Cover image for 25 to life : the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth
25 to life : the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth
Snyder, Leslie Crocker, 1942-
Publication Information:
New York : Warner Books, [2002]

Physical Description:
x, 338 pages ; 24 cm
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KF373.S62 A3 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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"She has presided over some of America's most complex and violent cases, ranging from narcotics to sex crimes to headline-making murder and mob trials. Her toughness in court is legendary and she is known for frequently imposing maximum sentences (120 years each for five young drug lords). As a result, she must have round-the-clock security due to the repeated death threats from the criminals she has put behind bars. Now Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Leslie Crocker Snyder offers an account of her unparalleled career, including nearly twenty years on the bench - and takes readers behind the scenes and into a courtroom whose trials and rulings have placed a permanent stamp on our legal system." "Graduating from law school in a time when women weren't welcome in the law, Snyder fought for the opportunity to serve in New York City's rough-and-tumble district attorney's office. She had to prove herself to the male lawyers around her, to the perps she helped arrest, and to detectives who only trusted their own. Spearheading the establishment of the first sex-crimes prosecution division in the country, Snyder rose through the ranks, overseeing headline-grabbing rape and assault cases and coming down hard on drug gangs and murderers. By the time she was ready for the bench, Snyder had visited horrific crime scenes, stared down vicious killers, and earned the respect of her peers and the police. Since becoming a judge, she has put the guilty behind bars - and kept them there. In 25 to Life Leslie Crocker Synder describes her controversial crime-fighting career, what it is like to confront murderers and rapists, and how she deals with the contracts on her life. Last but not least, she gives us a blunt, front-lines assessment of our nation's war on crime - what should be done and why, if we as a nation are to survive."--BOOK JACKET.Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Author Notes

Tom Shachtman has written twenty-five books, including the best-selling "The Gilded Leaf" (with Patrick Reynolds), as well as documentaries for all of the major television networks.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Having been one of only two women in her law school in 1963, Leslie Crocker was already accustomed to going against the grain. Her career began at a prestigious Manhattan law firm, but craving criminal law, she moved to the state DA's office under the legendary Frank Hogan. Leslie climbed through the ranks in her division and proved her mettle as a skilled litigator. She knew early on she wanted to become a judge, so when Mayor Koch began appointing judges rather than having them be elected--a bold move toward creating an independent judiciary--Leslie found her opportunity and in 1983 assumed the bench for the first time. Though this history of one woman's ascent within the esteemed ranks of the law is a gripping story, the real tale to be told is of the perilous position a criminal judge puts herself in, as threats to herself and her family become an uncomfortably common occurrence. Written with unerring candor and plenty of riveting courtroom tales. --Mary Frances Wilkens

Publisher's Weekly Review

Snyder recalls that, shortly after she began working as an assistant prosecutor in Manhattan, "I began to understand that there was, indeed, pure evil in this world." Although she now serves as a trial court judge, that early insight continues to temper her approach to her work. As she matter-of-factly puts it, criminals and their attorneys should be prepared for her to mete out tough sentences when circumstances demand it and in most of the cases recounted here, they do. Snyder's 30-year career highlights how criminal law, and women's role in it, have evolved. As a prosecutor, Snyder was disheartened by the legal obstacles to proving rape; she and others successfully lobbied for revisions to the rape statute that eliminated these hurdles. Snyder also recounts her more colorful experiences presiding over drug, mob and murder trials. She can't be accused of sentimentalizing defendants: readers will look in vain for a story about an innocent man caught up in the justice system. By her own admission, her heart lies with the prosecution, and the rulings that she recounts (e.g., one to allow suppression hearings outside the presence of defense counsel) reflect that. This is not a law review article, though, but a book of legal "war stories," ("Judge, there's a hit team on the way from Los Angeles to kill you," the court officer announced one day) recounted vividly by a judge who has been at the center of Manhattan's criminal justice system for many years. Agent, Suzanne Gluck, William Morris. (On sale Sept. 4) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

