Marti Mackenzie | Media Specialist for Lawyers & their Clients
Courting the Media Book Cover

A Pioneer in the Legal Arena

Chapter 2 Copyright @ Margaret A. Mackenzie. May not be reprinted without the permission of the author.

The Boxer and the Death Penalty -- The Media Factor in a Death Penalty Case

In 1996, the Office of the Public Defender in Orange County, Florida decided to hire a media relations specialist to assist in a murder case. What made this action unprecedented was that the accused was poor and taxpayer dollars were used to pay the expert’s fee. As Florida Trend magazine (April 1996) characterized the hiring, this was "indigent P.R." What the article did not note was that the hiring was a calculated move to level the playing field in the strategic game of releasing information to the media.

The State Attorney in Central Florida, like most prosecutors around the country, had a Public Information Officer who acts as the conduit between that office and the media, releasing information both on and off the record when crimes are committed, when the accused are charged and when high-profile trials draw near.

The Offices of the Public Defenders, who handle the majority of capital murder cases, do not have such staff resources or expertise and are often unable to take the time to respond appropriately to the media or take advantage of opportunities to explain their clients circumstances.

In 1995 Timothy "Doc" Anderson, a 37-year-old former professional light-heavyweight boxer, set up a meeting with his manager at an Orlando motel under the pretense of interviewing him for a book. After a brief discussion, Anderson pulled out a small caliber pistol and shot 39-year-old Rick "Elvis" Parker six times. He then reloaded the weapon and fired again, perhaps to be sure that the 300-pound Parker was dead.

Media coverage began at the crime scene, where Anderson calmly turned himself over to police. Anderson qualified for a public defender because he could not afford to hire a lawyer. He had not worked in several years due to illness and chronic lethargy, a result, he claimed, of his former manager poisoning his water during a professional fight.

After indicting Anderson for first degree murder in May 1995, the State Attorney's office announced that it was seeking the death penalty. The Orange County, Florida public defender, Joe DuRocher, assigned two experienced lawyers in his office, Patricia Cashman, head of the Major Crimes Division, and Bill McClellan, to the case. The two had interacted with the media in other high-profile trials and had handled numerous capital murder cases. They respected the potential influence of media coverage on public sentiment.

Since Tim Anderson had been a professional athlete, his prosecution was sure to draw media inquires from beyond the local area. The facts that he reloaded his gun and that he is white -- unlike the majority of indigent clients represented by public defenders -- increased the drama quotient of an already dramatic case.

DuRocher, the public defender, was a seasoned lawyer and politician who had been elected to three terms of office. He wanted to add a media specialist to the Anderson defense team, "trying to save Tim Anderson’s life and get the best possible legal result," as he put it. The State Attorney's office was represented by a lawyer familiar with the local media and fully capable of handling all media inquiries and opportunities. DuRocher knew that "the state always wanted the benefit of a climate favorable to the outcome of a case" and wanted Tim Anderson to gain more control of this climate.

It is standard practice for a State Attorney's office to employ a full-time Public Information Officer, as do police and sheriffs' offices across the country. These PIOs are liaisons with the local media and disseminate information about people who have been accused of crimes. They represent the interests of the police department and the State Attorney, handle the media and advise the police and state attorneys in high-profile arrests, prosecutions and trials.

DuRocher and Trish Cashman decided that Anderson’s case was a good one to test the waters for using a media relations expert. The Public Defender's office had been contacted by sports writers and reporters from around the world as well as by the local media


An article about Anderson published in a German boxing magazine, one of many sports publications that contacted the public defender’s office, was not likely to be read by anyone living in Orlando, but local media coverage had great potential to affect public sentiment.

In November 1995, DuRocher called me to discuss hiring me as a media relations expert in the Anderson case. In addition to having a professional relationship, DuRocher and I also share a belief that the death penalty is morally wrong. "We always treated first degree murder as a potential death penalty case. Our goal from the start is to save the client’s life. In cases like Tim Anderson’s, when there are aggravating circumstances, we do everything possible so that the state attorney will come off the death penalty," he says.

