The words came like a knife
“A decision was made to delay that, that was made by his lawyers, not by him, in accordance with our sworn duty to zealously defend Mr. Bennette, We would ask the Vaughn family to accept our sympathy and our regret for the additional pain that the family had to endure because of that decision.
That was a lawyer for Parrish Bennette telling the court – and the family of Yashanee Vaughn whom Bennette had just admitted to killing – that it had been the decision of the lawyers to not disclose where Vaughn’s body was for nearly four months.
Vaughn was 14 when she was last seen with Bennette, her boyfriend two years older, on March 31, 2011. It wasn’t until July 15th that Bennette finally told police where they could find her.
It was awful news for the family for which there had been precious little in the way of positive news since Yashanee went missing. At first, despite the family’s belief that the worst had happened, the police classified her as a missing person, with some officials expressing disbelief that reporters were interested in – as one put it – “a girl with a rap sheet who probably took off.”
Even when it became clear she had been murdered – Bennette’s father had come forward to say that his son had confessed to him and police found blood stains – they received little solace as Bennette refused to disclose what had happened and where the body was.
It turns out now that was part of a calculated effort on the part of the defense team.
The defense team knew that they were going to have an uphill battle showing their client was not guilty but that didn’t mean they weren’t going to do everything they could to defend his best interests. And that meant making sure that even if they couldn’t get him an acquittal, they would do what they could to cut down on the time he spent in jail.
So, they approached law enforcement with an offer. They would be able to help them find the body as long as they got a guarantee that law enforcement would look favorably on the fact that the information had been shared.
The lawyers were told no deal.
And that’s where the stalemate started; one that last nearly four months, four months during which Yashanee’s family could only wait and suffer.
“They let her lay in the dirt and decompose for four months and knew where she was?” Vaughn’s great aunt, Marsha Hayes, said in court. “Where’s the justice for that? That’s sick.”
It may be sick and it absolutely leaves one questioning where’s the justice? But the lawyers really had no choice. The way the system is set up – prosecutors and defense lawyers have to do pretty much what they can to advocate for their positions.
And a defense lawyer cannot disclose something his client told him without his client’s permission. So, presumably when Bennette was told he wouldn’t get special consideration for revealing where Yashanee’s body was, he told his lawyers to stay quiet.
“It’s a very difficult situation,” says Jim McIntyre, a long-time top prosecutor turned defense lawyer. “If the only way they knew something was through communication with their client and the client didn’t want that information disclosed, they had no choice.
“It’s carved in stone. They are duty bound to say nothing.”
McIntyre points out that the only time that an exception could be made is when the client says I am going to kill or harm someone.
“You never want to sound callous but when you look at situations like this you have to remember that sometimes what people think is right and what is justice are not the same thing,” says McIntyre. “And in a murder case, so much of it is going to be about physical evidence and there is no bigger piece of physical evidence than the body.
“There’s the humanitarian perspective that you want the remains returned to the family and there’s the legal constraints on what you can and cannot say.”
McIntyre says that the defense lawyer has to do what it’s in the best interest of their client. The lawyer has to decide whether it’s worth their while to disclose information whether it was the involvement of a third party, the location of a weapon. Or the location of a body.
“It’s very easy to look at these things from an emotional point of view. The problem is that it’s much more complicated.”