Crime, Law Schools, Murder, Violence

New Tulane 1L Is An Advocate, A Writer, And A Murderer

Which of the nouns in the headline caught your attention? If you are a student at Tulane Law School, I’m sure it was the murderer part.

Most of you have probably never heard of Charles Russell, but he was a professor at the Community College of Rhode Island who was murdered in 1992. His attacker served 12 years in prison and admits his guilt.

The man who killed Professor Russell is named Bruce Reilly. After serving his time, Reilly turned his life around and became an advocate for criminal rights and prisoners’ rights. He worked for a group called DARE – Direct Action for Rights and Equality. He is respected by colleagues. He has testified before the Rhode Island statehouse with the credibility of an expert. He wrote an award-winning screenplay. And after a lot of work, he was accepted into the Tulane Law School for the class of 2014.

Does that sound like an amazing success story about a guy who has turned his life around? Well, you haven’t heard Tulane Law students tell it.

Continue reading for statements from Tulane’s dean, Tulane Law students, friends of Bruce Reilly, and Bruce Reilly himself….

Bruce Reilly

Reilly has thus far been pretty open with the Tulane Law community about his prior conviction. In fact, it appears his main problem with his fellow students is that they tend to gossip and talk about him behind his back, instead of directly asking him about what happened.

I know this because Reilly wrote a blog post to that effect. From his website, Unprison:

Some of you may be reading this article subsequent to a Google search, and I strategically tagged it with metadata so you will be directed here. Perhaps you are the person whose Friend Request I ignored, as you may have tried that route to know me: look at all my photos, read my info, check my Wall, and know me as if we were tight since grade school. We live in a passive-aggressive culture of curiosity and fear. The former is an admirable trait, while the latter is what allows us to be controlled. Specific fear can save one’s life in a given circumstance, but generalized fear strips one of their independence. It tends towards “herd” mentality, and a devolution to the lowest common denominator. Fear is the feast of fascism.

Lets cut to the chase: I killed a man 19 years ago.

The post has some additional details about the murder, and far, far more details about how someone deals with having “murderer” as part of his Google footprint. For “art” on the post, Reilly chose a t-shirt that says: “F**k Google, ask me.”

Meet your new classmate, Tulane Law!

Reilly linked to that post on the Tulane Wall 1L Facebook page, and many of his classmates took the only reasonable next step to find out more information: they emailed Above the Law.

Now, don’t blame Tulane Law students. Sitting here thousands of miles away from Louisiana, I was more than comfortable asking Reilly a couple of questions to flesh this story out. But if I had been a Tulane 1L when I read Reilly’s post, I think the Samuel L. Jackson voice would have started playing in my head. And regardless of what Reilly wrote, I would have heard, “You wanna know if I killed a motherf**cker, you really wanna know? Ask me. I dare you, I double dare you, ask me if I killed someone one more goddamn time.”

The emails we received from Tulane Law students reflected a deep concern in the student body about their security at law school. Remember, we’re living in a world where somebody killed a recent Mercer Law grad and a former classmate is the prime suspect. This email from a Tulane 1L is indicative of many of the emails we received:

Are the students (such as myself) correct in being offended he was judged against us (and others) in the admissions process? Are students correct in being offended that he (allegedly) received a considerable amount of scholarship to offset the cost of the law school process? Are the students correct in being worried that, when placed in one of the most stress-inducing environments in the United States, Mr. Reilly will reach his tipping point and live up to his violent past, pulling a Virginia Tech-esque move and harming fellow students? I feel that the answer to each of these questions is in the affirmative.

However, I am sure the law school in question had none of these concerns in mind when admitting the convicted murderer. Instead, they granted him admission, and (once again, allegedly) encouraged him to attend by offering a substantial scholarship, which is aided by the scholarship provided by the NAACP. Furthermore, it is of the opinion of this writer, as well as other students, the school was in the opinion that they would be hailed as being on the cutting edge of legal education, admitting convicted murderers (deemed as a “psychopathic master manipulator” by the state of Rhode Island) into their school, to be in close proximity not only with other law students, but also the undergraduates on campus.

