of the Month - Jerry Farmer, Prosecuting Attorney
Jerry Farmer practiced law for twenty years during
some of the most interesting of times in our nation's
history. He tried misdemeanor cases
for two years before prosecuting felons for robbery,
rape, murder -- you name it. Having loved the Bible
for as long as he can remember, Jerry turned to it
continually to help him through his law career. Stories
from the Bible, the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes,
the Sermon on the Mount, and Paul's letters guided
Jerry through difficult situations. Here are some
more of Jerry's experiences and insights on law:
Murder trial with extreme hatred on both sides
-- like the Crips and the Bloods
Rivalry between two families made one murder case
particularly difficult. An older man and a woman from
Kentucky had gone together. He was from one family,
and she was from another. It was like the Hatfields
and McCoys (two family clans from the Kentucky-West
Virginia border whose hatred and rivalry erupted in
the 1800s and has become part of American legend and
folklore). After they lived together for awhile they
began fighting, and he killed her. The case went to
trial, and he was charged with murder. It was pretty
clear that he murdered her, so we had a good case
against him, even though he tried to allege that her
son had sneaked in and killed her to get her money.
He had no proof.
We all were very concerned about what would happen
if he got out and what would happen in court -- primarily
because of the enmity between the two groups. The
people from both groups drove up from Kentucky for
the trial. One family was on one side of the courtroom,
and the other family was on the other side. The judge
looked worried. I was nervous because my back was
to all the people. The courtroom was in an uproar.
The people were drinking during breaks. Fights broke
out in the hall. The judge became so concerned that
he had everyone searched before entering the courtroom.
There was really only one place to go -- to God.
The story that supported me through this trial was
the one where David spared Saul's life. King Saul
got jealous of David and was out to kill him. David
had to fight Saul in defense and gained a clear advantage.
When David's men got upset with him for not killing
Saul, David responded:
The Lord forbid that I should do this thing unto
my master, the Lord's anointed, to stretch forth
mine hand against him, seeing he is the anointed
of the Lord." I Sam. 24:6
I used this example of mercy. I prayed that just
as David did not kill Saul when he had the opportunity,
these enemies didn't have to hurt, fight with, or
kill each other. The jury did convict the man of murder.
It soothed the family of the woman. And the testimony
that was presented during the trial was enough to
keep the other family at peace. Both sides went their
own ways. There was no further bloodshed, and there
were no more assaults.
CHIEF ASSISTANT FOR WASHTENAW COUNTY
I was then made Chief Assistant for Washtenaw County.
I was 32, which is extremely young for that job. The
man who had retired was 65. I was not really in line
for the job. There were three people in line before
me: one became a judge; one went into private practice;
and the other man went in and said that he would not
be upset if I was made chief assistant. We are still
great friends today.
Into the "fiery furnace" of decision-making
As Chief Assistant, I assigned the cases and determined
what happened with them. I knew that prayer and study
of the Bible would be necessary in this job, as I
had to make critical decisions. I had to meet with
each circuit judge every week at pre-trial to decide
what to do in circuit court cases (the felony trials).
When a case comes to the circuit court, there's already
been a preliminary exam. At this point, something
has to happen with the case: the defendant can plead
guilty; the prosecuting officer can reduce the charge;
it can be dismissed; or it can go to jury. It's sad
to say that some judges have one thing on their mind
-- to move the docket. So the judge applies a ton
of pressure -- on me. Many people said they were amazed
at how I could stand up day after day with all the
pressure I got from the judge and defense council
to reduce the charges. I often met with my boss, but
he turned all of the final decisions over to me.
The story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego (Dan.
3:12-30) has inspired me since childhood. Because
the three Hebrew boys did not worship the golden image
Nebuchadnezzar had made, they were thrown into the
fiery furnace. I felt as if I had been thrown into
a fire. One of the best parts of this story is when
Nebuchadnezzar looks in and finds four men in the
furnace, not just the original three. Even more impressive
is that not only did the fire not have "power"
over them, but it hadn't even singed their hair or
left a fiery smell on them. I knew if Shadrach, Meshach,
and Abed-nego could survive a fiery furnace because
of their faith in God, I too could endure with God's
aid and would be supported in this "fiery furnace."