New York Judge Snyder, known among criminal defendants in New York City as the "Ice Princess," "Princess of Darkness," and "25 to Life" for her long sentences in drug cases, has written a blunt, fascinating account of her work as a prosecutor, defense lawyer, and judge. The extremely bright Snyder entered Radcliffe College at 16, earned a law degree in Cleveland, and became a lawyer with a top New York firm. Bored, she quit civil practice and became a Manhattan prosecutor. Here, she recounts in detail her cases and achievements as the first female homicide prosecutor and the originator of the Manhattan District Attorney's Sex Crimes Division. Judge Snyder does an excellent job of describing the work of prosecutors and gives her unvarnished opinions of weak judges, shifty defense lawyers, and evil criminals. In her concluding chapter, she opposes the legalization of drugs, promotes more drug education for children, and advises readers to commit time to public service. A forthright and provocative book; recommended for all collections.-Harry Charles, Attorney at Law, St. Louis (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



A VERY CREDIBLE THREAT "Judge, there's a hit team on its way here to kill you." "What?" "I'm sorry, Judge, but we've just received information that a hit team is on its way here from L.A.-with a contract to kill you. . . ." It was a weekday, just before Christmas of 1988, and I was working at the job I loved, being a judge on New York State's highest criminal trial court, the supreme court. I'd been on the bench for six years and on the supreme court since 1986, presiding over some of New York City's most serious drug and drug-related murder cases. I was listening intently to testimony about the neighborhood-enslaving tactics of the latest in a long line of drug dealers when lunchtime rolled around. Usually I spend the lunch recess at my home away from home, Forlini's restaurant. But it was almost Christmas and I hadn't finished shopping for my husband and kids; the weather was good, and Barneys was a ten-minute cab ride away. I went for it. It didn't take long to pick out some nice shirts, ties, and belts. I was pleased at my efficiency, albeit exercised at the eleventh hour. But I had to get back to court to set up for the afternoon session; I like to be the first one in the courtroom. It took me a good ten minutes to find a cab. I had to wander along several blocks and turn on a little New York-style aggression. My courtroom was empty when I arrived, until the ranking court officer burst in. A fat, older guy with a know-it-all attitude, this sergeant acted as though he ran the place. I found him quite annoying, and perhaps he felt the same way about me, because he seemed almost pleased when he delivered this message: "Judge, I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but there's a hit team on the way from Los Angeles to kill you. One black guy, one white guy." My heart skipped a beat. "Is this a joke?" "No, Judge. We have very credible information from a reliable source, and we checked with the L.A. police. They are missing a black-and-white hit team. In the last couple of days, the team hasn't been seen in L.A., and that conforms with the information we received." I was almost certain this was another of the sergeant's bad jokes and was about to tell him off, but his expression conveyed that for once he wasn't joking. Now my heart began to race. "You can't be serious. That's absurd!" "I'm afraid it's all too serious, Judge." The idea that anyone would want to kill me was unreal; I'd never confronted anything like it. Sure, there had been threats shouted at me in the courtroom by defendants to whom I'd given stiff sentences, the occasional "Go fuck yourself, bitch!" but those men were in handcuffs or at least surrounded by court officers. In my courtroom I'd always felt safe. Now I didn't know exactly how I felt, but I certainly didn't feel safe. It suddenly struck me that there was no security to speak of in the building and none at all at the courtroom door. Anyone could walk in, up to the well-the partially fenced-off area in which the judge, jury, lawyers, and defendants sit-and get within fifteen feet of my bench without being challenged. At that distance, a hit man wouldn't have to be a very good shot. Those ten minutes I'd spent wandering the streets, searching for a cab: how vulnerable I'd been. Anyone could have followed me. Maybe I'd never again be able to do something as spontaneous as last-minute Christmas shopping. My mind flashed to when I had been eight and a half months pregnant and working as a special prosecutor out of an office high up in the World Trade Center. Information had come in that the FALN, a Puerto Rican extremist group, had planted a bomb in the building. This was a time of extremist attacks, and a number of buildings had been bombed, so the threat was taken seriously. The elevators had been stopped, and we couldn't get out. I hadn't wanted special treatment, but then I phoned Fred-my husband, my best friend, my rock. He's a pediatrician, and the parents he deals with invariably say he's the calmest person they've ever met. Fred insisted that the police would want to get me out of the World Trade Center right away because they wouldn't want to deliver a baby in the midst of the larger crisis. He was right; they took me down in an emergency elevator and put me in a cab to go home. In retrospect, of course, I can see that I was very fortunate, as were all my friends