The Craig S. Barnard Story 

The following is excerpted from Among The Lowest of The Dead, David Von Drehle, Ballentine Books 1995. The paragraphs have occasionally been rearranged.

Craig Barnard grew up in Portage, Michigan where his father was a conservative Republican accountant and his Uncle was a Republican State Representative. After high school he enrolled in a restaurant and hotel management course at Michigan State. AThen the sixties caught up with Craig Barnard. The dutiful young Republican grew his hair long, fell in love with Bob Dylan's music, and began protesting the war. (On his birthday in 1970, four antiwar protesters were killed at Kent State; Barnard never celebrated his birthday again.)

He wanted to do something to change the system, so he switched majors... to prelaw. By then, Barnard's father had moved to southwestern Florida, where he built a retirement village. Craig followed him south, graduating from the University of Florida Law School in 1974.

Barnard joined the public defender's office in Palm Beach County...[and] ...was, very quickly, Jorandby's star assistant; naturally, Jorandby gave him authority over the region's death row cases. Barnard, with his studious bent and modest personality, was drawn to the detail-oriented, conceptual world of appeals. He never missed the hurly-burly of criminal trials.

Craig Barnard did the work of at least three men. As the leader of the death penalty team in Palm Beach, he was chief strategist and often lead litigator on more than a dozen capital cases in his own jurisdiction. Beyond his jurisdiction, he consulted frequently with lawyers for other death row inmates. If there was any coordinated strategy for fighting executions in Florida, Barnard was the strategist. And as Jorandby's chief assistant, he supervised the daily office drudgery, from drafting budgets to purchasing supplies, from hiring new lawyers to counseling old ones, from the lowliest prostitution case to the most complicated murder trial.

As a result, Barnard worked constantly. At his desk by 6:30 or 7 A.M., he labored steadily until eight or nine at night - then lugged a pile of papers home with him. He was the first one into the office and the last one out. A lawyer, under pressure from a big case, might show up bright and early on a Saturday morning, fully expecting to be alone. But the aroma of Barnard's pipe would be wafting down the corridor. On Sundays, Barnard worked to the sound of the Miami Dolphins games on the radio.

But for all his intensity, Barnard was never brusque, much less arrogant. The greenest young attorneys, handling the smallest misdemeanors, felt welcome to poke their heads into his office for advice. Barnard would calmly stop his work, puff his pipe as he listened intently to the question, then patiently offer an answer. Or perhaps a lawyer across the state would call in a panic over an arcane death penalty issue. Barnard would quietly soothe the caller and steer through the problem - and if the question required some legal research, Barnard would drop what he was doing and pore over law books until he found the answer. Or a colleague would call from the public defender's office in another county, frantic at the prospect of preparing an annual budget. Barnard would take fifteen, twenty minutes, maybe half an hour - whatever time it took - to commiserate and offer advice.

Finding the lawyers to represent the flood of condemned men was like bailing out the Titanic with a teaspoon. The teaspoon had a name: Scharlette Holdman. Scharlette Holdman had a title: director of the Florida Clearinghouse on Criminal Justice.

Frequently, the emergencies came from Tallahassee, where friends of Scharlette Holdman kept Barnard apprised of her troubles. Her electricity had been shut off again. She was late with her rent. Life was always a crisis with Scharlette. Every time, Barnard would put his own work aside long enough to get Holdman straightened out. Often this involved sending a check drawn on his personal account.

He kept the more substantive facts of his personal life almost entirely to himself. His epilepsy, for instance. The disease had revealed itself only after Barnard was grown. With medication, the seizures were brought under control. (Barnard never had to surrender his precious driver's license.) Still, he lived with the knowledge that the day might come when he would black out and never awaken. Grand mal seizures can be fatal. So it was that Craig Barnard shared something very personal with his death row clients. Like them, he knew the sense of something powerful waiting to snuff you out.

Craig Barnard loved the law, and this love was his deep keel; it kept him on a steady course when he lost so many fights. His love kept him on track, and balanced, as people were melting down around him. The law, at its best, promised rationality in an irrational time, dispassion amid raging emotions, predictability in place of wanton chance.