Lastly, I would like to stress that it is simply unconscionable that the law school would admit such a student, knowing he would never be allowed to sit for the bar in any state. With the economy suffering in the way it is, as well as current graduates having a hard time finding it impossible to sit for the bar due to parking tickets, bad credit and the like, is it admissible for a law school to admit a student on the basis they can pay tuition, knowing their options as an attorney are extremely limited, at best?

As you can see, there is a lot going on here. The fear is obvious. And there are all the usual concerns about the tight job market and the reputation of a law school that admits, well, convicted murderers.

Some of these concerns are certainly legitimate. For instance, we are talking about a person who killed a professor (I haven’t seen anything that goes to motive), and we are talking about a particularly stressful educational environment.

The first thing you have to ask is, why would Tulane take this risk? Lawyers are risk-averse by nature. Law students are stressed enough without a convicted murderer on campus. As one Tulane student gchatted to me: “I think felons should get a second chance, but why at Tulane? What are we, the law school for murderers and footwear thieves?”

The last line refers to Tulane’s glorious history on Above the Law. Let’s just say that Tulane seems to admit students with some, well, personality.

I asked Tulane Law Dean David Meyer many of these questions (not so much about the school’s glorious history). He wasn’t able to address the Reilly situation specifically, but here’s what he had to say:

In our admissions process, we take seriously the task of evaluating applicants as individuals, taking into account all available information bearing on each applicant’s character, life story, talents, and future ambitions. Our process insists on evidence that applicants, whatever their background, have demonstrated a commitment to fulfilling the ideals of the legal profession. It also allows for the possibility of redemption even in exceptional circumstances of tragedy and hardship. In all cases, we admit candidates only if we are confident that they will genuinely enrich our community and hold high promise of success as lawyers. I am extremely proud of the Tulane Law Class of 2014 and have high expectations of their future achievements.

Best wishes,
David Meyer

Let us know if Dean Meyer updates the student body in any way after this post goes live. We’ll be happy to include additional thoughts from the administration in this post.

Fundamentally, the Dean’s response has to be viewed as supportive of Bruce Reilly. That support was made a little more vocal by the people who know him. I spoke with a couple of people who worked with Reilly, and they were firmly in his corner.

One friend said that Reilly is “the nicest guy you’ll ever meet,” as well as “the best, most articulate person to testify. He is good at crystallizing arguments.”

That sounds like a recipe for a good law student.

This friend went on to to say that he had absolutely no safety concerns, ever, while working with Reilly. “He has an adorable daughter… I’ve been to his house!”

Another person who worked with Reilly said simply: “Take all s**t talk from people who haven’t met a guy with a pound of salt.” This friend believes that Reilly, through his work with DARE, really found his path.

By the time I caught up with Reilly, I had one question that stood out above all the others. It’s probably the same question that most lawyers had since reading the title of this post (and something Dean Meyer declined to address): How, in the hell, can this guy pass a character and fitness exam?

Here was Reilly’s response to that:

By the time I apply to a state or federal bar, my last criminal activity will be as a teenager, and over two decades passed. I will be presenting a model case for rehabilitation, an impressive résumé, and a substantial list of esteemed supporters. I have found that a majority of our society believes in forgiveness and second chances, and all I can do is keep doing what I’m doing. I made it this far, so I have no reason to believe that I will be denied in the future. Whether I pass the bar or not, I will put my degree to good use.

Oh, and it’s not like Reilly let Tulane off the hook in any way. Dean Meyer is going to have to own this admission, for better or worse:

Anyone who applies to an ABA-accredited law school is required to provide detailed accounts of any criminal convictions. Omissions will likely eliminate any chances of passing the bar, and should surely earn an eviction from law school. Similarly, a guy working at Home Depot who doesn’t divulge their marijuana possession will be fired if the manager does a background check later on. To suggest I wasn’t forthcoming with Tulane is ludicrous.

