter the court house. Jack's eager. He's ready. He loves this part of the job. But before anything official begins, the young DA on this case, Scott Brady, he pulls Jack aside and tells him something totally shocking. He's going to nolle pros the case.

Jack Bailey

In other words, I'm dropping the charges. And at that point I said some things that I can't tell you if you're going to play them on the radio.

Producer

Why don't you tell us and then will determine if we--

David Zax

That's my producer saying, why don't you tell us and we'll determine if we can play it.

Jack Bailey

I said, you god damn mother fucking son of a bitch, you didn't read your goddamn file until this weekend, did you?

David Zax

In other words, you just realized how weak your case was. If you'd done that months ago you would have saved me and my client a lot of trouble. Scott Brady declined to comment for our story, but a colleague claims that he was ready for trial that day.

Jack Bailey

So Jack has this side conversation with the DA and knows the charges against Trastavien are going to be dropped. But nobody else does. Not the judge, not Tammy and Trastavien, who are there after all these months of preparation waiting for the trial to start. The gavel strikes. The court's in session.

Tammy Burdine

We are first. The assistant DA gets up and says your honor, in the matter State vs. Trastavien Hardy, and then he says, your honor, the state is dismissing the charges with nothing else. And that was it.

Trastavien Hardy

As soon as I walked up there I'm like, oh yes. Thank you, Jesus. That was the first thing I said, really. I was like thank you, Jesus. I really felt overwhelmed. I was like about time.

Tammy Burdine

But I'm all of a sudden going what? What just happened? We're here. We're ready. They just stomped the show. The show, is just-- but that's what I wanted. But then I won't know the outcome. But this is the outcome. But wait a minute, they need to know that Mr Hardy didn't do this.

And then Mr Bailey, he said, your honor--

Jack Bailey

I refused to leave the courtroom without putting some things on the record.

David Zax

Several defense attorneys told me this was a pretty crazy thing Jack was doing. The DA was ready to dismiss the charges. Normally, you'd say thank you and move on. What if Jack said something that made the DA change his mind? Tammy was worried.

Tammy Burdine

And now I'm going to pass out right here in this chair. What is he doing? What is happening? And Mr Hardy had been standing up there with him. And so he's really, he turns around and looks at me like is this OK?

Trastavien Hardy

Really just looked back like whoa, what's going on now?

Tammy Burdine

And I'm sure my look told him, this is not OK on any level. This is not OK. You should panic. Come sit down. Get away from him. Stop. Because I do know Mr. Bailey. And he's going to say what he believes needs to be said.

Jack Bailey

I said judge, I have a statement I want to make for the record to protect Mr Hardy in the future if this arrest prosecution is ever held against him if you don't mind. I said judge, this man is factually innocent. And I'm sorry the court is not going to get to see me excoriate the police and the district attorney's office in this case.

David Zax

Jack's speech lasted about 10 minutes. He ranted about the scant evidence against his client, about the DA, about having to take this case at all.

Jack Bailey

So you can put on the record, judge, I'm angry, and I'm angry at the system.

David Zax

When Jack was done, the judge then turned to Scott Brady and asked, Mr. DA, anything further? The DA, Scott Brady, answered the judge, no, sir. The matter has been dismissed. The judge turned to Trastavien, you're free to go, he said.

Since Scott Brady won't do an interview, we don't know why he dropped the case. There are a few factors here. The victim didn't show up in court. And the crime, in the scheme of things, wasn't that serious. But both public defenders who were in the courtroom that day told me they thought Jack might have been the deciding factor.

One of them, Sarah Smith, said Jack made it clear he was going to fight tooth and nail on every procedural matter.

Sarah Smith

The motions that Jack was making, the 10 minute speeches, and not necessarily following the traditional order of this is how criminal court is supposed to work. Jack definitely wasn't making this an easy process.

David Zax

She says a normal public defender doesn't have time to fight like that for all their clients. And once Jack made things so difficult, the DA might have decided he didn't have time to deal with it either.

Trastavien's been free for over a year now. He got a job as a fry cook at a Sonic Drive-In. He says he wants to start school again next year. And he's got a little girl, Carla. He's spending a lot of time with her.

Right as this story was taking place, Caddo Parish elected a new top DA, the first black DA in its history. One of his first actions was getting rid of nine assistant district attorneys in his office. Scott Brady, who prosecuted the case against Trastavien, was among them. Just this month, the public defender's office in Caddo Parish stopped the practice of farming out cases to private attorneys. Some funding came through, for now.

