Eddie, listen to your mother

Dan Rodricks

May 10, 1991|By Dan Rodricks

Eddie Clark wants to talk with his mother.

He is standing at the trial table in his cheap suit, head shaved into a strange, fuzzy sphere, a frown on his thick brow, the hands in the pockets of his trousers. Up at the bench, a Baltimore Circuit Court judge is giving a lecture -- the good, sharp lecture Eddie Clark needs. Judge David B. Mitchell has a fine, direct manner of explaining the law. And now even Eddie Clark, a young man of limited intellect, seems to be getting the message: Only a fool has himself for a lawyer.

Two days ago, it seemed like a good idea -- if only to Eddie Clark. Twenty-five years old and on trial a second time in the attempted murder of a Baltimore police officer who tried to question him, he announced that he wanted to represent himself this time. He told his mother so when she visited him at Patuxent Institution. "I can handle this, ma," he said. His mother told him not to do it. Eddie did it anyway.

But now in court -- "This is life and death, son," the judge says. "This is the real world" -- Eddie Clark is told it is unwise to represent himself. There are problems, the judge says.

For example, Clark won't be allowed to hold the weapon used in the alleged attack -- in this case, a hammer -- while cross-examining the victim -- in this case, a cop named Paul Dunn, whose life was shattered by the attack and who has been unable to return to his old job as a result of the severe injuries from it.

And Eddie Clark allegedly took Officer Dunn's service revolver, fired four shots at a second officer and aimed it at a third. "I'm not going to let you take the handgun and hold it up and say, 'Officer, did I fire this gun at you?' " Judge Mitchell says.

So it's not so simple, Mr. Clark. Being a lawyer is not just showing up and asking a lot of questions. One must understand the protocol of the court. "Would you perform surgery on yourself?" the judge asks him. "We begged you not to do this. . . . The law can't prevent someone from being foolish. . . . You need skilled representation."

Eddie Clark thinks it over.

"May I consult with my mother?" he asks.

Clark's mother, Evelyn, sits in the courtroom gallery, a bundle of court documents by her side. She has followed her son's case every step of the way -- from the time of his arrest back in 1987, through the first trial and conviction, through the appeal and the granting of a new trial. Eddie hasn't been on the street in four years; his mother visits him in prison. Now she takes the seat in the courtroom that I have seen so many mothers take -- several rows behind their sons, silent, attentive, distanced by the protocol of the court, unable to intervene, facing the prospect of losing her kid to a prison for the rest of her days.

The judge tells Eddie Clark he can consult with his mother in a corner of the courtroom with an armed guard standing by. A decision has to be made. Mitchell is giving Eddie Clark another chance to be represented by a public defender.

Evelyn Clark comes forward. She and her son huddle off in a corner of the courtroom. The rest of us sit and wait.

"You know what he asked me for for Christmas?" Mrs. Clark would say later. "He wanted one of those little video games that go on the wrist like a wristwatch. He wanted a Batman game or a Pac Man game. . . . He was playing with it in the courtroom the other day. He's got the mind of a little kid, and they let him be his own lawyer?"

Mrs. Clark doesn't deny that her son attacked the police officers. But she thinks the whole episode has dragged out too long and says the state has been overzealous in prosecution because the victims were police officers. After Eddie Clark's first trial, he was sentenced to 65 years in prison. If found guilty a second time, he could face up to 100 years in prison. The figure was mentioned in court yesterday morning.

"Eddie did a crime, we realize that," Mrs. Clark said. "But I want my son to get help. What they charged him with is ridiculous. They're going for a 100-year sentence for a boy who is sick. He's sick. He needs help."

She rattled off the sad, messy story of her son's (therefore, her own) life -- the explosive temper, the hyperactivity, the times he ran away, the drug and alcohol abuse, the assault charges, the doctor who said the boy was brain-damaged, the childlike behavior (pulling out his eyebrows and tufts of his hair), the juvenile bravado that he could be his own lawyer.

Back in the courtroom, that bravado, whatever its source, disappeared. Eddie Clark listened to his mother and asked for a lawyer.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.