The Photographer

Editor’s note: this story comes from an actual criminal case from Central Minnesota 20 years ago. The editors have reviewed a copy of the complaint and record of filing and can attest to its accuracy, and that Mr. Petrek was the Defendant’s attorney and that the facts are accurately conveyed.

by Soren Paul Petrek

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

Being a Public Defender is a lot like juggling chainsaws. Just like your clients, many are bent, busted or broken. To be fair, some clients are nice folks who find themselves in stupid situations. Folks can be a useful word. Remember when President Obama admitted that we’d, ‘tortured some folks’? That was nice of us.

Years ago, I had a client, who shall remain nameless largely to spare him monumental embarrassment. Not only for his lack of finesse as a burglar, but for rank ridiculousness. I’ll call him Jimmy.

Jimmy had little going for him. He barely made it out of high school. He either scraped through or they simply gave him a diploma and told him not to come back. Permanently slouched, it was difficult for Jimmy to get up enough steam to hold a job. Crime was the answer. Jimmy burgled now and then and up until his capture, did ok at it. But the night he drank a whole bottle of Tequila was his undoing.

It was a mild winter’s evening, and Jimmy and a bottle of tequila were driving around looking for houses to rob. Once the quart was polished off, driving became more of a challenge. Eventually, Jimmy took to the ditch and stayed there. During our initial interview, he confided in me that his immediate reaction was to eat the worm at the bottom of the bottle.

Jimmy then left his car and walked up to a farmhouse. The lights were off, and Jimmy took that as an invitation to enter the residence. Initially, he went into the family’s kitchen to see if there was any more alcohol. Nothing but pop, so he drank some of that. Next he thought he’d use the phone to call his father for a ride. I guess he forgot that the long distance phone number might show up on the family’s phone bill. It did.

After a few attempts to call dad, Jimmy gave up and decided that he’d lay down on the sofa for a breather. The family camera was sitting on a table next to him. Fiddling with it, he decided to take some pictures.

Eventually, Jimmy tried taking another run at getting his car out of the ditch. He loaded up a VCR and a couple of other low budget items, leaving the TV, camera and other easily pawned property behind.

With herculean effort, Jimmy blasted out of the ditch, leaving the scene of the crime.

About a month later, Jimmy was in Jail. Appointed as the Public Defender in his case, I went to meet with him. We explored the intoxication defense, but I told him that juries didn’t really like that excuse. What about eating the worm? He inquired. I hear that can make you hallucinate. Sorry son, juries don’t want to hear about no worm.

Lacking a defense, I went to see the County Attorney about a plea bargain. To say he was smug is an understatement. He looked like the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, his face curling into an evil grin.

Generally, I’d say something like screw you, we’ll try it. But clearly the other shoe was about to drop.

Unfortunately, in those days, most of my cases were dogs. They were all but impossible to defend. In those instances, you have a few choices. Put on a dog and pony show, often called a slow plea of guilty. Next, wrap yourself in the flag and put the state on trial, also called a slow plea of guilty. Or adjust your client’s blindfold and light their cigarette for them.

“I don’t think you’re going to want to try this one, Paul,” the prosecutor said. “There’s some more evidence I didn’t put in the complaint.”

“Oh yeah, like what?”

“Did you know your client was beating off in the house?”

“You’re kidding. You paid to gather forensic evidence for a couple of pieces of stolen crap?”

“No, we have the pictures.”

Unhappily, for Jimmy, when the family got home and had their film developed, it was double print Tuesday.

About the author

Soren Paul Petrek was a part-time Public Defender for 12 years and has innumerable similar stories to “The Photographer.” This one is absolutely true.  His novel Cold Lonely Courage is under consideration at St. Martin’s Press and previously self published on kindle: His book of poetry,Yourself was recently completed and edited by Tuck Magazine, London.  Several of his poems have appeared in Tuck.