Lawlessness and injustice define America. Democratic values are absent. So is respect for human and civil rights.
Challenging the system invites trouble. Unjust prosecutions often follow. Bergrin understands. His ordeal stemmed from doing his job.
A once formidable advocate and prosecutor, he's now defending himself in the trial of his life. His freedom hangs in the balance.
He represented US soldiers accused of killing four Iraqis near Samarra during Operation Iron Triangle in May 2006. The case made international headlines when evidence showed Col. Michael Steele gave orders to "kill all military age males."
It was no ordinary murder case. It involved government conspiracy, cover-up and intrigue against scapegoated soldiers to absolve higher-ups throughout the chain of command to the top. Bergrin wanted them held accountable. As a result, he's in the dock.
A 139 page indictment covered 33 charges, including murder, conspiracy to murder, violent crime, racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, witness tampering, cocaine trafficking, conspiracy to distribute cocaine, maintaining drug-involved premises, bribery, prostitution related travel, conspiracy to travel to aid prostitution, evading currency transaction reporting requirements, and filing false tax returns.
If convicted of murder, conspiracy to commit it, racketeering, violent crime in aid of racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, distribution of cocaine, and/or conspiracy to distribute it, he faces up to life in prison.
Charges against him were fabricated. At issue is suppressing hard truths, convicting lawyers trying to expose them, and intimidating others not to try.
In November 2009, he said:
"This virtual nightmare has destroyed everything I worked my heart and soul out for, including my family. What hurts me the most is I am not guilty and totally innocent."
"I was about to change the course of history that I had affirmative proof that President Bush, VP Cheney, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, Assist. Secy. of (Defense) Wolfowitz, Carbone and White House Counsel, (Alberto) Gonzales (later US Attorney General) had lied, deliberately and intentionally when they denied knowledge of the torture techniques at Abu Ghraib."
He never got a chance to prove it. Instead, he was bogusly charged, jailed awaiting trial, convicted in the court of public opinion, and now in the dock defending himself in the trial of his life for exoneration and vindication.
Under ordinary conditions, cases like these are challenging. Given court-ordered restrictions and fabricated charges, his formidable skills will be tested like never before.
Four federal marshals monitor him, two behind, one on either side. Judge William Martini limited his courtroom movements. He's prohibited from approaching jurors, handing documents to witnesses, and effectively doing his job. He also can't participate in sidebar conferences where prosecutors and defense attorneys argue issues at the bench.
Wearing a court-ordered electric ankle bracelet, he'll be jolted outside his authorized space - a fixed podium in the courtroom's well. Martini told him, "You will be struck with a shock if you do something foolish."
In other words, if he follows normal courtroom procedures, he'll be punished for doing his job. Marshals have sole discretion. At issue is creating an impression of guilt.
Everything's stacked against him, a process designed to deny due process and judicial fairness. America abandoned them long ago to convict targeted victims.
On October 11, jury selection began. Eighteen were chosen, including six alternates. Instructions were to avoid all relevant news reports.
In September, Martini ruled Bergrin initially would be tried on two counts related to Kemo Deshawn McCray's killing. Prosecutors called him a key FBI informant regarding William Baskerville, an alleged drug dealer Bergrin represented. On March 2, 2004 in Newark, he was shot and killed.
On October 17, Bergrin's trial began. In opening arguments, prosecutor John Gay accused him of orchestrating McCray's murder. When finished, Bergrin more than held his own, saying:
"You can't even imagine how difficult it is to sit there and listen to an opening argument which you know contains more fiction than you've ever heard in your entire life."
"Look into the eyes of the (government's) witnesses, the mirrors of their souls, and determine if these people are telling the truth....Because there is no tomorrow for me, you are my last line of defense in my quest for justice."
He continuing explaining he was framed for a crime he didn't commit. Convicted felons were enlisted lie about him in return for leniency. It's common prosecutorial practice. Laws are bent or broken to get convictions.
"When people are confronted with spending extraordinary amounts of time in jail, they will say anything and they will do anything to gain their release," he said. "The only way for them to do that is to cooperate with the government."
A former prosecutor, Bergrin knows the process. It "turns you completely sour within the system," he said. He later shunned the office, saying liars and scheming prosecutors taint it. They target defendants to convict. Guilt or innocence doesn't matter, just winning to build stronger credentials.
