In the late 1970s, several young girls were raped and murdered as a crime wave swept California. Michael Dee Mattson was convicted of the crimes and sentenced to death.
In 1982, Jim Potts—an idealistic African American law student—was recruited by one of his professors to assist in writing a death penalty appeal on behalf of Mattson.
In “Defending A Serial Killer: The Right to Counsel,” Potts, a local author, and lawyer, revisits the legal, moral, and ethical dilemmas faced when he discovered a loophole in the case that could potentially free the convicted killer to walk again.
Potts told Pasadena Now about the supposed violation by police officers of the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, which guarantees the right to counsel, when they arrested Mattson in Nevada in September 1978.
“Once I found out what Mattson had done, the dilemma started because my values clashed with who this individual was,” Potts said.
“In addition to my own moral quandary, my wife [at that time] did not want me to be involved with helping somebody like Mattson get back out on the street,” he added. But if Potts quit the case or withhold information, he would violate his duty to his client and the Constitution and risk his career before it began. To avoid losing his family and releasing Mattson back into the world, Potts had to be smarter than his options. He had to find a way to keep his family together, fulfill his duties, and keep Mattson behind bars. But did he?
For Potts, those in the judicial system should represent people to the best of their abilities, regardless of what their feelings tell them.
“Everybody’s entitled to the right to counsel. Under those circumstances, you can’t debate whether or not you find the subject matter repugnant. You have to leave emotion out of the judicial system, and that’s not easy,” he said.
Potts is a native New Yorker who earned a BA degree in history from California State University at Los Angeles and a Juris Doctorate from the University of West Los Angeles Law School.
He is the owner of Potts & Associates in Pasadena. His broad-base employment consulting firm practice unemployment cost control, human resources management, and manager and supervisor training. He has represented and assisted small, medium, and large employers in various areas involving employer-employee relations for over 40 years.
“Defending a Serial Killer: The Right to Counsel” (Vesuvian Books, July 2021) is available in paperback and eBook everywhere books are sold.