By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
Barrist says her most recent Triggerlock trial, in January, is a prime example. According to a Metro-Dade police report, the defendant, Eddie Woods, was spotted leaving the Ninth Avenue Market in Florida City after a police car pulled up, at around 10:00 p.m. Deeming his departure suspicious, officer Vincent Caldara followed in a marked police car as Woods walked south down Ninth Avenue. Woods, who says he was returning home, turned down a path between two buildings and proceeded into a field, where Caldara apprehended him, the lights of his police car flashing. "The police report says that Woods waited until he was ten feet away from the cop to throw his gun down," Barrist says. "Now why would he have waited until he was that close to get rid of his weapon?" It was a question, Barrist says, that jurors couldn't ignore. They returned an acquittal in an hour.
Barrist says the most ridiculous Triggerlock case she tried in 1991 was the United States v. William Kuhn. A Kendall native who has by his own admission been in trouble with the law since age twelve, Kuhn doesn't dispute that he was a fitting candidate for Triggerlock on the day he was arrested. Twice busted for burglary as a juvenile, he served more than five years in state prison for a 1982 armed robbery. After his release in 1987, Kuhn worked as a bouncer at strip bars up and down South Dixie Highway and began hanging out with the clientele. Within two years, he says, he was dealing drugs to support a cocaine habit.
On the morning of November 18, 1989, Kuhn had just finished a binge with his friend Raul Cabrera at the South Dade home of an acquaintance. Because Kuhn was suspected of having shot at a car belonging to an ex-girlfriend a week earlier, Metro-Dade officer David Wilkerson was camped outside the house when he emerged. Kuhn, whose driver's license was suspended, says he gave the keys to Cabrera and they took off in Kuhn's souped-up 1968 Nova, quickly pulling away from Wilkerson and initiating a breakneck chase.
As the men screeched onto SW 184th Street, Kuhn began to panic. "You have to understand, my car had never lost a race," he explains. "It had 420 horsepower. It raced in the low twelve seconds for a quarter mile. We left that cop like he was standing still. But with all the adrenaline and drugs in our system, things got crazy. I kept saying to Raul, `Look man, take it down. You don't know what this car can do.' He kept that sucker nailed to the floor. He was staring straight ahead, like he was concentrating on the road real hard, but he wasn't seeing anything."
Kuhn's last memory was of feeling the car rear up on its back wheels, flip left, and explode.
An accident report filed by Metro-Dade police stated that the force of the crash shot Cabrera out of the car and into a tree. His lungs were found ten feet from the rest of his body. Parts of Kuhn's prize stock car were scattered more than 500 feet along the roadway, with the engine block landing 300 feet to the west of the car's frame, which was bent like a melted Hot Wheels toy. Kuhn sustained a compound fracture of his shoulder, a cut femoral artery, a broken nose, and injuries that left chunks of flesh missing from all of his limbs. After police spotted him, they dragged him from a row of burning bushes. Several minutes later, when rescue workers returned to render first aid, they found a revolver and a small packet of cocaine in the front pocket of his shorts, according to his arrest affidavit. Court testimony, offered later, indicates the gun was found tucked inside the elastic waistband of Kuhn's shorts.
Airlifted to Jackson Memorial Hospital, Kuhn spent 42 days there before being transferred to the county jail. Originally charged in state court, his firearm-possession case was later kicked over to the federal docket. "I knew I was going to win from day one," Kuhn says. "They wasted in excess of $100,000 bringing me to trial, when the laws of physics prove that I could never have gone through that accident and kept any gun on me."
Kuhn's assessment turned out to be right. Public defender Barrist exposed a slew of nagging questions in the government's case. Why, for instance, would police not spot a .38 caliber weapon when they first found Kuhn, dressed only in shorts and a T-shirt? Why did the initial police report locate the gun in Kuhn's pocket, while rescue workers testified in court that it was in his waistband? And if Kuhn had a gun, why would he not have disposed of it earlier in the chase?
The defense's most effective testimony came from accident-reconstruction expert Miles Moss. "We did experiments driving twenty miles per hour with seat belts on, and the gun still came out when we stopped. Even when we placed it in the pants pocket," Moss says. "Remember, at the time of the accident, Kuhn himself was thrown from the car at almost fifteen miles per hour."