|Rich Krisciunas with daughter Emily and wife Kathy|
Rich Krisciunas, a veteran attorney and law professor, has prepared a marvelous talk for the Holmes, Doyle, & Friends Seven conference in Dayton, March 27 & 28. Let’s get to know him better.
How and when did you first meet Sherlock Holmes?
I first met Sherlock Holmes as a child in the 60’s watching Basil Rathbone movies on Sunday afternoons on Bill Kennedy’s Showtime television show. I was impressed with how Sherlock Holmes remained calm and cool and was able to use his mind to solve a variety of crimes. I enjoyed the genre of the detective story, and also remember watching the Charlie Chan movies as well.
How and when did you become a Sherlockian?
There are many layers to this answer. I watched the movies in the early 60’s. I started reading the stories in the Canon. I am the kind of person who becomes obsessed with anything I do. I throw all of my energy into a subject. So as I went to law school in 1972, my focus was on my studies. I became a trial lawyer at the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office in 1976 and attended a meeting of the Amateur Mendicant Society in Detroit and began subscribing to the Baker Street Journal. I read the journals in what spare time I had, but I only had time to read one book a year during Christmas break when the courts were closed My wife would buy me a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, like The Seven-Percent Solution and The West End Horror by Nicholas Meyer or The Adventure of the Sanguinary Count and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Holmes by Loren D. Estleman. She also bought me a deerstalker which I wore in the winters.
Over the years, I played softball four or five nights a week. After my daughter was born in 1985, I threw myself into being Emily’s dad. I coached my daughter’s soccer team for 12 years. I coached high school soccer. I taught Trial Practice as an adjunct professor in law school for 38 years. I taught a Criminal Trial Clinic and was Director of Externships at Detroit Mercy School of Law. These duties interrupted my ability to focus on the Canon.
Ultimately, three years ago, I retired and looked for something else to do in addition to playing golf. I Googled Sherlock Holmes scions and discovered several in my midst. I started attending meetings, which forced me to read a different story for each meeting. I tried to read as much scholarship about each story as I could find. I bought the CD of old Baker Street Journals and read articles about every tangential topic so that I could contribute something meaningful to the discussions at the meetings. The more I read, the more meetings I attended, the more I enjoyed the new friendships I had made.
Your topic for the Dayton conference is “No Obstruction, but Much Collusion: The Alleged Crimes of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor John Watson.” There are many such apparent crimes! Has this been a fascination of yours as you read the Canon over the years?
As a criminal trial lawyer, when I watch a movie or read a story, I always consider how a case would be prosecuted in a real courtroom. There are so many movies that leave me shaking my head, saying, “That would never happen in court.” As I read the Canon, I always think about the evidence and what I would argue in a closing argument to convince a jury or what I would say in an opening statement to capture a juror’s attention. How would I defend the person accused by Holmes or how would I defend Holmes for the crimes he committed? I would always think about how the Crown could prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt. Which witnesses would have to testify? Would they be willing or able to testify? How would the defense cross-examine them, and would they be credible? It’s easy to say that Holmes broke into a house to steal some papers or he carried a gun, but it’s quite another thing to be able to go into a courtroom and find a witness with personal knowledge who could testify to their observations in front of a judge and jury. As I examined all the crimes that Holmes and Watson allegedly committed, I thought about writing my paper and sharing my experience as a trial lawyer.
Tell us a little about your law career – especially how it has been affected by Sherlock Holmes.
I graduated from the University of Detroit School of Law in 1975. I had worked as a student intern in the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office in Detroit, Michigan during my third year in law school. I had worked in a special unit that prosecuted repeat offenders and serial rapists, robbers and murderers. I had a chance to watch some of the best trial lawyers in the state. I also played shortstop on the office softball team and batted cleanup. After I passed the bar, I was hired by the prosecutor’s office. I always joked that I was hired on the basis of my athletic ability.
I was an introvert and assumed I was going to be an appellate prosecutor because I had written several appeal briefs as a student. I never saw myself as being a trial lawyer.But when I came in to work on my first day, I was assigned to the Trial Division to work for the manager of the softball team, who was the chief of the Trial Division.
