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Burnett said the certification plan will be formed by a committee consisting of defense attorneys, prosecutors and members of the judiciary. The proposed criteria would have to be approved by the 22 state district judges who hear felony cases in Harris County. David Cunningham, one of the defenders on the panel appointed by Burnett, said it's a step in the right direction.
"Many judges realize that this is the ultimate, and we need to get good, qualified lawyers to do this," said Cunningham. "It's a recognition that these guys have been charged with serious crimes and they need competent lawyers.
"There's also a recognition by the judges that if we appoint someone who's going to get down and get dirty on the case, it may resolve itself with a life sentence. It may resolve itself with a lesser charge. Because prosecutors know who's good and who's not good. And they know who's going to fight you tooth and nail."
But even a certification process for lawyers who try capital murder cases cannot ensure that an attorney will give a damn once he or she gets to court. Cunningham said it's going to be incumbent upon judges to select attorneys who will go to the mat for their indigent clients.
"The stakes are very high," said the lawyer, "and it's real serious shit."
Or, in the words of Ron Mock, this ain't horseshoes or hand grenades -- and shit, indeed, does happen.
Valerie Moore and Edith Sorenson contributed additional research to this story.