Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Biloxi Confidential

The Halat & Sherry Connection

The American justice system often forces some of its key participants to make tough choices, choices that might normally go against the consciences of those practicing the law. But, under a system that operates on the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, criminal defendants, as well as aggrieved plaintiffs, are entitled to their day in court.

Lawyers specializing in criminal defense know it's their job to provide their clients their best legal presentation, even if they know their clients are guilty of horrendous offenses. While usually upstanding, law-abiding citizens themselves, criminal lawyers often have to deal with those on the extreme opposite end of the moral spectrum. And, if they're being paid hefty sums of money to mount a strong defense, these lawyers are expected to deliver the goods. If a lawyer gets a client off the hook on a murder rap and that client then goes out and commits another murder, the lawyer may wrestle with his or her conscience. But most criminal defense lawyers have found ways of reconciling their consciences with the requirements of their jobs.

The legal profession is one of the most lucrative in the U.S. today, with lawyers routinely making $200 an hour and up on even the most rudimentary cases. It is one of the few professions that can bill clients in 15-minute increments. Because of this, lawyers often gravitate toward representation of those who've got the money to pay those kinds of fees and, very often, the ones in need of criminal defense representation who have that kind of money are those who have gotten it illegally. Drug dealers, white collar criminals, celebrities who have fallen off the straight and narrow, and others in that ilk can make up a very sizable portion of a criminal attorney's income. High profile cases involving rich public figures have bought many an attorney many conspicuous luxuries.

Along Mississippi's Gulf Coast from the early '60s to the late '80s, the clients in need of criminal defense who had the most money were often those whose gains had been ill-gotten through vice and corruption. Those were in fact the kinds of clients on which the Halat & Sherry law firm had seemed to thrive. But, more than simply viewing their criminal defense work as "just a job," Pete Halat and Vince Sherry seemed to move comfortably among the figures of Biloxi's shadowy underworld. They were well-liked, respected, and welcomed into the fold. Vince, particularly, seemed fascinated by this underground culture, according to accounts.

Margaret Sherry, younger
Margaret Sherry, younger

Outlaws and villains have held fascination for people since the days of Robin Hood. From a dramatic standpoint, they often seem more interesting — more multi-dimensional in their motives— than the goody two-shoes "good guys" merely seeking to bring them to justice. History and folklore are replete with examples of this. Maybe it's the element of chance and excitement that comes from living on the edge that draws normally straight-up people to the outlaw culture. Whatever it was in Vince's case, it kept him and his wife in a comfortable lifestyle; one about which Margaret couldn't have complained too much, even if she disapproved of the ways her husband's clients likely came by their money.

Vince Sherry, younger
Vince Sherry, younger

One of the ways Vince earned his money was by being on the receiving end of the money Junior Nix was raking in on his lonelyhearts scam from Angola Prison. Vince was often the one who banked the money for Nix. And, the intermediary for most of this; the sweet voice that often answered the phone and handled the transaction details, was none other than Nix's now-grown-up adolescent worshipper from Fort Smith, Ark., Sheri LaRa Sharpe.

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