Adnan Syed's Lawyer Cristina Gutierrez Has a History of Tough Cases
It's natural if you're still reeling from Thursday's episode of Serial. (Seriously though. WHAT was that scandal-bomb of a clincher line that Sarah Koenig drops right before the show's inimitable outro?! Don't make me wait a week to find out if Adnan is a sociopath, Koenig.) Finally, we get to learn a little more about the curious case of Cristina Gutierrez and her past as a public defender, deepening our general confusion about what her strategy was with Adnan's case.
According to her peers, Gutierrez was apparently a star in her prime. Known to be relentless and sometimes combative in her questioning, the long-time public defender was called a "pit bull on the pant leg of justice." Before she passed away in 2004 of a heart attack, Gutierrez had a reputation in the community for being at the top of her game, and came to Adnan's family with high recommendations. Still, the fact remains that Gutierrez was accused of corruption when hundreds of thousands of dollars of client money went missing. While Adnan still trusts and reveres her, some things just don't seem right. Whether she was effected by ailing health (she had diabetes and MS) or plain greed, it seems that Gutierrez didn't do everything in her power to keep Adnan out of jail.
In hopes of getting a bit of perspective on her role in Adnan's case, let's look back at Gutierrez's formidable body of work as a defense attorney. Even if things unraveled pretty quickly in later years, she faced some of the toughest cases and emerged triumphant ... mostly.
Laurie Susanne Cook
In 1993, Gutierrez represented Laurie Susanne Cook, Anne Arundel, Maryland school teacher who was accused of sexually abusing a 14-year-old male student. Cook was 33 at the time. "We're vehemently denying the charges," Gutierrez told the Baltimore Sun. "It's not unusual... in the context of the hysteria at Northeast, to have created an accusation out of nothing." The hysteria she's referring to is the case of Walter Price, a 49-year-old Social Studies teacher who was convicted of sexually abusing a student at the very same school just a few months earlier. Cook was ultimately acquitted, but subsequently lost her job in 1995.
Sandra & Jamal Craig
Back in 1986, Gutierrez defended Sandra Craig, owner and operator a Clarksville pre-school, was charged with 53 counts of child abuse, molestation and child pornography. Her 16-year-old son Jamal, who worked at the school, was charged with 8 counts of molestation, including the rape of a 6-year-old girl, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. Gutierrez's argument was based on discrediting the accusations of the allegedly abused children, saying that the children testifying had been swayed by unnecessarily suspicious therapists. While Jamal was never convicted, Craig was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 1987, but was later exonerated and cleared of all charges in 1991.
Jacqueline F. McLean
Gutierrez served as counsel when Jacqueline F. McLean, the first black female to serve as Baltimore's City Comptroller, was charged with numerous fraud and misconduct charges in 1994. McLean was accused of stealing $25,000 from Baltimore tax payers by reporting an employee on payroll who did not exist. Ultimately, McLean pled guilty, was given a 3-year suspended sentence, and resigned from public office in disgrace later that year. The former public official tragically died of complications from an infection in 2001 at 57 years old, just three years before Gutierrez passed away.
In 1995, Gutierrez represented South Baltimore resident John Merzbacher when he was charged with sexually molesting dozens of students in his Catholic school in the 1970s. He was found guilty and given four life sentences. Some information in 2010 came out that could've set him free that had to do with an error on Gutierrez's part. According to an article in the Baltimore Sun, prosecutors offered Merzbacher's counsel a 10-year reduced sentence with a plea bargain. Merzbacher claimed after the fact that Gutierrez didn't notify him of (which sounds similar to the situation of Gutierrez not investigating the Asia case, or investigating a potential plea deal). Ruling that Gutierrez erred in omitting this crucial information, a circuit judge sent Melzbacher's to the state court so he could become eligible for the same deal, 25 years after his conviction. Despite Gutierrez's alleged error, the 4th Circuit of the US Court of Appeals ruled that he wasn't entitled to the reduced sentence, years after the fact.
As Koenig discussed in Thursdays episode, the Whitmans were among the former clients who ultimately sued Gutierrez for misplaced funds. Ron and Sue Whitman hired Gutierrez to defend their son in 2000, in a horrifically tragic case; their older of their two boys, Zach, was charged with killing his 13-year-old brother Greg, by stabbing him 65 times in the neck with a pen knife. Halfway through the trial, Ron and Sue fired Cristina. In 2003, Whitman was convicted to life in prison. The latest of his numerous appeals throughout the years took place in January of this year, which he lost.
From what we can judge, it looks like Gutierrez really was a star for years. Then, around 1995, things started to change, as Koenig mentions that the Whitmans were told by one of Gutierrez's co-counselors. We don't know why exactly she began to turn, but odds are it had to do with health — that's at least what her colleagues say.
Image: Serial Podcast