and co-workers, because it wasn't 2001 and the devastating terrorist attack that destroyed the World Trade Center; in fact, nothing happened. On this pre-Christmas day in 1988, there was no easy or quick escape. The best I could manage was a one-hour recess while the court officers decided how to protect me. I tried to stay in control of my emotions even if I was not in control of the situation. Since I didn't have a robing room or my own bathroom, there was no private place where I could let my emotions hang out; I had no choice but to calm down, inwardly and outwardly. A detective from the New York City Police Department's intelligence unit ("Intell") walked briskly into the courtroom. After identifying himself to me, he said he was appalled at how easily he was able to enter the court and come near me without being questioned. At the door he hadn't shown his shield or ID, and he was well dressed and didn't look like a skel-a lowlife -but still. He could not believe there were no metal detectors in the building, no way to X-ray bags, no guards to prevent people from getting into the courtroom without having to identify themselves. After all, this was 111 Centre Street, an official courthouse. "What cases are you handling?" he asked, on the obvious theory that the threat emanated from one of them. That was also a good guess because I was routinely being given cases with some of the most violent defendants in the system. Another detective tried to pry information from the court officers, who had deliberately kept some of what they knew from me, a standard law enforcement tactic (ignorance is bliss?). At the end of the day I was driven home in a court car by a court officer assigned as my security and was told that a similar car would pick me up again the next morning. It was presumed that I'd be fine until then, since we lived in a reasonably secure apartment building with a doorman. Despite my devotion to my work, my family is the most important part of my life. Virtually every moment I'm not at the courthouse I spend with my husband and kids. So that night, after the kids went to bed, Fred and I had quite a discussion. He was upset for me but calm about the rest of it: "The threat is real, but the protective measures are appropriate and adequate." "My concern is the kids," I responded. "I think I can handle being in danger myself, but obviously I don't want you and the boys in jeopardy." "The threat is against you, not against the family. We'll be okay." Next morning we told the kids; we had to, because we were going to notify their schools. I was not totally reassured by the schools' responses. They seemed annoyed at the bother that our kids' security entailed, even though these schools had among their students a number of the sons and daughters of celebrities and the very wealthy, children who went to school with their own bodyguards. The source of the threat was eventually traced to a drug gang, or "posse," made up of Jamaicans known for putting people's eyes out and for "ultimate torture," terrorizing people to obtain what they wanted. I'd never thought about what they might do to me. Or what some other drug lord might try to do. My judicial "calendar" (cases assigned to me) was full of drug cases; few other judges were handling as many serious ones. The threat came specifically from a scary guy I'll call "Fitzgerald" -that's not his real name-a notorious drug dealer in Brooklyn. He was charged with dealing, an A-1 felony, the highest-level felony in New York, punishable by up to twentyfive years to life. Now things began to make sense. Fitzgerald and his lawyer had both been cocky and antagonistic to me and to everyone else in the courtroom, acting as though the system would never be able to do anything to them. And for a while, they had been right about that: I had attempted to remand Fitzgerald-send him to jail with no way to get out on bail-but his lawyer had, in effect, appealed my ruling and gotten it knocked down to $350,000 cash or bond, and soon Fitzgerald was out on the street again. Reports said that he was continuing his drug dealing. A month or so later, the frightened bail bondsman appeared in my court, pleading to have the bond revoked and Fitzgerald returned to jail. Though terrified, he declined to share with us what had led him to this point, just saying shakily that his company now found the collateral insufficient to guarantee the defendant's return to court. He had a legitimate fear of Fitzgerald skipping to Jamaica and of his bond company's bail money being forfeited; I also suspect he had heard that Fitzgerald was continuing to run a highly profitable drug operation and was afraid to report it to the authorities (as the law required him to do). Never before had a bail bondsman made such a request in my court; I had no choice but to agree. The cops picked up Fitzgerald, who affected outrage at the indignity, and I remanded him again. Once Fitzgerald understood that he'd have to remain incarcerated without bail until his trial, which was months away, he apparently decided to have me killed. An informant was planted near Fitzgerald in jail and, sure enough, Fitzgerald bragged about his plans for "blowing up" the judge. His cell was tossed-searched-and yielded instructions on how to make a bomb and a letter featuring stick-figure drawings of him killing me with it. If before then a part of me had been unwilling to believe the threat was real, all of me believed it now. I expected my protection to be beefed up. "Sorry, Judge. There's only so much Intell can do. Ariel Sharon, the Israeli defense minister, is in town, and we have to deploy our resources to protect him first." (Intell, the intelligence unit of the NYPD, is charged with protection duties. Other than on this one occasion, it has always taken my security very seriously.) How comforting! My security was haphazard at best. My law clerk, Alex Calabrese, and I were warned to watch out for letter bombs. Knowing nothing about letter bombs, we were sent to watch a movie produced by various impressive law enforcement authorities. I'll never forget that experience. In the film, an ordinary letter arrives at a law office, a secretary goes to open it, and-boom!