Lorena Bobbitt's three lawyers had never worked together, and it sometimes showed in the way they awkwardly interrupted each other during her defense. But they scored a major victory yesterday in persuading a jury to find her not guilty by reason of insanity.
They did not have the most auspicious courtroom record for making an insanity defense work. Blair D. Howard and Lisa B. Kemler had lost other cases when they used such a defense. James M. Lowe never had tried one.
So the outcome was all the sweeter for them. Howard, in fact, guffawed when asked if he would appeal just after the verdict was read. "I've been arguing the past two weeks for this verdict," he said.
Though they weren't perfectly coordinated in the beginning -- they even shooed each other away a few times as witnesses were questioned -- their style worked in the end.
They took turns raising objections and making legal arguments in very different ways.
Lowe was gentle and fatherly as he guided Lorena Bobbitt through two days of wrenching testimony, but he was quick, abrupt and sometimes sarcastic when he dueled with the prosecution's witnesses.
Howard was Mister Smooth, always mannerly, even when cross-examining John Bobbitt.
Kemler was the studious one, given the task of questioning the very technical defense psychiatrist.
It was Kemler, the youngest of the three, who summarized Lorena Bobbitt's defense with nine memorable words to the jury last week: "She saw it as his penis versus her life," Kemler said of the mutilation.
For a brief stretch last summer, Lowe had Lorena Bobbitt's case all to himself. But because of the complexities of the insanity defense, and the legwork involved in interviewing scores of people, not to mention the incessant calls from reporters throughout the world, Lowe said he quickly concluded, "It's too much for any one person to do it."
"I did the factual end of the case," he said of the workload. "Lisa ended up doing the defense psychiatrist end of it. Blair ended up with the government psychiatrists. There were so many other witnesses, we split them up. Like every group of three we fought over everything and compromised."
All three lawyers work within a short walk of one another in Old Town Alexandria and are well known among veteran lawyers in Northern Virginia.
"Blair Howard is probably among the top five or six criminal defense lawyers in Northern Virginia," said Henry Hudson, a former U.S. attorney and onetime chief prosecutor for Arlington. "Lisa Kemler is a bright, young lawyer who's up and coming. Jim Lowe is a very good lawyer too. He's the kind of guy that lies in ambush and goes after you because you failed to prove some esoteric, remote legal point. He's able to invoke constitutional principles."
Lowe, 47, got his law degree from the College of William and Mary. He began his career as an Alexandria city prosecutor in 1971 and soon went into private practice. He has handled hundreds of cases, but none even remotely approaching the publicity of the Bobbitt trial.
Kemler, 35, joined the team several months ago at Lowe's request. She graduated from the George Mason University School of Law and is a substitute judge in Alexandria. Kemler is a partner in Moffitt, Zwerling & Kemler, a firm that frequently handles high-stakes federal drug cases. Her experience in trying an insanity defense came when she argued the "irresistible impulse" defense in the 1991 trial of Chander "Bobby" Matta. He was convicted of the murders of three prostitutes in his South Arlington home.
Howard, 52, was recruited by Bobbitt just three weeks ago to help out. He is no stranger to the spotlight. His clients have included Stanley Hyman, the father-in-law of slain Vienna builder John Kowalczyk, who committed suicide last summer after he became the focus of police attention; William Douglas Carter, an executive who eventually was acquitted in the 1987 shooting of his wife in Loudoun County; and retired Army Col. William "Bull" Evans-Smith, who was convicted of strangling his wife in Loudoun County in 1985.
Howard graduated from American University's law school. His father, T. Brooke Howard, practiced law in Alexandria for more than 60 years, representing about 300 murder defendants. Longtime area lawyers said that Brooke Howard, who died four years ago, was a titan in the legal community: shrewd, showy and scholarly, able to charm any jury.
"Blair and the old man are totally different types," said Robert F. Horan, who's faced them both as Fairfax County's commonwealth's attorney. "The old man was a big bear. He was country. He would lay more traps for witnesses than they knew what to do with. Blair is very smooth. He's got great style."
One question still unanswered in the case is how the lawyers will get paid. According to Lowe, Lorena Bobbitt is footing the still-untallied bill for her defense, but they have yet to be paid. As a manicurist, Lorena Bobbitt is strapped for cash. However, she has an agent, and could make money by selling her story; the profits, Lowe said, could then help cover the legal expenses.
Last night Kemler already was turning her attention to what happens to Lorena Bobbitt as she faces up to 45 days of evaluation in a state mental hospital, as the law requires after an insanity verdict. "We'll do everything we can to get her out of there as soon as possible," Kemler said.