Using the Ten Commandments to make principled
I also used the Ten Commandments a lot:
Thou shalt have no other gods before me
shalt not kill
. Thou shalt not steal. Thou
shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
Ex. 20:3, 13, 15, 16
Not bearing "false witness" is extremely
important when talking about the practice of law and
the courtroom. When someone lies, the system doesn't
work. We need the system to work because we're talking
about a person's life. I was always praying to know
that the defendants and the witnesses would and could
tell the truth.
Before someone was taken to court, we made the decision
as to whether or not he or she should be charged.
We were extremely careful, especially with sensitive
cases, such as rape cases that happened in the middle
of a divorce. If we didn't think someone was guilty,
or if we didn't think we had enough proof that he
was guilty, we wouldn't charge him. It was our belief
that we should make the correct decisions the first
time around and charge appropriately. We did not want
to have to reduce charges, so we hung tight. There
were times when a victim would come forward and change
his or her mind, but once a case came to circuit court,
we knew it should be tried. That doesn't mean we won
every case. Only one time did I dismiss a case out
of generosity. Another fellow (a cellmate of the accused)
came forward and said he had actually committed the
crime. I'm still not totally convinced the cellmate
did commit the crime and that the accused did not.
The reward of the Beatitudes
Year after year, I'd see a lot of victims and defendants.
It was easy to wonder if any of this would ever change,
easy to wonder what I was doing here. The Beatitudes
gave me a better perception of the victims and a more
hopeful outlook for them. Jesus' words comforted me:
- "Blessed are the poor in spirit." Many
victims were down. They hadn't had a good life,
and now it was worse. But Jesus tells us that "theirs
is the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:3).
- Jesus promised comfort to those who mourned (Matt.
- Every Beatitude applied to the victims and the
witnesses. Many were trying to be "peacemakers,"
whom Jesus called the "children of God."
- The Beatitude which starts, "Blessed are
they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake"
(Matt. 5:10) was particularly helpful for me as
a prosecutor. The Defense Counsel is beating on
you; the victim's family is there; and you're the
only one following Jesus' example and standing up
to sin. It certainly didn't seem like you were getting
your reward right there in the courtroom.
Turning the other cheek is not weakness
Jesus' entire Sermon on the Mount, which is where
the Beatitudes are found, provided guidance and inspiration
for me. Sometimes people would try to use Jesus' counsel
as a way to dismiss a case:
Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for
an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto
you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall
smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other
also. Matt. 5:39-40
My concept of turning the other cheek does not include
acquitting a guilty person. Being in a courtroom day-in
and day-out and turning to the Bible continually for
direction, I saw "turning the other cheek"
as a way to give the defendants the opportunity to
do something new, to change their lives for the better.
I don't think Jesus would want them to assault people.
With these kinds of individuals, rehabilitation usually
only takes place when they are away from this society.
You don't just let people do drugs. You get them help.
Jesus told us to love:
Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that
would borrow of thee turn not thou away. Ye have
heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy
neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto
you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you,
do good to them that hate you, and pray for them
which despitefully use you, and persecute you
The best help I could give the defendants and the
victims was to love them, to pray for them, and to
do good for them. This meant putting the defendants
in a different situation, separating them. It does
them no good to leave them in the same position with
the same temptations. It certainly doesn't help the
victim or the other people on the street.
Another murder case with complications
There was one more unusual and rather big trial that
came up near the end of my career in which ideas from
the Bible were instrumental in handling the case successfully.
A woman's throat was slit by a man whom we caught
right away. It appeared to be an open and shut case.
When we brought him in, he told us, "I was hired
to kill her by her husband." Well, that changed
the case. It ended up that her husband, who was a
businessman in a local town, was a bit kinky. He got
involved with young men; this fellow was one of them.
The husband was worried that his wife would find out,
divorce him, and take all his money; so he had this
fellow kill her. That's all we had for the case --
just his statement. This was so strange that we had
him (the man with the knife) take a polygraph test,
which he passed. We started investigating and found
out that the husband had been seen in the pits of
society. I made a deal with this fellow (which I didn't
want to do as I didn't "deal") that he could
plead second degree murder if he would testify. There's
no parole for first degree murder. Second degree murder
is mandatory prison up to life and including life,
but it is parolable. So, he agreed.