-everyone dies and the place is wiped out. It was the scariest film either of us had ever seen; we left the screening totally shaken. The NYPD was sifting our office mail for letter bombs, but Alex raised a logical question: "What good does it to do screen the office mail without also screening the judge's home mail?" Doing the home mail was cumbersome, since it had to be done by the feds because the state did not then have the equipment; I thought it was not being done at all, until a suspicious-looking package arrived at our building, wrapped in brown paper and not well marked. The NYPD bomb squad gingerly carried it away and put it through the scanner. . . which found in it the denim skirt I'd ordered while on vacation. What a relief-and a minor embarrassment -but it didn't lessen the pressure. I hesitated before opening packages or letters whose origin I wasn't sure of, and Fred and I wouldn't let the kids touch any mail or packages. During the day I functioned pretty well, keeping at bay the idea of someone planning to kill me. I repressed things, as we all do when we're busy-focus on your work, then run home, make dinner, spend time with the kids. But at three in the morning I'd wake up in a cold sweat produced by moments of terror, not for myself but for my kids. I felt I could not live with myself if as a result of doing my job anything happened to them. Every parent has nightmares about their kid crossing the street and getting struck by a car; my nightmare felt far worse and had a very real chance of coming to pass, or so it seemed at 3:00 A.M. "Any reports of a black-and-white hit team in New York City looking for me?" I'd ask each week. "Nope, Judge. Nothing." Was that a good sign or a bad one? If the hit team were professionals, wouldn't they know how to elude the authorities? The danger continued, unabated. And we had to decide what to do with the Fitzgerald case. I didn't want to recuse myself; if I did, the skels of the world might conclude that making threats against your judge-especially a female judge-was a great way to get a judge of your own choosing. A key defense motion was due for a pretrial hearing: a motion to suppress the introduction into evidence of the drugs that the police had found in Fitzgerald's possession after executing a search warrant. If the drugs went into evidence, there would likely be a conviction; if they were not allowed in, there very well might be a different outcome. Since the threats had been made against me personally, rather than against judges in general, and since the ruling on the motion to suppress would likely determine the result of the trial process, I decided to discuss the matter with my administrative judge. Appearances were the issue; a judge has not only to be fair but to give the appearance of being fair and of meeting the interests of justice. I knew I could be fair, but we agreed that in order not to give the appearance of bias, the motion to suppress should be reassigned to another judge. The administrator told me whom he had in mind; I respected that judge and was comfortable with having the matter sent to him for the hearing. After that, the police believed that the threat against me eased. The protective measures were reduced, and gradually my family and I went back to our usual daily routine. But we could not completely forget the Fitzgerald episode. It left a feeling of uneasiness, even though I was able to push that feeling into the background. The second judge ruled for Fitzgerald and suppressed the drugs, finding the officers' testimony not credible and the search warrant legally deficient. As a result, the case against Fitzgerald was dismissed. Had I examined the same evidence, I doubtless would have come to the same conclusion-even if I hadn't liked the probable result, which was that a heavy drug dealer would be released to go back to his drug dealing. My duty under the law is to evaluate everything in a fair manner, and I take that obligation very seriously. In any event, Fitzgerald did go right back to dealing. Continue... Excerpted from 25 to Life by Leslie Crocker Snyder and Tom Shachtman Copyright © 2002 by Leslie Crocker Snyder and Tom Shachtman Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

Target: A Very Credible Threatp. 1
"Cops and Robbers"p. 10
Homicide: Breaking into the Boys' Clubp. 38
Sex Crimes, Laws, and Videotapep. 52
A Walk on the Dark Side: Investigating Corruption in the Criminal Justice Systemp. 86
On the Other Side: For the Defensep. 96
Assuming the Benchp. 103
Urban Terroristsp. 132
Taming the Wild Cowboysp. 174
Being Creative: Making Lawp. 211
Mob Connectionsp. 224
Murders Most Foul: Confronting Pure Evilp. 254
In a Different Role: Victimp. 292
Breaking the Mold: Sentencing Reformp. 302
Where Do We Go from Here?p. 323
Epiloguep. 338