Commentary

Judge's memoir, case work offer a look into how he'll handle Vick sentencing

Updated: November 20, 2007, 9:57 AM ET
By Lester Munson | ESPN.com

Late one evening in Arlington County, Va., nearly 25 years ago, a young man realized after several drinks that it was time for some Fritos. He found some in a convenience store, and, shopping while impaired, opened them and walked out of the store and into the criminal justice system.

He first encountered a group of police officers, and he tried to keep walking. When they moved in and surrounded him, he took a wild swing. As unsteady as he was, he somehow managed to hit one officer, leaving a small cut above his eye. It was a bad mistake. When it was over, he found himself in jail, bruised and battered.

Even worse, he next encountered Henry E. Hudson, a prosecutor who would decide what to do with the young man. After reviewing the reports, Hudson made his decision. The charge would be malicious wounding, a felony defined in Virginia law as an assault with intent to maim, disfigure or kill. If convicted, the young man faced an automatic minimum of five years in prison.

Hudson's decision to try to send a kid with a case of the munchies to the penitentiary for five years came early in his career as a prosecutor, but it was typical of the tough decisions that would earn him a reputation as a hard-line and zealous crime fighter. Hudson is still making decisions on crime and punishment. His next big decision will come Dec. 10 in Richmond where, as a federal district court judge, he will decide how much time Michael Vick will spend in prison.

Henry Hudson Book Cover
Loft PressJudge Henry E. Hudson's memoir details the judge's vision of his career and approach to fighting crime.

Vick, who was once the highest paid player in the NFL, has admitted his role in a dogfighting and gambling scheme that went on for six years on his property using his money. In addition to his admissions in his guilty plea, Vick tested positive in September for marijuana in a drug test performed for Hudson.

Interviews with Hudson's colleagues and opponents and Hudson's recently published, 325-page memoir offer a look at Hudson's approach to law enforcement. And more particularly -- and possibly discouraging -- for Vick, they offer Hudson's ideas on dogs, gambling and drugs. He and his lawyers might look at Hudson's record and conclude that Vick may be in for a surprise on Dec. 10 when Hudson decides Vick's sentence.

Contacted by ESPN.com, Hudson declined to be interviewed on connections between his memoir and Vick's sentencing.

In the case of the Fritos guy, Hudson's hard-line approach did not go far. The judge presiding over the trial dismissed the malicious wounding charge, reducing it to a significantly less serious assault charge. Then the jury, which decides sentences in Virginia, sentenced the youth not to five years, but to five days in jail.

"He was still upset about it weeks later," recalls Brendan Feely, the lawyer who opposed Hudson in the Fritos case. "He always takes the hard-line position, and he does it well."

Henry Hudson
Henry E. HudsonHudson and a team of IRS agents spent three weeks in the Bahamas as part of an investigation into a bingo operation.

Hudson's approach carried him from jobs as a deputy sheriff and courtroom bailiff through night law school, to two terms as the elected Commonwealth Attorney of Arlington County -- an unprecedented achievement for a Republican. It led him to an appointment as the U.S. Attorney for a large part of Virginia, and ultimately to his current position on the federal bench. Along the way, he was the chairman of a pornography study commission appointed by President Ronald Reagan's attorney general, Edwin Meese, and the director of the U.S. Marshals Service.

Hudson's 2,000-page report on pornography became known as "Uncle Sam's Dirty Book," and was a best seller for the U.S. Government Printing Office at $53 per copy. His leadership of the Marshals Service included early decisions in the attempt to arrest Randy Weaver at Ruby Ridge, the greatest disaster in the history of federal law enforcement, a fiasco that led to a grand jury investigation (Hudson was called to testify) and misconduct charges against 12 federal agents.

Hudson's fellow Republicans are in awe of his approach. U.S. Rep. Tom Davis, who orchestrated the Major League Baseball steroid hearings that starred Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Jose Canseco and Rafael Palmeiro, calls Hudson a "by-the-book guy."

"He is not one who coddles criminals," Davis says.

Davis and Hudson first met in 1979 when Davis was running for the county board, and Hudson was running for prosecutor.

Asked about Hudson's approach to Vick and the dogfighting charges, Davis replies, "He is a bulldog. He is not a warm puppy. Whatever Henry does, he will be criticized. But I know that what he does will be the right result. He will have the right answer."

U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, who has also known Hudson for more than 20 years, says Hudson "is a man of great character. He is a man of integrity and hard work. But he is tough, and he is firm."

Wolf warns, "Do not try to fool Judge Hudson. You cannot fool him. It would be a big mistake to try to fool him." Vick and his lawyers plan to present several hours of evidence of Vick's good character in an effort to minimize Vick's sentence.