The case against the husband took a long time because
it was so complicated. It was six months before I
even charged him. I didn't like waiting so long, but
we had to follow up on leads that the actual murderer
was giving us. We asked the judge if he would wait
until after the trial of the husband to sentence the
man who actually killed the wife. Everyone knew that
we needed this guy's testimony to use for the husband's
trial. But the judge refused to delay sentencing.
Rather than give him 50 years, which was plausible
given the information, he gave him life in prison.
Now this fellow, this young kid, is unhappy with the
Then the day of the husband's trial is almost upon
- They bring in the young fellow from prison, and
he tells me that he's not going to testify because
I didn't keep my part of the bargain. I told him
I had, but I had no control over the judge.
- To make matters worse, the detective in charge
who had been handling everything (the knife, the
car, the money, all the evidence) about the case
for me was also in prison. He had sexually assaulted
one of his step children, so we had put him behind
- Another lady whom I served to be a witness against
the husband refused to come in on her subpoena.
She was a friend of the husband, and he had told
her that he had to get out of town until things
cooled off. So, I had to get a bench warrant for
- The fellow who had seen the actual murderer at
an automobile dealership (providing more evidence)
- And the trial was starting on Monday. This was
"Let this mind be in you which was also in
Let me tell you, I was thinking about the Bible, the
case, about everything. The thing that jumped out
at me was Philippians 2:5: "Let this mind be
in you, which was also in Christ Jesus." I just
kept thinking about that the mind that was in Christ
Jesus had to be with me, with the witnesses, with
Now, the number one thing that you're always taught
as an attorney is never to put a witness on the stand
and ask him a question if you don't know what he is
going to say. Well, the judge had already hammered
my witness and made him spiteful. My witness had told
me he wouldn't testify, so I asked the judge for an
adjournment of the case. The judge denied it. The
defense was really excited.
I made the opening statement and put the witness
up, and all I could think of was, "Let this mind
be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus." I
started asking him questions, and eventually he testified.
He didn't do a very good job. He kind of denied things
about having the knife. He insinuated that when he
left, she wasn't dead; that he injured her but didn't
kill her; and that someone else, maybe the husband,
must have killed her; he didn't know.
Star witnesses, all in chains, reveal the truth
During this time, the woman witness was arrested and
brought in from out of town. The fellow who was going
to testify from the auto dealership was found, arrested,
and was now in custody. My police officer (detective)
was there in prison, of course. All four of my star
witnesses were in chains while they testified. Then
the defense council made a huge mistake: he made insinuating
statements that made my witness (the man with the
knife) really mad. So my witness came through, spoke
up, and told the whole truth. The jury did convict
the husband -- who not only had his wife killed but
also tried to get her insurance money -- of first
degree murder, which has no parole. That was the end
of that, and that was my last case.
"When God shuts a door, he opens a window"
I ran for office next. My opponent was a fellow who
had never practiced law in the county but had helped
the governor get into office. While we got more votes
in the history of voting for circuit judge, we still
didn't win. But we made a lot of friends. The county
gave me credit for all the work I'd done for the city,
and I was able to take early retirement. I was planning
to take a little time before returning to work, to
teach at a law school somewhere. During this time,
I turned to the Bible for direction. The story of
Daniel in the lions' den was helpful. When Darius
was concerned for Daniel's safety, he said, "[T]hy
God whom thou servest continually, he will deliver
thee" (Dan. 6:16). I realized that Daniel had
faith in God to take care of him in a lions' den,
so I had no reason to doubt Him. The saying, "When
God shuts a door, he opens a window" certainly
is true. Rather than going back to law, I was able
to use my MBA in retirement. I have been enjoying
traveling with my family ever since.
A few bits of advice
To those who want to be lawyers:
- Remember that just because you're going to go
into law doesn't mean that you're going to be a
practicing attorney or trial attorney.
- You don't have to be in such a hurry to take a
job wherever it is.
- Think very carefully about the lifestyle you want
- Think very carefully about where you want to live
for the rest of your life and see if you can find
a job in that area.
- There are several different things to do or that
you end up doing with a law degree.