Lead prosecutor AUSA John Gay was determined to see Cavanaugh inflict the maximum level of harm upon Bergrin and launched into several arguments about why multiple life terms were warranted. Perhaps most absurd was his claim that Bergrin "woke up every morning trying to beat the system." Gay essentially argued that Bergrin's practice was akin to a crime family posing as a law firm. In support of this bald assertion, Gay claimed that "80% of his (Bergrin's) cases were representing gangs." He continued, "The purpose of his enterprise was to rig the system so guilty people could escape justice and commit more crimes."
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Bergrin was among the first people to disclose the systematic human rights abuses at Abu Ghraib.
Gay's pathological comments reveal, among other things, a deep disdain for the rights of the accused. The idea that Bergrin should be punished because of the government's disapproval of his clients' activities is wrong on so many levels that it defies explanation. Gay's logic would impute liability to lawyers for any future offense an acquitted client might commit. Furthermore, Gay seems to be claiming that gang members and by extension other unpopular clients are not deserving of the zealous legal representation guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution's Sixth Amendment. Gay's enigmatic disapproval of lawyers like Bergrin aiding "guilty people" succinctly sums up a pathology that has become ubiquitous in U.S. attorney's offices throughout the country.
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The Newark U.S. attorney's office has long been known as a hotbed for rampant prosecutorial abuse, spawning the likes of Michael Chertoff, Sam Alito and most recently Chris Christie.
Bergrin had represented himself at trial with Lawrence Lustberg serving as standby counsel, but it was Lustberg who handled the sentencing hearing for the defense. Lustberg made repeated attempts to have Bergrin sentenced to less than the multiple life terms sought by the government, but the predetermined nature of the hearing created a palpable sense of futility. The arguments asserted by the defense mostly centered on Bergrin's charitable work in the community, the idea that an excessive sentence was not needed for a first time offender with his background and the fact that Bergrin had been stripped of everything and thus already significantly punished. The defense was handcuffed by the fact that Bergrin's case was headed for appellate review and guilt could not be acknowledged, thus eliminating any meaningful element of contrition from the defense's argument. Much like the repressive Soviet system described by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, mercy cannot be sought in federal court until guilt is admitted.
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Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn recognized the prosecutorial excesses of America when he said, "I have spent all my life under a Communist regime, and I will tell you that a society without any objective legal scale is a terrible one indeed. But a society with no other scale but the legal one is not quite worthy of man either"
The most interesting part of the sentencing hearing began when Bergrin rose and addressed the court. Bergrin, wearing prison garb with a chain around his waist, was flanked by several U.S. marshals. Cavanaugh appeared intent as Bergrin began his lengthy sentencing speech.
"Your honor, I am here as a man who has been thoroughly humbled," Bergrin began. He continued with an explanation of how he had been incarcerated for the last four years and has literally "lost everything." He cited the loss of his mother while he was in custody and the inability to attend her funeral and pay his last respects.
Bergrin, clearly annoyed with the prosecution's claim that he spent every day trying to beat the system, carefully explained his previous work as a homicide prosecutor and AUSA. He described his "tireless work on behalf of victims" and commitment to the ideals of justice. He further told the court "I've handled thousands of clients, hundreds of trials. I represented police unions and never once was there an allegation that anything was done improperly."
Bergrin next went on to talk about his devotion to his family saying, "I love my children as much as a father can love his children." He described the pain he felt every day knowing that he would not be able to play a meaningful role in the lives of his four children and three grandchildren. "I know I will not be a father who is there for them."
As Bergrin continued to speak he took on a more confident tone and went on the offensive, refuting the charges for which he had been convicted. He focused on the alleged conspiracy involving the death of drug dealer and federal witness Deshawn "Kemo" McCray. Bergrin looked squarely at Cavanaugh and said in a strong and confident voice, "I had nothing to do with the death of Kemo McCray. Totally false, totally fictitious, never happened. I hold my head high. I'm ashamed. I'm embarrassed. I'm humiliated. But I'm not broken. I'll go to my grave saying I had nothing to do with the death of Deshawn McCray." He then reminded the court of his request that Anthony Young, the alleged shooter who testified as to Bergrin's involvement in the murder, take a lie detector test along with his own willingness to submit to one. "The request was rejected and refused," advised Bergrin.
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