Reilly’s full email to ATL is reprinted below. I must admit that I’m rooting for Reilly. I mean, what is the point of having a prison system that ever lets people out if those EX-convicts are not to be allowed to try and succeed on the outside? If I am forced to watch Michael Vick prance around every Sunday getting praised and getting rich, why can’t a murderer turn his life around and go to law school?

Here’s Reilly’s response when I asked if him what he would say to the classmates who are worried about going to school with a convicted murderer:

History teaches us that the greatest fear has always been of “the unknown.” I understand that some of my classmates have probably never had any known interactions with people who have committed a violent crime or been imprisoned. Our perceptions of violence are often skewed by what is sanctioned, and what is not. Are they more in danger from me, or someone who recently was given a medal for a violent act they were commanded to commit, yet who is also in heavy counseling (and possibly self-medicating) over it?

Okay, Bruce, I’m not sure if you are familiar with the movie Ghostbusters, but if someone asks if you are a danger to you colleagues, you say “No!” Not “Am I more dangerous than a Marine?? [pregnant pause] ?? [answer not found].” Seriously man, I think we all get the existential “what is danger” point you were trying to make, but you have to understand that you are now in school with some mad uptight people.

That’s really the story here. It’s probably still a tragedy for Charles Russell’s survivors (whom I did not contact for this story on the thought that if they don’t know about this, they don’t need to know). For good or ill, it speaks to Tulane Law’s reputation. But the unknown that is about to happen right now is that you are about to throw a person with a completely non-traditional set of experiences into a law student community.

Reilly wants to make existential points about being on the ass end of the criminal justice system; the girl sitting next to him is thinking, “I don’t want to get stabbed.” One guy is concerned about how it’ll look to have a J.D. from Tulane College of Convicts; Reilly is wondering whether his J.D. will be the capstone on his rebuilt life. Reilly isn’t even speaking the same language as his fellow classmates.

Then again, maybe there is common ground Reilly can find with others at Tulane Law. Reilly said, “Whether I pass the bar or not, I will put my degree to good use.”

So, see, he hasn’t figured that the point of law school is to get a law job, just like most of the rest of the 1Ls.


BRUCE REILLY — STATEMENT ON LAW SCHOOL

I decided to go to law school because my advocacy work often reaches a bump in the road when I need to find a pro bono lawyer. Having been working in the law for nearly two decades with only myself for a teacher, I am excited for the opportunity to glean from an historic institution like Tulane. I have many colleagues and connections around the country who are excited and inspired by my work thus far, and this is yet another opportunity for society to learn that we need everybody involved if we are truly going to build a strong and equitable community.

History teaches us that the greatest fear has always been of “the unknown.” I understand that some of my classmates have probably never had any known interactions with people who have committed a violent crime or been imprisoned. Our perceptions of violence are often skewed by what is sanctioned, and what is not. Are they more in danger from me, or someone who recently was given a medal for a violent act they were commanded to commit, yet who is also in heavy counseling (and possibly self-medicating) over it?

It is worth noting that they are entering a field where it is common to interact with people who have committed crimes. My presence may serve as a valuable experience for them. My best suggestion is they speak to those who do not fear me, and ask how they process the situation. New Orleans has 22,000 people currently on probation, and hundreds more on parole, yet more crimes will be committed by those not within the system. Lack of awareness regarding life in the big city does not make someone safe, it merely massages their perception.

By the time I apply to a state or federal bar, my last criminal activity will be as a teenager, and over two decades passed. I will be presenting a model case for rehabilitation, an impressive resume, and a substantial list of esteemed supporters. I have found that a majority of our society believes in forgiveness and second chances, and all I can do is keep doing what I’m doing. I made it this far, so I have no reason to believe that I will be denied in the future. Whether I pass the bar or not, I will put my degree to good use.

Anyone who applies to an ABA accredited law school is required to provide detailed accounts of any criminal convictions. Omissions will likely eliminate any chances of passing the bar, and should surely earn an eviction from law school. Similarly, a guy working at Home Depot who doesn’t divulge their marijuana possession will be fired if the manager does a background check later on. To suggest I wasn’t forthcoming with Tulane is ludicrous.

Google, Criminal Records, and Cultural Disenfranchisement [Unprison]

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