Jack, meanwhile, has been pushing for more funding for public defenders. He went to the Louisiana State Legislature, met with three state senators and the public defender lobbyist. He offered to testify. He said he'd do anything to help. He does not want another case like this.

Ira Glass

David Zax. Coming up, how a public park in the suburbs of Virginia helped beat the Nazis. That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio when our program continues.

Act Two: Mein Camp

Ira Glass

It's This American Life, I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program, of course, we choose some theme, bring you different kinds of stories on that theme. Today's show, Deep End of the Pool. Stories of people thrown into serious situations they have no skills for, where they have to figure out what to do on the fly. We have arrived at Act Two of our program. Act Two, Mein Camp.

Sometimes an entire government has to dive into the deep end of the pool and do something it has never done before. One of our producers, Karen Duffin, has the story of the US government doing just that in a high stakes sink or swim situation. Though the reason we know about this government program at all is actually kind of an accident. Karen explains.

Karen Duffin

Back in 2006, a woman named Sandy Gray decided to go on a tour of the park near her house in suburban Virginia. It's a national park, but less like Yellowstone, more like a neighborhood park-- soccer fields, softball diamonds, picnic pavilions. Over 100 acres. It's called Fort Hunt Park.

The park ranger ran through the history of the place. She told Sandy's group it had been part of George Washington's estate. She pointed to structures from the Spanish-American war. But when she got to World War II, she said that is a mystery.

We know there was a secret military program here, code named PO Box 1142. She said the rangers had been trying for years to figure out what it was, even asked the Pentagon about it. But they said they thought the files had been destroyed.

Sandy Gray

And when we got to this point, she said we probably never will know the whole story.

Karen Duffin

This is Sandy. Turned out she knew something the rangers didn't.

Sandy Gray

So I was thinking whether or not I should say anything because I was questioning whether I was supposed to know anything. So I raised my hand and I said you know, I think I can hook you up with someone who was here during that time.

Karen Duffin

Sandy had never heard of PO Box 1142. But she remembered that her neighbor had said he'd worked at the site during the war. So she gave the rangers his name, Fred Michel. And later, back at the office, they huddled around a speaker phone and they dialed his number.

The head park ranger at the time was Vince Santucci. He told Fred they were calling about PO Box 1142.

Vince Santucci

And there was a little bit of silence. And the first comment that comes back is how do you know about PO Box 1142? So we went in to explain what we were doing. And his response was that he's not able to share anything with us because he signed a secrecy agreement. In fact, that he didn't tell his wife of 65 years. And he said, I wish I could share it with you, but he couldn't.

Karen Duffin

The rangers hung up and panicked. They worried Fred might be their only shot. World War II vets were in their 80s, 90s, or dead. So they went back to the Pentagon. And said, we found a guy, but he won't talk. Can you help?

So the director of Army Intelligence wrote Fred a letter clearing him to speak. Here's Vince.

Vince Santucci

And so when we forwarded that to Fred Michel, he said, OK, what do you want to know?

Karen Duffin

The rangers went to Fred's house to interview him.

Brandon Bies

I'm here in the home of Frederick and Lucille Michel conducting a series of oral history interviews about their memories of Fort Hunt.

Karen Duffin

This is park ranger Brandon Bies. He did a lot of these interviews. And for 4 and 1/2 hours, Fred told them about PO Box 1142. Then he gave them more names.

Fred Michel

I was transferred to PO Box 1142.

Karen Duffin

They made more calls, did more interviews.

Werner Moritz

We were told that we're not going to talk, not to our wives, not to anybody.

Henry Kolm

We got the photographs from the Pentagon. And everything--

Karen Duffin

They talked to 70 men. For over 60 years, these men had all been living with the same secret. This suburban park had been a top secret camp for interrogating Nazi prisoners of war. And the men doing the interrogations, they were Jews. Lots of them, anyway. European Jews who just fled the Nazis. Many still had family in concentration camps.

These men were specifically recruited because they spoke German, and because they understood the nuances of German culture and psychology, slang, cultural references, small details that an American would miss. This was the American military's first attempt to create a program like this for interrogating prisoners. First time we approached interrogation in a systematic and strategic way, not just to learn things like where's the bomb about to go off, but to get a whole picture of the enemy's plans.

And they were figuring out how to do this in the middle of the deadliest armed conflict in world history. And they succeeded. By the end of the war, they'd extracted a ton of really important intelligence about where the Allies should bomb, about German weapons still being developed, about the structure of the German Army. One of the Enigma machines was captured using intel discovered at PO Box 1142.

