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War Story: When Twins Go Bad

Before joining this newspaper in 1988, I practiced law in Southwest Virginia for about three years. Like many rookie lawyers, I got a lot of court-appointed criminal work. 

I handled a jury trial for one of my court-appointed clients not long before I moved to Richmond. Bristol Circuit Judge Butch Flannagan called me into his office with word that another lawyer in town was having a “difference of opinion” with the client and he was relieving that guy of the privilege. My number had come up. The trial was set in two weeks.

The charge: writing a bad check, a big one, to Sears. I met with the client, whom I’ll call Mary (not her real name). Mary said that she and her identical twin sister Sherry (not her real name, either) often switched identities and pretended to be each other. Sherry, she was adamant, was the one who wrote the check to Sears, using her – Mary’s – rubber checkbook.

Sometimes you go with all you have, so I worked up the Evil Twin Sister Defense. I subpoenaed Sherry and started getting ready, hoping to leave the jury wondering whodunnit.

On the day of trial, George Warren, the commonwealth’s attorney, got the security guard from Sears on the stand; he said, yep, there she is (Mary), she’s the one who I saw write the check and hand it to the salesclerk. This was bad. I couldn’t shake him from his story. This was bad, too.

Mary got on the stand and said Sherry did it. This was possibly good. George couldn’t shake her from her story. This was possibly good, too.

I called Sherry. Sherry was indeed Mary’s identical twin, but, um, Sherry had been sick and had had surgery and weighed about 50 pounds less than Mary, who was, at 6 feet and 200 pounds, a big gal. This was bad. Sherry admitted she and Mary sometimes swapped identities, but no, she did not write that check to Sears. This was as good as I had, given the in-court ID by the security guard.

The jury heads out. And stays out. This was good. And stays out. Hmm. Finally, after about an hour, the jury comes back. They found Mary guilty on the bad-check charge. This was bad. The sentence was a couple of years, which the judge said could run concurrent to some other time she was serving. This was good, if you were Mary.

My enduring memory of Mary, and I promise this is true: After one of our interviews in the jail, the deputy came to take her back to her cell. As she shuffled out, Mary sang Whitney Houston softly to herself, “Where do broken hearts go?” I couldn’t answer that one.

Got a good war story? I’d like to hear it and share it. Send me a note at paul.fletcher@valawyersmedia.com. The best entry will win a nifty prize.

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