Hudson is proud of his record as a tough, relentless prosecutor and does not hesitate to talk about his approach and his success. In his recently published memoir, "Quest for Justice: From Deputy Sheriff to Federal Judge and the Lessons Learned Along the Way," (Loft Press, Fort Valley, Va., 2007), he describes his office and his staff as an "awesome and effective crime fighting team." Later, as a federal prosecutor, he allows that his crews of lawyers and agents were "relentless engines" of law enforcement, "cranking out one indictment after the next," operating as many as 15 wiretaps on a given day.

Henry Hudson and Antonin Scalia
Robert ScottHudson is sworn in by Justice Antonin Scalia.

He was aggressive in his political campaigns, letting everyone know that he was serious about law and order. In a campaign for commonwealth attorney, Hudson used a large button that said, "I Voted for Hang 'Um High Henry." When an opponent attacked Hudson's record, he fired back: "Our conviction rate is 90 percent. Our jail is so overcrowded that we had to build a new one. Our crime rate is the lowest it's been in a decade. We must be doing something right."

Like any young prosecutor, Hudson started with traffic offenses and worked his way into more serious and more complex prosecutions. Hudson recalls that his "first high publicity case" as a young prosecutor came in a prosecution for abuse of dogs. He was surprised that "the local newspapers gave the case front page coverage."

After presenting five witnesses including a veterinarian who testified as an expert that a canine security firm was abusing its German shepherds, Hudson was "flabbergasted" when the judge "dismissed the case, almost without explanation." It was the only loss Hudson reported in his book, and he wanted an explanation. When he asked the judge about it, Hudson reports, "the normally mild-mannered judge sported an angry crimson face . . . and blurted, 'Damn dogs crap on my lawn.'"

It's likely to be a bit different when Judge Hudson examines Vick and his abuse of his pit bulls. Hudson's attitude on dogs is different from the judge who ruled against Hudson as a prosecutor. When he and his wife, Tara, after years of scraping by on limited income, finally found themselves enjoying a level of prosperity, they bought a new house. And then, with their life "stable, secure, and fairly predictable," they invested in a West Highland terrier puppy.

If Hudson's love of dogs offers little consolation to Vick, his attitude on gambling might offer even less. In his tenure as a U.S. Attorney, Hudson initiated a massive investigation of a bingo operation. That's right, bingo. Even Hudson acknowledges it was "not standard stuff for federal prosecutors," but he invested time and manpower trying to trace the bingo profits from Virginia to offshore banks or to corrupt politicians. He started in Virginia and then moved the probe into the Bahamas. Despite nearly three weeks of work in the Bahamas, Hudson and his team of IRS agents were unable to penetrate a banking system designed to shield its customers. He finally shut down the probe without any charges.

If Hudson would invest significant time and effort on a bingo investigation, what will he think of Vick's bets on dogfighting that include the loss of $23,000 on a single afternoon?

Testing positive for drugs may be more of a problem for Vick than Hudson's love of dogs or his hard line on gambling. As a prosecutor, Hudson became personally involved in drug investigations, joining agents in surveillances that lasted through the night, a highly unusual step for a prosecutor. In his book, he explains: "Drug enforcement is challenging, but it's also dirty and dangerous. I loved it."

When it comes to punishment, Hudson leaves no doubt in his book about the kind of penalty that makes sense to him. He likes the way they punish criminals in the Bahamas: "They believed in short periods of intense incarceration with hard labor 16 hours a day, six days a week. They also used caning or whipping for any offense involving violence or injury to the victim. The recidivism rate? Less than five percent. Now that's effective justice."

He's also a big fan of the draconian sentences meted out in federal crack cocaine cases. He likes the message they send: "Imagine the reaction of the petty crack pusher -- cocky, defiant, and decked out in gold jewelry -- busted by the feds. He's accustomed to being released on bond and back on the street in an hour, so he tells the cops to screw themselves. Doing a few months in jail is nothing. It's a badge of manhood and the girls love it. But the bravado evaporates when they're held without bond and their lawyer explains that they are looking at ten years without parole. Some cool guys actually passed out on the spot. At that point, we were ready to do business."

Henry Hudson and Edwin Meese
U.S. Department of JusticeHudson, left, was chairman of a pornography study commission appointed by President Ronald Reagan's attorney general, Edwin Meese, right, and the director of the U.S. Marshals Service.

As a prosecutor, Hudson was aggressive and proactive. He didn't wait for the cases to arrive at his door. He initiated investigations on situations that offended him and pursued them zealously. For example, at one point he decided to drive all adult book stores and massage parlors out of his area.

