Michael N. (Miami Mike) Kleinbart was the first to admit that he had shot and killed Clayton Tyrone Bennett on that Saturday evening in May, 1975. What the jury had to understand, he told the 10 women and two men who would decide the case, was that it was self defense.
"When I heard Tyrone Bennett was looking for me - this was a man you take seriously," Kleinbart said.
"The first time I shot, I deliberately missed him. I intended to hit him the second time, and that was the truth. But in that instant, I felt I was in danger. . . . Already Thursday night he was flashing the pistol . . ."
This was Tuesday afternoon and Kleinbart, 37, was making his own closing argument in a case in which he was charged with first-degree murder in Bennett's death.
Kleinbart is no stranger to courtrooms. He has been convicted of wounding a U.S. park polliceman, not guilty by reason of insanity of wounding a U.S. park policewoman, carrying a concealed weapon (a pistol), and of other offenses.
By the account of Judge Nicholas Nunzio of D.C. Superior Court, his efforts to avoid conviction for murder were among the best ever conducted by a defendant in his own defense in court.
"Don't try me because I was a drug addict," Kleinbart told the jury. "Don't try me because some of my witnesses have prison records . . . If this had happened in church, we might have had priests and nuns for witnesses, but this happened on 8th and M Streets NW in the drug culture."
"In an American courtroom, we don't convict people on suspicion," he concluded. "We don't convict people on word-trickery . . . Give me your each and every one individual consideration like you promised me and promised the judge."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Hamilton Fox got up for his rebuttal argument and told the jury that "we are not playing games . . . We are saying people can't go around shooting each other."
Yesterday, the jury found Kleinbart guilty of first-degree murder, which carries a mandatory sentence of 20 years to life in prison.
Kleinbart took it calmly. He made a wry face at the jury for a moment and then put his hands in the pockets of his dark blue suit. He also wore a light blue shirt, a striped tie, and a white handkerchief in his breast pocket.
It was the second trial oof the case. The first ended in a hung jury in 1976.
Evidence in the second trial showed that Kleinbart had shot Bennett while Kleinbart was riding in a taxi driven by his father-in-law and in which his wife and 18-month-old child also were riding.
Kleinbart said he was convinced Bennett was trying to get a shotgun out of an automobile to kill him when he fired the fatal bullet. He said Bennett and he were enemies because Bennett had struck Kleinbart's wife in a dispute concerning women.
The incident in which the two U.S. Park Police officers were wounded occurred on May 21, 1975, four days after Bennett was killed. Kleinbart surrendered to the FBI in Miami June 5, 1975. A second suspect in the case was arrested in Chiccago June 1.
After the jury had announced its verdict yesterday, Judge Nunzio told Kleinbart: "I don't know that anyone could have argued (your case) as well as you. I commend you for the way you conducted yourself. Of course, you understand the jury did not believe you."
"I tried, your honor," Kleinbart said.
Despite Kleinbart's efforts, it took the jury only about four hours to find him guilty. Kleinbartsaid he would ask for a new trial.