By John J. Duncan Jr.
When I first started writing this weekly column for The Knoxville Focus, Steve Hunley asked me to come up with a name for my column.
I thought back to many years ago when my Dad told me “Everything looks easy from a distance.” I think this is especially true about sports and politics.
Steve liked the newsletters I sent to all my constituents when I was in Congress, and he asked me to write for this paper on national and international issues.
I told him I would write mainly on issues, but I also wanted to write on a wider variety of topics, like music, sports, people I admire, and even modern trends I think are ridiculous, like paying more for jeans with rips in them.
Just about every place I go, I get nice comments about my column, and I really appreciate that.
But I have gotten more comments about columns I have written about like Barnes Barbershop, the Regas Restaurant, when Coca-Cola was controversial, my pitiful basketball career, Papa’s favorite Bible verse, and when Daddy got 90% of the black vote in his three elections as Mayor.
Since I am no longer in Congress, I decided to name my column “From A Distance.” This was also because I did not want to become a lobbyist and was going to live full-time in Tennessee.
Not one time during my 30 years in Congress did I ever think of Washington as home. In fact, I think the best decision I ever made is when I told my late wife, Lynn, that I wanted our kids to go to school in Knoxville and be raised in Tennessee.
One time Vice President Al Gore was kind enough to invite the Tennessee Congressional delegation to his home for dinner.
A couple of days later, there was a mention in one of the Washington papers that said some of his kids listened from upstairs and made fun of our Tennessee accents.
His children were all born and raised and went to very elite private schools in the D.C. area. Now, none of the Gores – parents or children – live in Tennessee.
My new wife, Vickie, and I have 17 grandchildren, seven grown children and spouses, and they all live in Knoxville. This is a great blessing for which we are both very thankful.
Writing about things looking easy from a distance, many people have asked me what I thought about the Murdaugh trial.
It is very easy to think of things sitting at home watching TV without the great pressure of actually being in the courtroom representing a very bad man.
But I believe Murdaugh’s head counsel Jim Griffin (who seems like a very nice man) made a very weak closing argument.
In fact, I think if my former law partner, the late Zane Daniel, had been Murdaugh’s lawyer, he would not have been convicted.
Zane was one of the greatest trial lawyers in Tennessee, and he always said you should pick out one or two points that the jury could understand and hammer those over and over.
During the 7½ years I was a judge, Zane tried six jury trials in my court and all six defendants were found not guilty.
If Zane or I had been representing Murdaugh, I believe we would have said as lawyers we were embarrassed and ashamed that any lawyer could ever have been as crooked and corrupt as he was.
But then we would have added something like this: “The state has proven and the Defendant has admitted that he stole millions of dollars from innocent, unsuspecting clients and even his own law firm, and he will be held accountable for all that.
“But the reason the state has spent so much time on these financial crimes has been because they know they have to pull the wool over your eyes since there are so many holes in what this case is supposed to be about, which is what Alex Murdaugh is actually charged with.
“Most defendants would not have even taken the stand in a case like this. But Alex Murdaugh has admitted to you every embarrassing, shameful, terrible thing he has ever done. But the one thing – the only thing – he has not admitted is murder, because he did not do them.
“You saw the very personal, emotional, loving way he broke down when he talked about PawPaw and Mags. You saw the tears. No man could fake something like that.
“For you to believe beyond any reasonable doubt that he killed his young son and his first and only wife in cold blood at close range you would also have to believe, beyond any reasonable doubt that he is the greatest actor of all time, greater than all the Academy Award, Oscar winners put together.
“I ask you to do your sworn duty and find Alex Murdaugh not guilty, because he is not guilty of these charges.”