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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
- Generous with his time and talents
- Loved the Law
- Humble and hardworking
- Never brusque or arrogant
- Kind and courteous to both his superiors, subordinates and