The True Tale:
Tragedy does not operate by appointment. It strikes without warning or preference. Age, sex, religion, skin color, wealth, or natural origin are absent in tragedy’s cruel work. All of which takes me to an incredible story…
Joey (a fictitious name) was a 16-year-old who had been attending an elite summer camp since he was 9 years of age. Based upon his loyalty and attendance, the camp owners decided to give him a gift by arranging that for three weeks of his last summer at the camp, Joey would be rewarded with a trip to a number of national parks out West, during which he would be chaperoned by a senior counselor. The owners also arranged for their 17-year-old grandson Freddy (a fictitious name) to be his roommate throughout the trip. A complete itinerary was planned, including the Grand Canyon, Natural Arches, Zion, Bryce Canyon, and other historic national parks. Throughout the trip, Joey and Freddy shared the same motel room, the senior counselor being in an adjoining room. Each morning, the counselor would knock on the door and tell the boys to be ready for breakfast in 15 minutes.
On the day in question, the counselor and his two teenage charges were in Arizona, having just visited one of the parks. As night fell, the two boys were in the room and the counselor was in the adjoining one. It was after dinner when Freddy told Joey that he was going to leave the motel for a while. He then knocked on the counselor’s door and asked if he could borrow the car keys to the rental that was parked outside of the motel. Freddy said he wanted to listen to the car radio instead of watching tv in the room. Being agreeable, the counselor handed Freddy the car keys. It was already 9:00pm and they had an early morning trip planned to another park area. Joey went to sleep as did the counselor. What occurred after that is a horror beyond belief, but unfortunately, true…
At about 10:00pm, Freddy returned to the room. Joey was fast asleep. Freddy opened the top draw of a dresser quietly. He then removed a knife that he had purchased from an Indian souvenir shop that afternoon. Holding the 6-inch knife in his right hand, he stepped silently to Joey’s bed. He was still fast asleep. Suddenly and without hesitation, Freddy raised the knife and plunged it multiple times into Joey’s body. The only sounds that could be heard were the terrifying moans let out by Joey as the bloody blade was repeatedly thrust into him. Within seconds, Freddy gathered some clothes and exited the room. Running down the one flight of stairs, he dashed over to the rental, got behind the wheel and gunned it off into the night.
As was the practice, the counselor knocked on their door the following morning to advise the boys to get ready for breakfast, after which they would be checking out of the motel. There was no response. He knocked repeatedly. Still no response. “They’re probably downstairs having breakfast,” he thought. He then proceeded directly to the breakfast area. They were not there! Puzzled, he called the room on the house phone. No response! A bit concerned, he sought out the room clerk and asked that he accompany him with a room key, after telling the clerk that he was baffled as to where the boys could have been.
Together, the counselor and room clerk went upstairs and knocked loudly on the door to the boys’ room. Receiving no response, the room clerk inserted his key into the lock and opened the door. What they witnessed was what one would see in a horror movie. There were two beds in the room. One was still made and not slept in. The other was blood-soaked. They followed a trail of blood from the bed that led them to the bathroom. And there, draped over the sink, was Joey. He was dead!
The police were called and arrived within minutes with two detectives. As hardened as they were, the police officers and detectives were horrified by the cold-blooded killing of the 16-year-old. Within minutes, an alarm was broadcast to other police jurisdictions, including neighboring Nevada and Utah, with a description of Freddy and the rental car. Despite these measures, Freddy could not be found. Strangely, however, within a few days, the Arizona police received a phone call from Freddy’s father, who said that his son was with him in a small town and that he would surrender Freddy so long as no harm would come to him. After several hours, Freddy was handed over to the police by his father. With his father present, he made a full confession of the murder of Joey, but could offer no reason or excuse for the horrifying act he committed. Freddy’s father had surrendered his son with the expectation that his cooperation would be considered in treating Freddy as a juvenile and not as an adult, since as a juvenile and under the law of the State, at worst, Freddy would be sentenced to a juvenile prison, to be released at age 21 under the supervision of a parole officer for a period of five years.
What Freddy’s father did not realize, however, was that being treated either as a juvenile or as an adult was a decision to be made by a criminal court judge based upon the circumstances of the crime. A hearing on the issue was scheduled, at which time Freddy’s father retained local counsel who stressed that at age 17, Freddy should be treated as a juvenile offender. At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge rendered his decision. It was ordered that Freddy would be tried as an adult and could face execution. Just prior to the trial, and faced with capital punishment, Freddy’s father and attorney agreed to a plea of guilty of murder with a sentence of life imprisonment without parole, thus precluding a sentence of execution, had the trial gone its full route to verdict.
Joey’s distraught parents were living in a tragic state of shock, despair, and grief. They lost their loving son, and Freddy’s punishment, regardless of its severity, could not return their beloved Joey, who suffered such a horrifying death. In their despondence, they kept on questioning: how could the camp owners have placed their son in such danger by arranging their grandson Freddy to join Joey as a roommate on this fateful trip?
In desperation, Joey’s parents contacted our firm. Was there anything we could do to obtain some measure of justice for them? They joined our legal team in the conference room of our office, and with tears from everyone in the room, they asked for that one word, “justice.” We already knew about the terrible nightmare of that night in Arizona. The sad story had been reported in all the media. And after listening to two heartbroken parents, we told them that we would do everything that we could to provide them with that one-word, “justice.”
Our team went to work. We agreed that the only legal remedy would be to bring an action against the camp owners and the parents of Freddy, whose mother was the daughter of the owners. In essence, the legal case against them was that they knew or should have known of the mental derangement of Freddy. That by hooking Freddy to Joey for the national park trip, knowing that the two boys would be sharing the same room at different motels, the owners placed Joey in great danger. Overall, it was our position that the parents and grandparent owners should be held responsible (in money damages) for the horrendous crime committed by Freddy. Based upon our team’s strategy, our legal theory sounded like a viable path, but with one giant exception.…
No such case that charged the parents in a civil suit for the criminal conduct of one of their children was ever employed in any of the 50 states. But that did not stop us. We had created new law when it didn’t exist in other situations and we were driven to create new law in this tragic case as well! Our singular mission was to deliver justice to Joey’s bereaved parents! And to achieve it, we were prepared to pursue a legal theory that had never been adopted before!
Our legal team started an action in federal court, since the named defendants were residents of another State. Multiple depositions were held. Countless documents were exchanged. Long and countless legal arguments were made before the federal judge. And with determination, aggressiveness, creativity, preparation, and experience, we succeeded in forging a settlement just prior to trial. It was the first case of its kind in the nation! Built upon tragedy, measured by Joey’s seconds of horror! And premised upon a lifetime of a parent’s endless pain!
End of story.
At Finz & Finz, P.C., we are constantly confronting tragic situations that require a novel and oftentimes creative solution to an otherwise impossible liability circumstance. Our clients know of our dedication toward solving difficult issues, as evidenced by the many five-star testimonials they post in their praise. We in turn are grateful for the trust they place in our firm, which always provides the highest level of legal and compassionate representation.
- “TRAGEDY DOES NOT WORK BY APPOINTMENT. IT STRIKES WITHOUT WARNING AND WITHOUT PREFERENCE TO AGE, SEX, RELIGION, SKIN COLOR, OR NATIONAL ORIGIN”
Leonard L. Finz, age 96, is a decorated WWII veteran (1st Lt., Field Artillery, Philippines), a former New York State Supreme Court Justice, Peer-Reviewed as “One of America’s Preeminent Lawyers”, and the Founder of Finz & Finz, P.C.