The approach they used didn't include any kind of physical force. In the hundreds of previously classified files that I've read, torture is never considered. Instead, they used this approach. This is from a World War II interrogation training film.

Trainer

Make your interrogation as casual as possible. Try to make the prisoner feel that you're his friend, the first one he's met since his capture.

Trainer 2

All are human underneath. Our interrogator's job is to play upon those weaknesses, to help make up the complete intelligence picture.

Karen Duffin

And here's a mock interrogation from the film.

Interegator

Why did you have this Spanish dictionary in your plane?

Prisoner

Just improving my mind.

Interegator

Who do you think you're fooling, Tenetti? Your name is right there on the cover. Why were you flying back to Spain? You must not lie to me.

Prisoner

I only tell the truth.

Interegator

Now don't try to give me that routine.

Trainer 2

Time. Time, gentlemen. We'll stop there. I'm going to ask for criticisms. Any volunteers? Yes, lieutenant?

Lieutenant

It's not good to lose your temper that way, especially with such a dumb, good-natured type.

Karen Duffin

It seems self-evident now, but at the time, it was sort of a revelation that you could get information by playing on a prisoner's psychology. At the end of another mock interrogation, the instructor reviewed what worked on that prisoner.

Trainer 2

You noticed how he won the prisoner's gratitude by promising to inform his family of his safety. How he established immediate contact through mutual interest in the Munich theater. How he played on the Bavarian's prejudice against his Prussian lieutenant. How he pretended to know more about the new Heinkel 177s than the Sergeant, thereby piquing his vanity and causing him to talk. As a result, he is now in possession of valuable information.

Karen Duffin

It's like a high stakes game of psychological poker. To win, you have to see the enemy in front of you as a nuanced human. They were taught that even feeling too much hostility about the enemy would blind them.

I spent years studying this camp. And what I wanted to know was the most basic thing. What it was like for these Jewish men facing off with the Nazis in such a personal way. Facing people who'd driven some of them out of their country, killed their families.

So I pestered the government until they released over 1,000 pages of interviews with these guys. And I personally spoke with 10 of them or their families if they weren't still alive. And in this mountain of material, many of them said they were happy to do the work. It meant helping beat the Nazis.

But some had more complicated feelings, like this guy, Paul Fairbrook, who the park rangers interviewed in 2008. He was German, Jewish. Said he agreed with not using force on the Nazis, but befriending them, no way.

Paul Fairbrook

Many of us German Jewish soldiers resented the fact that some of our offices were fraternizing with German officers, Nazis. Because every German officer was a Nazi, you know. And here we are fighting as German Jews for America and these jerks, our officers, are fraternizing with the people who were our enemies.

Karen Duffin

But then there was this guy, Henry Kolm. He says that working that closely with the Nazis changed his opinion of them.

Henry Kolm

When you get to know somebody one-on-one you know, it's a different story. It proved to me that there are decent people in Germany, despite the Third Reich and Nazi and Hitler and all the rest of it.

Karen Duffin

He genuinely liked some of them. But still, when he was assigned to guard duty, he took extra precautions, just in case the prisoners realized he was Jewish.

Henry Kolm

And I often spent all day inside that stockade. And that was not a very comfortable feeling. I had a pistol in my sock.

Karen Duffin

He said he had a pistol in his sock. They didn't normally carry guns.

Henry Kolm

Yeah, I didn't feel very happy in a courtyard surrounded by 60 German soldiers, prisoners. You know, I'm Jewish, and they might have known that.

Karen Duffin

But in the 80 or so hours of interviews, I found only one incident where someone who was trained at 1142 just flipped out on a German prisoner.

Werner Moritz

I'm going to talk as it comes out of my mouth.

Brandon Bies

That's that point.

Karen Duffin

This is Werner Moritz. He died in 2010, so I never met him, but I talked with his daughter. She said he was a man of strong opinions, the kind of man who walks into a room and tells a joke just so that you he's there. Sharp dresser, mustache always neatly trimmed. He spent two years at PO Box 1142, where he says he was trained like everyone else not to mistreat prisoners. And he never did at the camp.

But near the end of the war, Werner was sent to Europe to help find and interrogate Nazis who now understood they were losing and were hiding out.

Werner Moritz

We were given orders at that point, he said, to just roam around. Find the Nazis. Find the bigwigs, find the big shots. So we started to roam.