He told me to watch a jury trial on a rape case. I watched the trial and took notes on jury selection and evidentiary objections and closing arguments. After the trial ended, I told my boss that I was ready for some more training. He handed me a file and said, “Go try this misdemeanor jury trial.” I tried the case and he gave me another jury trial. Next week, I tried three more jury trials. I had tried five misdemeanor jury trials in six days. It was Friday and I was sitting in my office when a prosecutor came into my office and said, “Hey kid, you want to try an Armed Robbery?” “Whoa. I’ve never tried a felony case. Will you sit with me?” “Sure,” he said. He lied. When the jury came in, he disappeared and I tried the case by myself. I ended up winning my first nine jury trials. I was trying cases every day. Robberies, drug cases, bad checks, breaking-and-enterings, rapes, thefts and homicides.
Within a year, the judge I was assigned to, who had been a former prosecutor, wrote a letter to the elected prosecutor and praised my ability as a trial lawyer. I was promoted to the Prosecutor’s Repeat Offenders Bureau (PROB), the same unit I had worked in as a law student intern two years before. I continued trying high visibility cases in that unit for several years until I was promoted to become the special prosecutor assigned to the Detroit Police Department’s Felony Murder Squad Seven headed by Inspector Gilbert Hill, who gained fame for acting in the movie Beverly Hills Cop with Eddie Murphy. For two years, I handled nothing but Murder First Degree trials. In seven years, I had tried over 150 hundred jury trials and another 400 bench trials. Ultimately, I became a supervising attorney, responsible for the prosecution of 4,000-5,000 cases a year and training new assistant prosecutors, and retired, after 28 years in the office, as the Chief of the Trial Division.
I rose through the ranks very quickly. I think what made me successful was, like Holmes, my attention to detail and my ability to keep an open mind. I felt that no one could outwork me. I thought I needed to be as prepared as possible to make up for my weaknesses as an introvert and my lack of experience. I began my preparation for trial in every case in an unorthodox way as a prosecutor. Instead of thinking how I would convict the defendant, I started by assuming that I was prosecuting an innocent man. I looked at the defendant’s story as if it were true and tried to corroborate the defendant’s theory of the case. If the defendant was really at work, as he claimed, there would be records at his place of employment that would confirm it. I subpoenaed the records and found that he was off on the day of the crime. I looked for physical evidence of injuries, witnesses who could corroborate the defendant’s claims, common sense explanations for apparently guilty behavior. Ultimately, I could poke holes in every defendant’s story and that helped me build a stronger case for conviction. I found that many times, my case ended up being so strong that most defendants elected to plead guilty rather than go to trial.
In the Canon, there are many examples of cases where Holmes would do some investigation that would prove that the man he suspected was not being truthful. In “The Speckled Band,” for instance, Holmes looked at the will of Grimesby Roylott’s widow to see how much he stood to lose if his stepdaughters married. In that way, he determined Roylott’s motive to kill his stepdaughters. It’s that extra bit of knowledge that helped Holmes solve a case.
After I retired as a prosecutor in 2004, I decided to take court-appointed criminal cases so I could take my students to court. I defended clients for 12 years until I gave up my practice. Now, I work one day a week as a city attorney prosecuting traffic and misdemeanor offenses in my local district court. I also golf four times a week with my friends. This gives me much free time to read the Canon and related books and articles.
What Sherlockian groups do you belong to?
I joined the Ribston-Pippins, the Amateur Mendicant Society of Detroit, The Greek Interpreters of East Lansing, and the Bootmakers of Toronto. I subscribe to the Baker Street Journal and listen faithfully to Scott Monty’s podcasts “I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere” and “Trifles.”
Besides Holmes, Doyle, & Friends, what other major Sherlockian events are on your calendar this year?
I am hoping to attend the BSI Conference at West Point, New York in July and was thinking about attending “Holmes in the Heartland” in St. Louis.
What has it meant to you to be part of the Sherlockian community?
I have really enjoyed being part of the Sherlockian community. With only one exception, everyone has been warm and welcoming. There are some really smart people who play the game. I have learned so much about many different aspects of the Canon’s stories – the era, London, history, Baker Street, etc. I have been surprised by how many people who don’t belong to a scion enjoy talking about Sherlock Holmes. We have a lot in common.
What else is up your Sherlockian sleeve?
I have written a paper on who killed Charles Augustus Milverton. Spoiler alert. He is a close personal friend of Doctor John Watson.
You can still register here for Holmes, Doyle, & Friends Seven, March 27-28.