"What makes this by far the greatest country in the world is the United States Constitution," he said, adding that as we "sit here today, (soldiers are) on foreign soil dying for it. I am presumed not guilty," protected by a "sacred shroud of innocence."
He also said today's prosecutorial and law enforcement system fabricated evidence to convict him, adding:
"In this case, you will hear and learn about the dark side of justice."
It was opening day. Day two covered more. Gay questioned his first witnesses. Bergrin cross-examined. He challenged FBI Special Agent Shawn Brokos' testimony about an earlier drug bust related to William Baskerville, a former client.
On November 25, 2003, he was arrested. On March 2, 2004, McCray was shot and killed. Prosecutors said it was to suppress evidence against Bergrin.
Grilling Brokos rigorously, he tore apart her testimony, questioning her investigatory thoroughness to raise doubts about whether the right killer was identified.
She corroborated Anthony Young's confession about shooting McCray after changing his story twice - first about being a lookout, then saying he wasn't at the crime scene.
Bergrin said he was bald at the time. McCray's stepfather witness to the crime described a gunman with shoulder-length dreadlocks.
On day three, Bergrin questioned former employee Ramon Jimenez. Out of prison in 2002 with no home or job, he hired him. Now they're adversaries. Currently he faces a 25 year sentence. He testified about hearing Bergrin tell a known drug dealer that with "no witness, there would have been no case."
Gay called it language ordering a hit. In cross examination, Bergrin questioned Jimenez's credibility, testifying in return for leniency.
"So you're facing at least another 25 years (in prison). Did that kind of jog your memory in reference to what you heard," he asked?
"Yes, pretty much," he responded.
"You were excited about being able to help yourself, correct" Bergrin asked?
"At the time, yes," said Jimenez.
He explained how he tried arranging a cocaine deal between known supplier Changa and Hakeem Curry, a "high roller, big time drug dealer" and Bergrin client.
He initially lied, telling FBI investigators it was worth $15,000, less than the $21,000 amount he told jurors.
"So when you told the jury the $21,000 price, were you mistaken," asked Bergrin?
"Absolutely not," said Jimenez.
"So you lied to the FBI," Bergrin continued.
"Absolutely," said Jimenez.
Gaining acquittals works best by discrediting prosecution witnesses. Bergrin always did it expertly and again in his own defense. He continued on subsequent days. Jimenez's credibility was again challenged. So were other prosecution witnesses.
They're no match against a consummate former prosecutor/defense attorney, one opponents feared to face. Much more lay ahead.
On October 24, former Bergrin girlfriend Yolanda Jauregui told prosecutors he considered a major Newark drug dealer so much "like a brother" that he met with him and a supplier in a Newark restaurant.
She's now serving prison time. Prosecutor Joseph Minish asked why she decided to cooperate. "I just wanted to end the lies," she said, "the lifestyle that I was living in."
Bergrin questioned inconsistencies in her testimony. She contradicted Ramon Jimenez, her brother. When asked about her FBI statements, she said, "They probably misunderstood me wrong, you know."
"They kept misunderstanding you, right Yolanda," Bergrin asked?
She acknowledged having an intimate relationship with Alexjandro Barraza-Castro while living with Bergrin. He pled guilty to drug trafficking. Jauregui faces 20 years to life as charged. As a result, leniency's on her mind by cooperating.
For days, Bergrin held his own, displaying skills earning him a well deserved reputation. For over two weeks, witnesses included drug traffickers, undercover cops, FBI agents, street hustlers, girlfriends and mistresses.
Several are former clients. He denies all charges. Supporters say he's right. At issue is prosecutorial injustice. Convicted felons get leniency in return for lying. It's a common tactic. Guilt or innocence doesn't matter, just convictions.
Bergrin threatened high-level government and military officials. As a result, he was framed to silence and punish him. Prosecutors want him put away for life. He's fighting to save it.
His career was exemplary. Disbarred it's lost, whatever happens ahead. He defended clients most lawyers shun. He did it honorably and at times pro bono. He believes everyone deserves their day in court.
He's no murderer, drug dealer, racketeer, sex trafficker, or tax evader. Prosecutors slapped on multiple charges. They hope enough will stick, and if they don't they'll invent more.
His future depends on grueling weeks or months ahead in court. Whatever the odds, justice sometimes prevails, besting a corrupted system.
Supporters hope his long ordeal ends by tilting his way. After what he's endured, he deserves it and much more.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at email@example.com.
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.