Because the state was seeking the death penalty for Anderson, even without meeting him I was interested in contributing to a media campaign to save his life. There was no question that he killed Rick Parker, but there was also a long history of abuse in their professional relationship, as well as other contributing factors that made a quest for a lesser conviction realistic.

I had known Joe DuRocher since 1988, the year I opened my firm and developed a media training seminar for lawyers. I offered to present a version of the seminar to his lawyers and staff at no charge, and he later recommended me to teach a media relations seminar at a state-wide conference for public defenders.

Less than five years earlier, my work in a criminal case had made headlines in Florida and was the subject of the tabloid television show, "A Current Affair." In 1990, Ed Humphrey, a 19-year-old college student who suffered from bipolar disorder, was the primary suspect in the killings of five university students in Gainesville, Florida. There was not enough evidence to charge him with these murders, but his manic behavior in the days surrounding the Gainesville killings gave police a reason to keep him in jail.

I was hired by the Humphrey family to represent Ed after he was prosecuted on a domestic disturbance charge. He had inadvertently pushed his grandmother late at night, causing her to fall and hit her face. Despite her wish to have the episode dismissed, he was tried and given the maximum possible sentence and sent to prison. Chapter TK tells the complete story of a five-year campaign to rehabilitate his image. Following the first televised interview with Ed that I arranged while he was in prison, my hiring itself became a subject of interest to the media.

The Palm Beach Post ran an article with the headline "Gainesville killings suspect tries to soften his image" on September 5, 1991. A Current Affair’s segment "Make-over of a Monster" aired a few months later. In the years following these articles, the public watched media-savvy lawyers and public relations experts handle the high-profile prosecution of William Kennedy Smith’s rape trial and were inundated with the media coverage of O.J. Simpson’s "Trial of the Century."

Throughout the Humphrey case, DuRocher and I had discussed the media coverage of Humphrey’s arrest and the gradual improvement of his image in the media coverage as I advised and prepared him for television, magazine and newspaper interviews. Now, DuRocher wanted to retain me as a media expert in the Anderson case, and he wanted the county to pay for it.

After an initial meeting with Cashman and McClellan, I agreed to prepare a proposal for Orange County to hire me as a media relations expert to assist the public defender’s office in Tim Anderson’s case. Our strategy was to include references in the proposal to the use of media relations specialists by the State Attorney’s office. The public defender agreed that if my proposal was rejected, the Public Defender would litigate the issue and file a lawsuit arguing for equal protection under the law.

The availability of media relations experts in high-profile trials frees up the lawyers to focus on trial preparation without ignoring the media opportunities. Public defenders are already overworked, often representing dozens of their indigent clients at any given time.

I requested a fee of $3,000, $2,000 less than the minimum retainer I ask from a private lawyer and his or her client. Lawyers who do public defender work are paid on a lower fee scale than lawyers in the private sector can command. Since I believed we were setting an important precedent, I wanted to meet the county halfway. My proposal was submitted to the Orange County assistant country attorney and accepted without delay.

Before I turned my full attention to the Anderson case, I knew from media reactions to my involvement in the Humphrey case that we needed to address the issue of why the county hired a publicist to assist the lawyers defending an indigent client against first degree murder charges.

I advised DuRocher to prepare for the element of controversy in my hiring. Although he knew that we were setting a precedent, he was not as prepared as I was for the kind of media coverage that I expected. My strategy was to get the story about my hiring over and done with before I would begin representing Tim Anderson. This approach is similar to "feeding the beast" when reporters swarm over a high-profile incident. Once they are given something to report, they are more likely to move on to another story.

I compare this tactic to the advice experts give on what to do if a dog or bear attacks you. Never try to run away; they will catch you and tear you to pieces. In the situation of an animal attack, curl up in a ball, stay small and still. When the media is involved, secure yourself behind a table or podium, speak thoughtfully and assuredly until you can walk away calmly.

Several reporters had already asked public defender Trish Cashman to allow Anderson to be interviewed. I contacted Gerard Shields, a well-respected reporter at the Orlando Sentinel, to discuss both my role in the case and the possibility of an interview with Anderson. Shields was one the Sentinel’s golden boys, a reporter valued and liked by the editors, who gave him the latitude he wanted to work on stories that interested him. As soon as I mentioned to him that I was calling about the Anderson case, his interest was piqued. I embargoed the explanation I was going to give him, asking him to research the use of a media experts by criminal defense lawyers and discuss my hiring with DuRocher before he completed his story.