Even many of his opponents recognized Barnard's devotion and admired him for it. At the attorney general's office, there was a lot of contempt for most of the lawyers who opposed the death penalty, but in general the prosecutors made an exception for Barnard because he stuck to the law. "Always on target, always compelling", said Carolyn Snurkowski, the rising star of Florida's capital prosecutors. One time the attorney general caught wind of two lawyers from the Miami public defender's office going outside their jurisdiction to aid a death row inmate and the prosecutors cracked down hard on the violation. But Barnard did the same thing all the time; he had a finger, at least, in nearly every Florida death case. Dick Burr, Barnard's assistant, had a capital appeal in North Carolina! The prosecutors let Barnard get away with such things because they respected him. As one explained, "We didn=t feel the need to yank his chain."

Judges mostly appreciated him too, even as they complained about all the repetitive work he generated. Barnard was always cordial and well prepared; his demeanor was not fiery or confrontational. He argued cases lawyer to lawyer, as if the courtroom were a symposium where everyone had gathered to seek good answers to hard questions. And he was gentle with everyone, from chief judges to file clerks. Barnard felt so comfortable in the Florida Supreme Court that he often called it "my court", and folks in the white marble building on Duval Street liked him right back.

Barnard finished writing in time for the 1989 hiring season at the nation's law schools. God, how he loved it - picking plums from the ranks of fresh young lawyers, boring into them with his probing eyes, seeking a glimmer of the future. Administrative work could be a terrible drag; the budgets, the worksheets, the office squabbles. But this was wonderful. Despite a ferocious cold, he went to a job fair in New York.

His plane touched down back in West Palm Beach the evening of February 26. Exhausted, Barnard drove home from the airport in his sporty little Dodge. The fence outside his condominium was a jumbled heap, just as he had left it. But on his desk at work was a rough draft of the annual budget, and he expected a ruling any day that might put the next prisoner into the chair. Who had time to fix a fence?

He went inside, where he picked up the phone and dialed his father. Ronald Barnard was surprised to hear his son complaining of a cold. Craig was not a complainer. He listened as Craig said that he couldn't sleep, he had no appetite. "I thought I was gonna die on that plane," Craig said.

"Take a day off," his father counseled. "Stay home, eat some chicken soup."

Of course, Ronald Barnard knew that his son never took days off. They talked some more about this and that.

Later, Craig Barnard phoned his friend Susan Cary and his boss Dick Jorandby, and in both conversations he mentioned his cold and his exhaustion. Then he tried to get some sleep. As always, he was up before dawn, and when he rose he shut off the burglar alarm, collected the Palm Beach Post from the porch, stripped, and climbed into the shower.

By 9 A.M., everyone sensed something strange at the West Palm Beach public defender's office. Craig Barnard's office was empty, and there was no trace of his pipe smoke in the hallways. He was never that late. "Where's Craig?" people asked. Maybe his flight was canceled.

In Tallahassee, Scharlette Holdman was wondering the same thing. Where's Craig? She greeted every morning with a phone call to her counselor and friend, but when she called his house that morning, the phone just rang and rang. She called Barnard's office, and got no answer there either. Her next call was to Susan Cary. As they talked, it dawned on them that Craig had once said cold medicine, combined with his epilepsy treatment, made him sick. Then came a more chilling thought. Could he have skipped the treatment in favor of a good night's sleep?

Holdman dialed Dick Jorandby, who immediately dispatched an investigator to Barnard's house. The alarm was off, the paper was inside. The investigator heard the shower running. Craig Stewart Barnard, thirty-nine, was dead in the tub, having drowned after an epileptic seizure. The calm eye of the capital punishment storm, the rock and rabbi, Florida's dean of death penalty law, was gone.

Dick Jorandby left Craig's office just as it was, a shuttered shrine above the sparkling blue of the Intercoastal Waterway. Barnard's estate collected $30,000 worth of forsaken vacation and unused sick days. Posthumous honors continued throughout the year: The old grand jury room of the Palm Beach courthouse was named in his honor, and the local Inns of Court chapter - a prestigious organization made up of judges and lawyers - became the Craig S. Barnard chapter. The annual award for distinguished service by Florida public defenders became the Craig Barnard Award. And so forth.

There might never be another figure like him - but he had developed so many other lawyers, each ready to fill a piece of void; he had spread the knowledge, so another was not needed. Death penalty defense in Florida was no longer a matter of Scharlette Holdman's charisma and Craig Barnard's brains. It had been institutionalized.


  1. Generous with his time and talents
  2. Loved the Law
  3. Humble and hardworking
  4. Never brusque or arrogant
  5. Kind and courteous to both his superiors, subordinates and adversaries