Crime, Law Schools, Murder

Tulane Students Speak Out About 1L Ex-Con Bruce Reilly

Last week, when we first wrote about Bruce Reilly — the Tulane 1L who committed a murder nearly 20 years ago — we noted that when he outed himself on his website, he posted a t-shirt that read, “F**k Google, ask me.”

It appears that many students at Tulane Law School did just that.

We’ve already heard from the Tulane law students who don’t know Bruce. We’ve heard their concerns and opinions.

Now let’s hear from some of Bruce Reilly’s new friends on campus….

Last week, we ran a reader poll about whether or not Reilly should even be allowed to go to Tulane Law School. The results were split, 50/50.

The “Oh my God, he’s gonna kill us all!!!” crowd tends to get noticed more. But those who have approached Reilly since he’s been on campus describe a pretty interesting guy. Says one student:

I wouldn’t say that I know Bruce all that well — we’ve only been here a month, after all — but during the several conversations we’ve had, he’s impressed me as a bright, motivated, and insightful person. But this isn’t a character reference; in fact, the story here really isn’t about Bruce at all.

I heard early on that Bruce had committed murder, and there’s no denying that the crime he committed was horrific. I’d be lying if I were to say that this didn’t affect my initial impression of him. But I didn’t ask him about his past because, frankly, I didn’t see it as being any of my business. As you know, most top-tier law schools — Tulane included — ask applicants to disclose any criminal history, and, as Bruce said today in his response, Tulane clearly knew about his record. The school weighed the potential risks — both to public safety and to its reputation — of admitting him, and concluded that not only does Bruce pose little threat to public safety at TLS, but that his promise as a legal professional was so great that he stood a good chance of contributing to society in a positive manner even if he never manages to pass the bar. The fact that Tulane’s admissions committee vetted Bruce was, to me, evidence enough that they considered him fit for re-acceptance as a full-fledged civilian. That should be good enough for a student body that, in remaining enrolled here, implicitly trusts the judgment of its faculty…

In other words, TLS is not a Wachtell incubator. Most of us got into schools better positioned to feed people into BigLaw — this is New Orleans, after all — and yet we chose to come here. To say that Bruce’s acceptance to Tulane is out of step with the school’s mantra would be to admit that you don’t understand the school’s mantra.

Again, I’m not defending Bruce’s actions (although, in an argument for another day, I’d venture to guess that most of his faceless TLS critics were, like me, products of stable middle-class-and-up households — not of troubled foster care systems). I’m writing, rather, to express my disappointment that a number of my schoolmates chose to assess Bruce’s worth from behind the comforting glow of a computer monitor, and then to attack his character through the same by emailing bloggers in an office 1,500 miles away while the subject of all this, who they’ve never met, is upstairs in the library studying civil procedure.

The 1Ls who know Bruce generally support his right to study here and have accepted him into our community. He brings a refreshing perspective to our class discussions, participates in a couple of our student organizations, and drinks shitty beer with us at TLS house parties and bar outings. I was surprised you didn’t reach out to any 1Ls (other than Bruce) for a reaction in today’s article, and to that end, I think it’s important that you relay some or all of this to your readers to dispel the impression that we all share the sentiments of the reactionary few who emailed you first.

Oh yes, the stabby perspective really opens up your eyes.

(I kid. Come on, everybody has to get their chops busted here and there.)

Perhaps the most interesting message in support of Reilly came from a collection of students and former colleagues who wrote to ATL collectively:

After reading your recent article regarding the history of Bruce Reilly, a new student at Tulane law school, we, as individuals who know Bruce well, want to add our experience to your dialogue. Many of us have known Bruce since he was released from prison almost seven years ago. We have known him as a friend, co-worker, employee, and community member. Bruce is a kind, responsible, intelligent, loving, and hard-working man who has brought himself far from the person he was in 1992 when he was convicted. While we understand the initial reactions and concerns some have expressed, we can promise that Bruce is an asset to the Tulane community community, not a threat. After spending so much time and being so close to him for many years, seeing him with his family and daughter, trusting him as an administrator and leader, and seeing him gain the respect of so many (not the least AT Wall, the Director of the Rhode Island Department of Corrections), it is disorienting to see people talk about being physically threatened by him. We can only hope that his fellow students learn this by meeting him themselves with respect and an open-mind.

The dialogue initiated by your article is perhaps one of the very reasons Tulane accepted Bruce to Tulane. Bruce has the ability to inform all of us about the ability of humans to grow and change. Law students, as people being trained to work with criminals and former criminals, can gain greatly from this experience. Bruce has also already proven the value to society of his legal experience and perspective. One of his first acts after release was to advocate for the reform of the Rhode Island probation system. He helped draft legislation that, five years later, would become Rhode Island law with the overwhelming support of legislators, defense attorneys, and even a former Attorney General. It was a trailblazing civil rights campaign in Rhode Island and nationally that benefited significantly from Bruce’s experience and legal mind.

Bruce has a past that can not and should not be erased, but it is a past he has managed to transcend, and it is past that can teach us all something.

You gotta say, the people who’ve met Bruce Reilly seem to really like Bruce Reilly. When people defend me, they say things like “he’s not a complete a**hole” and “he’s so well-spoken.” People talk about meeting Bruce Reilly like it’s been a transformative experience in their lives.

Is Reilly like the black dude from the Green Mile? Can he heal your pain? (Again, I joke, please nobody murder me.)

My favorite email from Tulane was this one:

I, for one, feel no danger from Bruce. That’s because I never bring a knife to a gun fight.

Wait, sorry, that’s not my favorite email. That’s something somebody from Chicago would say. This is my favorite email:

Hi, I’m a 1L at Tulane, and I’m writing this note because I feel like your post about Bruce Reilly might mislead some as to the state of mind of the student body here. I, for one, can assure you that I feel no danger when coming class and I have no problem with the administration admitting Bruce. I also know many other students that feel the same way as I do.

I don’t know Bruce beyond one brief interaction, so I can’t speak to him as a person (though he was very courteous to me), but in general, I believe in second chances, and a person’s ability to change. All I ask is that you make clear that not everyone feels the same way as the anonymous e-mailer.

As I’ve said since the initial post on this matter (for those who aren’t sure about my opinion here, are you freaking illiterate? I’m not known to hide the ball about what I think), I think this whole thing comes down to whether or not you believe in second chances.

Everybody we’ve spoken to who has given Reilly a second chance has felt like that investment was worth it. It’s the people who don’t know him who disparage him.

If you are a Tulane Law student who really wants to know more about Bruce Reilly, you really should just go up and talk to him. All indications are that you will make a new friend.

Earlier: New Tulane 1L Is An Advocate, A Writer, And A Murderer
Law & Murder: Tulane Law School Follow-Up and Poll

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