Despite the best-laid plans for Shields’s article to announce the news of my hiring, a local television reporter who wanted to interview Anderson was directed by the public defender’s office to call me on January 10. When she inquired why I was the person she had been referred to, I asked her to go off the record for a moment to discuss the Anderson case. This is a media relations tactic that I teach. There is case law to support a verbal contract established with a reporter that protects off-the-record information.

I did not simply ask to go off-the-record and start talking. I did what I counsel lawyers to do: establish a verbal contract with the reporter and listen for a response. I asked her if she would to go off-the-record and she said yes. I told her about my contract with the county and said that after tomorrow, when the Sentinel article was going to run, I would discuss her interest in interviewing Tim Anderson. She agreed to call me then. But when we hung up the telephone, she proceeded to violate the off-the-record agreement and immediately took a camera crew to the public defender’s office to ambush Joe DuRocher for a "whistle-blower" story. When DuRocher called me, he had already given a statement. I called the reporter’s editor to protest her behavior, but the reporter denied having the off-the-record discussion and the editor declined to intervene.

This is the only time in 17 years that a reporter "forgot" an off-the-record agreement with me. I declined to be interviewed for the whistle-blower story, recognizing that the newspaper article carried far more weight and influence. The TV story that aired raised the question "Was this public money being appropriately spent?" Needless to say, I never gave this reporter access to interview Anderson. She was unethical and untrustworthy.

The Orlando Sentinel article the next day was a thoughtful look at the reasons for my hiring. A few days later, an editorial criticizing DuRocher’s decision to hire a publicist appeared in the same paper. In his twenty years as public defender, this was only the second time DuRocher was criticized by the Sentinel.

The story about my hiring was over, so now I could focus my media relations expertise on introducing Tim Anderson to Central Florida through the media.

I first met Anderson at the Orange County Jail in a small room near the front entrance, the usual place for attorney client conferences. Trish Cashman, Bill McClellan and I waited while Anderson was brought down from his cell block. He was handcuffed and wearing leg shackles when he arrived, but he was also smiling. After he was led into the room, the guard unlocked his handcuffs and left, and we were locked into the room with Anderson. We discussed my role in the case, and then Anderson began to tell me his story.

At 37, Tim Anderson was a washed-up, punch-drunk ex-pugilist, unemployed and broke. But in his glory days, he had been enough of a force to have gone up against the likes of George Foreman and Larry Holmes. The cause of his fall from grace, he claimed, was Rick "Elvis" Parker, the flamboyant former cleaning products salesman who became Anderson’s manager and bodyguard. They teamed up in 1985, when Parker decided to get into the fight game and promised Anderson that he would make him into a "great white hope" and make them both rich men.

Instead, Anderson told me, Parker slipped deeper and deeper into cocaine abuse and unscrupulous business practices, eventually coming under investigation by the FBI. He held back $148,000 that he owed Anderson. He wanted Anderson to fix fights, including taking a fall in a highly-publicized 1992 bout with former New York Jets football-star-turned-boxer Mark Gastineau. Anderson refused and beat Gastineau badly. Parker arranged a rematch six months later, and Anderson told me that during the fight, Parker instructed a corner man to give Anderson poisoned water. While hospital records do not confirm Anderson’s claim that he was poisoned, Gastineau won the fight, and Anderson was found unconscious in his locker room afterwards.

After the Gastineau rematch, Anderson said, Parker continued to threaten him, even sending goons to beat him with a baseball bat. The last straw was when Parker’s thugs handed Anderson a piece of paper that indicated Parker knew the home address of Anderson’s sister Erin, who was paralyzed from a diving accident. Anderson, who was very close to his sister, took this as a threat against her life.

Eventually, on April 28, 1995, Anderson managed to lure Parker to a hotel room in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, saying he wanted to tape-record an interview for a book about boxing he was working on. Along with the tape recorder he brought a .38-caliber pistol. The two men argued, and Anderson shot Parker. Then he called the police.

