Lawyers for Dahmer, Barry speak here 2 attorneys tell peers how to handle clients who attract wide publicity.

March 26, 1992|By Michael James | Michael James,Staff writer

No matter what the jury said, "Jeffrey Dahmer was nuts," his attorney told 50 Baltimore-area lawyers last night.

And no matter what the reporters said, Marion Barry was not Attila the Hun, the former Washington mayor's lawyer told the same crowd.

The two high-profile attorneys, Gerald Boyle and E. Kenneth Mundy, were guest speakers at a dinner at the Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel sponsored by the Bar Association of Baltimore City and the Maryland Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.

Speaking on the topic "Representing the High Publicity Client," the speakers offered a few words of advice about how to handle high-profile trials.

Mr. Boyle described Dahmer as a remarkably sedate and polite man whose life as a psychopathic killer and cannibal in Milwaukee became the furious obsession of news media and the public.

"I felt not only as a lawyer, but as a human being, that we had a responsibility to try to quiet down the community," Mr. Boyle said. "There was almost a panic about him."

He said his legal team held daily news conferences to try to calm people's fears. Paranoia had reached such a level that anyone with a missing relative would suspect Dahmer was somehow involved.

Mr. Boyle, whose insanity defense of Dahmer fell short when the jury found the serial killer criminally responsible, said he was swarmed by phone calls from reporters every day.

"For the most part, I thought the media did a responsible job of covering it," said Mr. Boyle, who formerly headed the district attorney's office in Milwaukee. "Of course there was going to be a lot of interest; how could there not be? Eleven skulls were found in his apartment."

Mr. Mundy, who represented Barry in the highly-publicized drug case that sent the mayor to jail, was more critical of the press coverage of the Barry trial. He said the coverage was overkill and he found himself in frequent races with prosecutors and the FBI to stage news conferences.

Mr. Mundy said a recurring problem in the legal system is that prosecutors and police are flippant about defendants' right to a fair trial, and call reporters at the first possible moment.

A sense of humor, as macabre as it may seem, was somewhat of a necessity during the deluge of news coverage during the Dahmer case, Mr. Boyle said.

"I had the National Inquirer calling me up, and they were digging up stuff on me that made Dahmer look tame," he said. "I got to the point where nothing surprised me."

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