author, former judge dissects the film “Anatomy of a murder” | Michigan News

By CHRISTIE MASTRIC, The Mining Journal (Marquette)

MARQUETTE, Mich. (AP) – Would the “not guilty” verdict described in the book and movie “Anatomy of a Murder” hold today?

Author and former Army Judge Eugene Milhizer recently gave a presentation on his book, “Dissecting the Anatomy of a Murder,” at the Central UP and Northern Michigan University Archives, followed by a signing session.

In the book, Milhizer details the trial, book and film based on one of the most famous criminal trials of the 20th century, which took place at the Marquette County courthouse. It also explores the 1952 Big Bay murder and community attitudes towards crime.

Leslie Warren, dean of library and educational support, which includes the NMU archives, introduced Milhizer, reports the Mining Journal of Marquette.

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“I am very honored that he used our Voelker collection to produce this book and share his analysis with all of us,” said Warren.

Milhizer wrote of “Anatomy of a Murder” author John Voelker, who served as defense counsel for the ensuing trial, and then adapted the courtroom drama into a novel. successful and critically acclaimed. Milhizer also discussed the production of the groundbreaking film based on Voelker’s novel, directed by Otto Preminger.

Voelker wrote under the pseudonym Robert Traver.

“He’s talking about the novel. He’s talking about the movie, but he’s talking about a lot more than that, ”Milhizer said of his book.

Milhizer’s book examines several legal and ethical questions raised by the novel and the film.

During his speech, he described the basic facts of the crime.

On July 31, 1952, Lieutenant Coleman Peterson entered the Lumberjack Tavern in Big Bay and shot Maurice “Mike” Chenoweth after Peterson’s wife, Charlotte, claimed that Chenoweth had raped her.

Peterson killed Chenoweth in front of a crowd, which posed a challenge for the defense.

“One of the things Voelker faced as a defense lawyer was that he didn’t have a lot of options because it was essentially a public execution and he couldn’t not doing much to defend the lieutenant, ”Milhizer said.

The trial, which began on September 15, 1952, ended with Peterson’s acquittal for temporary insanity, or more specifically, for having “an irresistible impulse.”

“It was difficult for him to argue a typical type of insanity because it is clear that Lt. Peterson was sane before and after the shooting, so based on what an army psychiatrist said and a sort of skillful Voelker direction from the accused in the so-called lecture, which I deal with in the book, this temporary defense of insanity was raised and proven to be effective, ”Milhizer said.

Would the “irresistible impulse” defense work today?

He said that in the 1960s there was a more favorable attitude towards rehabilitation and the civil rights and freedoms of criminal defendants. Thus, the model penal code was created for use and adoption by states.

“They said the insanity defense could be established either by cognitive impairment – you don’t know right from wrong – or willful disability – even if you know right from wrong, you can’t control yourself. Irresistible impulse, ”said Milhizer.

Then came the 1982 acquittal of John Hinckley, Jr., by reason of insanity, for attempting to assassinate then President Ronald Reagan.

It enraged the country and Congress, he said.

“So, now we have the Federal Madness Act,” Milhizer said. “Not only does this require the accused to prove that he is mad rather than the government to prove that he is not mad, but it removes the ‘irresistible impulse’ as a defense, and many states have adopted this, both in reaction to Reagan’s assassination attempt and also, I think, a change in attitude towards criminals and the defense against insanity.

As a person both prosecuted and defended, Milhizer admitted to being impressed by forensic experts but being skeptical of psychiatric experts.

He used “Son of Sam” killer David Berkowitz as an example.

“He was examined by nine psychiatrists,” Milhizer said. “Three said he was crazy, three said he was not crazy and three said they were not sure. Now I don’t know what you can call it science.

Asked about a legal or ethical issue addressed in the film that could be taught in law school, he mentioned the scene of the “lecture” in which defense attorney Paul Biegler gives advice to the accused. – a scene which is widely covered in the novel and the film.

“He has a client who has committed a public execution, and he has to try to find a way to defend this guy,” Milhizer said. “He knows the only way to defend this guy is defense against insanity. “

However, he stressed that ethically, a lawyer cannot tell a client to admit his insanity.

“You can’t suggest defense to your client that way,” Milhizer said. “So what he does, beautifully in the book and incredibly well captured in the film, is how he sort of leads him on this journey where the client himself goes crazy.

“Now he has his defense and he can move on.”

Milhizer said he did his best to be fair to Voelker and present him as he really was.

“I think it’s a great story and one that’s compelling for all kinds of reasons,” he said.

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