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Slovik Court-martial

March 2024
1min read

I feel very much for the fate of Private Slovik, but also for Edward Woods’s role as an inexperienced defense counsel because I very nearly had the same terrible experience to live with for the rest of my life.

In Normandy, sometime in July 1944, I was appointed assistant defense counsel for a special court. My only qualification was a two- or three-hour credit course in business law at Oregon State College in 1939, which I nearly flunked. Defense counsel didn’t show, so it was left to me to do the Perry Mason bit and harass and confuse an inexperienced court to the degree that although we didn’t get an acquittal, the sentence was referred to the company commander. Company punishment was close enough to an acquittal that my “client” was no end happy.

My Philadelphia lawyer reputation must have spread, because corps HQ appointed me assistant defense counsel at a general court-martial for two GIs accused of murder and rape. Within minutes of receiving the order, I was writing a letter pointing out my complete inadequacy to defend men who were facing possible death sentences.

I never got an answer, because 3d Army requested us to rejoin it near Metz, and we left immediately. (No one thought it wise to have General Patton wait.)

I’ve often wondered what happened in the trial I was fortunate to have missed and whether or not the accused men had adequate representation.

The Manual of Courts Martial may have been fair in theory, but its application in the field was woefully inadequate in almost every respect.

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