In 1982, after notorious serial killer Michael Dee Mattson was sentenced to death for the gruesome murders of several young women, Jim Potts—an ambitious African American law student—discovered a loophole that would not only get Mattson off death row, but potentially overturn his conviction, forcing Jim to choose: follow his moral compass, which violates his duty to the Constitution, or uphold his legal responsibility and help set a monster free.
It’s so difficult when what your heart tells you conflicts with what your mind tells you. This is what idealistic law student, Jim Potts, faced when he first read about Michael Dee Mattson’s rape and killing spree of young girls.
Jim could hardly believe his luck when his professor choose him to assist with a death penalty appeal for the convicted serial killer.
Though his pregnant wife didn’t understand how Jim could think of helping a psychopathic killer, Jim held firm to his legal obligation: everyone deserves the protections afforded by the U.S. Constitution. He believed the appeal would be an uphill battle, since the killer had confessed, however he recognized it was an excellent opportunity bestowed upon him by his professor.
But then, while doing research, Jim discovered an overlooked loophole–something that could not only get Mattson off of death row but, if presented to California’s Supreme Court, might even see him released to kidnap, rape, and kill again.
This time his wife put her foot down, saying, “If you help that murderer, our marriage is over.”
Jim was torn. If he withheld information or quit, he’d violate his ethical responsibility to his client. Does he destroy his career before its begun? Is it worth destroying his marriage?
Further—If he gives the information he found to his professor, does that mean he’s partially responsible for the crimes that Mattson will commit if he’s free again?
The moral dilemma didn’t seem to have a reasonable exit.
Jim feared he would help release pure evil into the world again and he did not want to lose his family. He had to find a way to save his family, maintain his moral and ethical standards, and represent a confessed killer to the best of his ability.
Warning, if you have a tender stomach, some of the crimes are described in detail.
In this fascinating true story, DEFENDING A SERIAL KILLER: THE RIGHT TO COUNSEL, Jim Potts describes how he dealt with the combination of duty, love, and realistic actions. The book describes several of the detectives who work on the case, as well as how and what they did wrong and right, and insights into Mattson’s prison life.
Did Jim do the right thing? Only time will tell, but those interested in true crime will want to read this.
The book was edited by Professor Lindy Ryan and published by Vesuvian Books.
See the book trailer here.