Karen Duffin

And one day, he says he found a high ranking Nazi named Julius Streicher. Streicher was a friend of Hitler. He had masterminded some of the nastiest anti-semitic propaganda. His newspaper, Der Stürmer, played a huge role in fueling the hatred towards the Jews that led to the Holocaust. The paper's tag line was "The Jews are our misfortune."

So he was a man that Germans, especially German Jews, were familiar with. So when Werner found him--

Werner Moritz

I was enraged. I was trembling. There were tears in my eyes that I had captured this guy. I had him to myself. Then I had him handcuffed, put him in the Jeep. And then we come to this little hut. Then we put him in there.

Karen Duffin

Werner's mother and sister were killed in concentration camps. He'd spent three months in Buchenwald himself in 1938. So face to face with Streicher, he made a decision. A warning to listeners, the next part gets a little graphic.

Werner Moritz

I had to explain to the MPs. I'm going to do things, you probably think I'm crazy. And you want to know something? I am crazy. I'm crazed. I captured a Nazi of unbelievable mischief. I captured a Nazi who doesn't deserve to live. I would like to shoot him right now, but I know I would be court marshaled. But I gonna, I'm gonna do what I have to do.

I had him undress, and his clothes throwed to the side, underwear, everything. I told him, from now on, you sleep naked on this cold floor. You will not move. You will not make a move.

After that, I pissed all over him. Terrible thing to tell you. His head and everywhere. And he started to move his head and I said to him, don't move. I have my pistol in my hand, I'll shoot you in the ass. That's how enraged I was.

I said, you're just to lie there to get some sense of what you Nazis did to the Jews. This is only a small sense. You will not be burned here. We won't cook you in an oven. But this German Jew will heap upon you. And don't you move, or else you're a dead man.

And I left into my quarters and went to sleep. It's a terrible thing to tell you, but it is the truth. That's what I did. This was an event that gets me very upset, even now.

Karen Duffin

For three more days he held Streicher, refused to feed him anything but potato peels that he pissed on too. On the fourth day, Werner handed him off to American officers. Streicher was one of only 11 men sentenced to death at the Nuremberg trials.

The specific records about Streicher's capture are spotty and contradictory. Usually someone else is credited with capturing him. But we know Werner was in the area doing this kind of work at the time. And an expert at the National Archives told me he does think Werner could have done this.

The man who helped me understand best what it was like to do this work was this last man, also Jewish. He escaped Luxembourg and came here.

Arno Mayer

Well my name is Arno Mayer. And I don't want you to be generous, because it's A-R-N-O, and most people tend to add an L-D to it, which I refuse.

Karen Duffin

I met Arno at his apartment in Princeton, New Jersey. He was 88. Small guy, with a full head of white hair, brown eyebrows. He peppered our interview with historical facts and profanity.

Arno Mayer

They invented a name for me. The name was the Intellectual Fuck.

Karen Duffin

Arno was assigned to PO Box 1142 at the end of the war. By then, the mission had changed. Instead of interrogating Nazis, they were now asked to wine, dine, and woo them.

Many Nazis now at the camp were scientists. They were rounded up because the Americans wanted their scientific expertise. And they wanted to keep that expertise from the Russians.

Arno was what they called a morale officer.

Karen Duffin

So what were your instructions with these guys?

Arno Mayer

Keep them happy.

Karen Duffin

Make the Nazis happy. Not defeat them, not get information out of them. Charm them, get them to join our team.

Arno Mayer

It didn't make any sense. The whole thing didn't make any sense. I mean, the whole thing was so completely surreal, completely surreal.

Karen Duffin

Arno was assigned to the most famous Nazi recruit, Wernher von Braun. He designed the V-2 rocket which was targeted at civilians in London. His rocket factory used Jewish slaves. But Arno says they never discussed that. Instead, he and the others entertained the scientists. Some played games with them like volleyball or chess, or brought them liquor and newspapers, took them on outings to DC. Like a concierge, but for Nazis.

The scientists told Arno about their wives and their kids, their lives. And after all that, he said it was hard to see the Nazis as just monsters.

Arno Mayer

I don't know. I mean, you can't just then proceed on the assumption well, these are subhumans and to hell with them. And the next time you bring a bottle of wine you put poison in it, you know.

Karen Duffin

Really?

Arno Mayer

I don't know. I don't know. It's a difficult question.

Karen Duffin

Over time, the indignities of the job piled up. Until a small comment from von Braun set Arno off.