From this discussion, I identified stories about Anderson’s family life and the history of incidents with Parker that he would share with reporters. The threats Parker made against Anderson and his sister were stories that the public needed to hear. I did not operate independently in determining what Anderson might safely relate to a reporter. His lawyers and I had to agree that nothing reported would jeopardize his defense strategy.

Working with criminal defense lawyers demands a full understanding of those aspects of the case that they do not want discussed with the media. In this case, our explanation for not answering questions about the actual shooting was that Anderson did not remember many of the events that occurred that day. There are always facts in a lawyer-client relationship that must be kept confidential and this extends to the relationship any expert.

Reporters understand that lawyers must protect their client from discussing case strategy or on-going investigations. It is important to make this clear before the interview begins. I generally have a pre-interview discussion with the reporter and emphasize the desire we all have to tell this story as much as his lawyer will allow. This strengthens my role as a facilitator, not a manipulator, in the eyes of the media.

In conducting media relations, there are critical boundaries in criminal matters. I let the reporter know that I am arranging the interview because I think it is important for a balanced story to run, not just a story from the prosecutor’s perception. Even in a murder case, there may be facts and events that led up to the crime that elicit sympathy for the accused and his family. In the Anderson case, the defendant and his invalid sister had a very close relationship. There were numerous family photos of them, which I would provide to the press.

Before I left, that day of our first meeting, I had itemized in writing the segments of Anderson’s life story that he would discuss in an upcoming interview with Gerry Shields. I also asked Anderson who cut his hair, as it was nearly to his shoulders. He said he was thinking about shaving his head. "Absolutely not," I said. I wanted his appearance to be as normal as possible. We even discussed having a professional barber brought in, but it turned out there was a competent barber available at the jail.

The purpose of all these discussions and recommendations regarding Anderson’s appearance and demeanor was to humanize him, despite a prison environment that tends to dehumanize. I would remind Anderson that on the day of any interview, I wanted him to shampoo thoroughly in order to avoid flat, oily hair. I would also bring foundation makeup with me the day his photo was taken for the newspaper or when a TV crew came for an interview. There really is a jailhouse pallor; the very limited time in the sun and the starchy diet lacking in fresh vegetables and fruit give inmates a pasty look.

The public defender generated a letter authorizing me to visit with Anderson in a room where inmates at the county jail have private discussions with their lawyers. This privilege is very important for several reasons. As I prepare a prisoner for an interview, I need to observe and discuss his facial expressions, how he positions his body, and how he will look in a photo or on camera. Access to the jail begins with a walk though a metal detector, but this still allows me to bring in cosmetics and, unlike someone visiting a family member or friend during specified hours, I am allowed physical contact with a client during visits.

Prior to any media interview, I prepare a list of answers and responses to potential questions. Before an interview, there is rarely an opportunity to discuss with the reporter the questions he wants to ask or that we do not want to answer. The interview, when properly planned and monitored, will never go beyond the parameters of our objectives.

Tim Anderson was a good listener. He also had some experience speaking to sports writers while he was boxing and promoting himself. He was a genial and likeable man, and I knew I could prepare him to be this person in any interview

One aspect of Anderson’s persona that I did not want revealed was his religious beliefs. Like so many people who are incarcerated, he had discovered or rediscovered religion. Even if the system does not forgive them, men and women in prison often believe that God forgives them and are eager to share the revelations of faith and believe that comfort and sustain them. "Do not share your faith in God with the reporter," I told Anderson. It sounds melodramatic and too convenient for people accused of murder to discuss their new connection to God. No matter how sincere, religious beliefs typecast prisoners. I wanted the public to see Tim Anderson as individual, someone dearly loved by family and friends, someone who committed murder under uniquely traumatic circumstances and long-term suffering. After meeting him, this is what I truly believed. So could the media and its audience.

Shields interviewed Anderson for several hours before writing an in-depth feature story about his family life, his boxing career and the events that led up to his killing Rick Parker. The story ran in the Sunday edition of the Orlando Sentinel, beginning on the front page and continuing with a two-page spread in the back of the "A" section. There were two photos, a dramatically-lit head-and-shoulders shot on the front page and a large photo of Anderson and his sister on the last page of the article. Even the photo captions and headlines sent the best possible message about Anderson.

