Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Robert Garrow

'In the Highest Tradition'

A state court directed the state bar association to investigate the behavior of both lawyers during the defense of their client, not only for ethical violations but for criminal conduct. The press continued to report the story and the issue became part of a national dialogue on the ethics and morals of defense attorneys. The New York Times reported that Belge and Armani "told neither police nor one of the dead woman's parents who had come to them seeking information concerning her whereabouts. They only came forward with their jolting admission only after their client had waived the privilege" (June 17, 1973).

Everywhere, it seemed, controversy followed Belge and Armani. In July 1973, Onondaga District Attorney Jon Holcombe announced that a grand jury would probe the conduct of both lawyers to ascertain if their behavior constituted a crime. "Citizens are in an absolute rage here," he said to reporters on July 1. Armani was furious and said he was "stunned and shocked" by Holcombe's decision to convene a grand jury. "Any lawyer with any guts who knew what he was doing would have done the same thing," Armani said to the press, "but the law profession is composed of many different kinds of lawyers."

But Belge and Armani had supporters as well. A well-known Chicago attorney told the Los Angles Times: "I'm in complete agreement with these lawyers. They operated in accordance with the highest traditions of the legal profession." The concept of lawyer-client confidentiality is long-established in U.S. history and by 1973, it was written into law in 48 of 50 states. Professor David Mellinkoff, author of The Conscience of a Lawyer and an expert on legal ethics, explained the complexities of the issues. He told The New York Times that a lawyer is obligated to protect a client's confidentiality but, as an officer of the court, he cannot alter or conceal evidence in an ongoing investigation. The bodies of Susan Petz and Alicia Hauck were considered evidence and, during their visits to their gravesites, Belge and Armani may have disturbed the crime scenes.

A lot of people wondered why one of the lawyers didn't simply contact the police anonymously and tell them where the bodies were buried. At least the families of the victims could have closure and the victims would have proper interment. But according to some legal experts, even that would have been a violation of oath. And evidence, such as hairs, fibers or blood gathered at the scene of the crime could have been used against their client.

In February 1975, a grand jury proceeding was begun in Onondaga County to decide if Belge and Armani had committed any crimes when they refused to tell the police, or anyone else, about Garrow's admissions. When Armani testified, he told the panel how the case had affected him personally. "God only knows that this thing drove me crazy; it really bothered me. And if there was any way I could have, I would have told Mr. and Mrs. Hauck. But my hands were tied. And as a result, this thing has cost me dearly. My law practice failed. I spent nearly $40,000 defending Garrow...I've lost about every friend I have. But there was nothing else I could do. Please believe that!"

On February 25, 1975, Francis Belge was indicted by the grand jury for health law violations pertaining to a speedy burial. Given the issues involved, it seemed a trivial charge. The same jury refused to indict Armani on any charges and he was exonerated. Apparently the jury felt that Belge had gone a little further than Armani when he moved Hauck's body during his visit to Oakwood cemetery in Syracuse. On the day the decision was announced, Armani suffered a heart attack.

Both lawyers received death threats during and after Garrow's trial. They took to carrying loaded guns in their briefcases and lived in fear for many years that someone would take revenge for their stubborn defense of a ruthless killer like Robert Garrow. Their respective law practices crumbled. Clients and friends deserted them. Debts piled up. Belge gave up his practice and moved to Florida. Armani stuck it out and, over the years, he was able to salvage his practice.

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