Arno Mayer

And he had already spoken behind my back of me as [GERMAN], a little Jew boy. So I lost it. And I stomped out. I was pretty shaken. Went back to my barrack and I'm summoned to the commander of the camp. Somebody had told him what I had said.

And finally he said, if you do this again you'll be court-martialed. That was for me one of the turning points, really.

Karen Duffin

After that, Arno became quietly subversive. Like when they asked to go shopping, Arno, for his own amusement, took them to a Jewish department store.

Arno Mayer

So he came and he said look, I'd like to send packages to our families in Germany, because it's going to be a rough winter. We'd like to go shopping. I was told, make them happy. So what the hell.

And I began to be amused by this and decided that I was going to take them to the biggest Jewish department store in Washington, DC. So in the car I asked them, what do we start with? Well, we want to buy underwear for our wives.

In those days, they didn't have bins in which this stuff was in. There was a sales lady. So the four of them, since they were scientists, you had these slide rules. They took them out as the woman asked what size, you see. So the woman came out and she held up a nylon panty. And Wernher von Braun said [GERMAN] but no, made of wool and with long legs.

In the meantime, people started looking around. There with these guys in these leather coats, and then there was this little guy next to them in an American uniform. And just as they were telling the lady about the sizes, the military police came and arrested the whole bunch of us.

[CHUCKLING]

Karen Duffin

They were conspicuous, this group of German-looking men making a ruckus. Arno told the police he was on a secret military mission. They verified it and let him go. But Arno says he knows his rebellion was small. And his restraint still haunts him.

Arno Mayer

I should have told them to go to hell. But I didn't do it. I was a coward. I mean, I only exploded once. I could have exploded many other times.

Karen Duffin

Do you wish you had?

Arno Mayer

Yeah, you're god damn right, god damn right, as I look back.

Karen Duffin

Wernher von Braun stayed in the United States and became something of an American hero. He helped us get to the moon. He was on the cover of Time. He became buddies with JFK.

And PO Box 1142 closed down. Its buildings were bulldozed. The files were burned. And the men who worked there went on to become lawyers, a CIA agent, an ambassador, head of the Culinary Institute of America, conductor of the Chicago Chamber Orchestra, the richest man in America in the '80s, John Kluge.

Arno became a history professor at Princeton. And the guy who lost it and pissed on the Nazi started his own textile business. And all these men whose job it had been to extract secrets now carried their own. Most never said a word to their wives or kids about the work they had done, about the intimate war they had fought with the Germans in a park in Virginia.

Ira Glass

Karen Duffin is one of the producers of our program.

[MUSIC - "WERNHER VON BRAUN" BY TOM LEHRER]

(SINGING) Gather 'round while I sing you of Wernher von Braun, a man whose allegiance is ruled by expedience. Call him a Nazi, he won't even for frown, Nazi, schmatzy, says Wernher von Braun.

Don't say that he's hypocritical. Say rather that he's apolitical. Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down. That's not my department, says Wernher von Braun.

Some have harsh words for this man of renown. But some think our attitude should be one of gratitude. Like the widows and cripples in old London town, who owe their large pensions to Werner von Braun.

You too may be a hero once you've learned to count backwards to zero. In German or English I know how to count down. And I'm learning Chinese says Wernher von Braun.

Credits

Ira Glass

Our program is produced today by Susan Burton and David Kestenbaum. Our Production staff, Zoe Chace, Dana Chivvas, Sean Cole, Neil Drumming, Karen Duffin, Emmanuel Dzotsi, Stephanie Foo, Chana Joffe-Walt, Miki Meek, Jonathan Menjivar, Robyn Semien, Alissa Ship, Matt Tierney, and Nancy Updike.

Our editor is Joel Lovell. Editing help from Julie Snyder and Elna Baker.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

At our website this week we have all kinds of stuff. The fax that Jack Bailey received assigning him to represent Trastavien Hardy that we've annotated with all kinds of revealing information. Also pictures and documents about PO Box 1142, including stuff on their interrogation techniques. And something called-- no kidding-- the POW Coddling Report. That's at our website, ThisAmericanLife.org where you can also sign up for our weekly newsletter.

This American Life is delivered to public radio stations by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange.

Thanks as always to our program's co-founder Mr. Torey Malatia who, ever since we've met, he's had this affectionate nickname I've always liked that he's always liked to call me--

Arno Mayer

[GERMAN], a little Jew boy.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of This American Life.