"Ex-boxer faces the fight of his life." Simply stated the ‘fight for his life" suggests that Tim has a defense. Headlines and captions are written by editors, not by the reporters who write the stories, so I didn’t know what it would be. We were lucky with this headline, as we were with the caption to the photo of Anderson and his sister that I had provided. It read, "Anderson says thugs sent by Parker tried to intimidate him by threatening his sister, Erin (right), who is confined to a wheelchair."

With this article under our belts, it was time for Anderson’s television interview. When the media is aggressively interested in interviewing someone, there are opportunities to influence the interview well before it begins. It is dangerous for a lawyer or publicist to believe that they can control the tenor of news coverage. Instead, the control available to them is over what the client says to the media, the timing of access to a story and, as in this case, who is invited to interview the client.

The advantage of dealing with someone who is incarcerated is that he or she is not easily accessible to the media. But beware the "cooperative" guard who lets an inmate know that a reporter wants to talk to him over the telephone and is ready to accept a collect call. There are also prison personnel who will ask an inmate if he wants to agree to an interview and then put the reporter on a visitors list. While this is not ethical behavior for a corrections facility employee, in high-profile cases there I no shortage of people who want to be part of the parade.

In Tim Anderson’s case, I ruled out the station that had broadcast the whistle-blower story about my hiring and dealt out the station that had a modus operandi of sensationalism. Instead, I called the affiliate with an excellent reporter whom I knew personally to be a compassionate individual.

The jailhouse interview went well. Before the TV crew arrived, I worked on Anderson’s appearance and carefully reviewed the key points that he was to bring out in the interview. I also gave the station copies of photographs of Anderson and his sister to include as stills in the segment. The story raised all the key issues: Anderson’s illness following drinking from a water bottle supplied by Rick Parker, his fear for his sister’s safety; his regret over the murder, and his lapses of memory during the day of the murder. The feature news story was broadcast over two-evenings and heavily promoted as the exclusive interview that it was.

In the wake of this publicity, there were two significant developments in the months before Anderson’s trial. On [DATE TK] the State Attorney's office announced that it was no longer seeking the death penalty, which they had previously been intending to do.

The second significant effect of the publicity became apparent during the jury selection. The first 36 potential jurors called into the courtroom were asked if they had heard or read any stories in the media about the defendant. Twelve of these jurors said that they had, which makes 33%, a significantly large percentage. The Orlando Sentinel story the following day noted how many in the jury pool had said they had read the story about Anderson. This fact alone must be considered by all criminal defense lawyers. I am of the strong opinion, as are thousands of lawyers across the country, that not only is it ethical to respond to media inquiries in a high-profile case, but that it is unethical to ignore the effect that public opinion can have on a client during a trial and during the sentencing phase if he or she is convicted.

Tim Anderson was convicted of first degree murder, but without being sentenced to death. We came very close to seeing a second degree murder conviction that would have allowed for judicial discretion in sentencing. A little-known restriction in Florida prevents the criminal defense lawyer from letting the jury know that if they convict on first degree murder, the automatic sentence is life in prison without parole. In fact, when Anderson was sentenced, immediately after the jury verdict, there was an audible gasp from the jurors. As is usual in high-profile trials, reporters covering the story approach the jurors and ask for comments, if not immediately after they are dismissed, then the next day. A few weeks following the trial, one juror wrote a letter protesting the fact that they were not told there would be no opportunity to voice their opinion about a reduced sentence. Shields of the Sentinel did a follow-up story about the juror who revealed that several of the jurors wanted to convict on second degree murder.

Tim Anderson is currently serving his life sentence in prison. Instead of waiting on death row through years of uncertain appeals and living under the shadow of death by lethal injection, he exercises, visits with his family whenever possible, and pays his debt to society. Joe DuRocher, who took a chance and took the media criticism on the chin says, "In my mind, there’s absolutely no question that the stories about Tim influenced the state’s decision to ‘come off death.’"

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