He succeeded and enjoys describing both his success and the activities that he drove out of town. Here are a couple of examples: "One masseuse we interviewed said she was making more than $200,000 a year giving breast massages. If you saw her, you would understand why."

Another example: Hudson found a masseuse that specialized in anal intercourse for as much as $1,000 per trick. "She turned three or four tricks a week. The rest of the time she spent working out to keep those buns tight and shapely. I never asked if they were insured."

If Hudson is tough on gambling, drugs and massage parlors, nothing shows his approach to crime and punishment better than the case of David Vasquez, a 30-year-old McDonald's worker whom Hudson and two detectives suspected of a brutal rape and murder in January 1985.

As described in his memoir and in another book on the same murder, "Stalking Justice," by Paul Mones (Pocket Books, 1995), the victim was found naked and hung from a pipe in her basement. A neighbor told police she had seen Vasquez, who once lived in the neighborhood, walking by the victim's house near the time of the murder. That was enough for the Arlington detectives to bring Vasquez in for questioning.

Their decision to question Vasquez was based on the neighbor's report that she saw him. The detectives ignored the fact that the neighbor reported Vasquez only after her brother had been brought in for questioning on the crime.

The focus on Vasquez was dubious from the beginning. Vasquez was mentally slow. Some experts described him as retarded. He was at work at McDonald's 30 miles from the crime scene on the mornings before and after the murder. He cannot drive, and there is no public transportation between his home in Manassas and Arlington.

He also was a small man, and both the detectives and Hudson knew he could not have overcome, raped, strangled and hung the victim, a large woman, by himself.

But nothing stopped Hudson and the detectives in their pursuit of Vasquez. The detectives interrogated him three times before finally, with Hudson's agreement and approval, charging him with murder. In the questioning, they fed him details of the crime and lied to him, claiming they found his fingerprints at the scene. Hudson acknowledges that the fingerprints lie was "a hardball tactic," but explains "the use of such deception is both legal and widely accepted as an interview strategy."

Here's how the detectives extracted their "confession" from Vasquez:

Detective 1: Tell us how you did it.

Vasquez: I grabbed the knife and just stabbed her that's all.

Detective 2: Oh, David. Oh, David. Now, if you would have told us the way it happened, we could believe you a little bit better.

Vasquez: I only say that that it did happen, and I did it, my fingerprints were on it.

Detective 2: You hung her.

Vasquez: What?

Detective 2: You hung her!

Vasquez: Okay, I hung her.

Based on this "confession," Hudson decided he would prosecute Vasquez into Virginia's electric chair even though they had no evidence beyond the confession and the semen found on the body could not have come from Vasquez. He announced his decision on the death penalty in court with Vasquez standing nearby. Hudson remembers, "As intended, Vasquez reacted with visible trepidation."

According to his book, it was supposed to be leverage to force Vasquez to give up the other guy whom Hudson knew must be involved. But Vasquez never named another guy. The detectives, who told Vasquez he hung the victim, had no name to suggest to him. With two court-appointed lawyers assisting him and facing execution, Vasquez entered a plea of guilty in return for a sentence of 30 years.

Henry E. Hudson

Education
• American University, B.A., 1969
• American University Law School, J.D., 1974

Professional career
• Assistant commonwealth attorney, Commonwealth Attorney's Office, Arlington County, Virginia, 1974-79.
• Assistant U.S. Attorney, U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Virginia, 1978-79.
• Private practice, 1979, 1991-92, 1994-98.
• Commonwealth attorney, Arlington County, Virginia, 1980-86.
• U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, 1986-91.
• Director, U.S. Marshal Service, U.S. Department of Justice, 1992-93.
• Circuit court judge, Nineteenth Judicial Circuit Court (Fairfax County), Virginia, 1998-2002.

Federal judicial service
• Nominated to serve as judge, U. S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia, by President George W. Bush on Jan. 23, 2002.
• Confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Aug. 1, 2002.
• Received commission Aug. 2, 2002.

Even though Hudson was convinced there was someone else involved with Vasquez, the Arlington authorities closed their investigation and their file shortly after Vasquez went to the penitentiary.

Soon after Vasquez went to prison, another woman was discovered raped and murdered in her home near the killing blamed on Vasquez. The crimes were virtually identical. Another detective, Joe Horgas, knew something was wrong. He pursued the case and other killings for months and found a serial killer who was responsible for several murders including the killing that Hudson pinned on Vasquez. The serial killer, Timothy Spencer, who was later executed, worked alone.

When detective Horgas and Helen Fahey, the prosecutor who succeeded Hudson, decided to seek a pardon for Vasquez, they invited Hudson back to the office to hear their story. Hudson listened to the detective's presentation, a compelling array of evidence that showed conclusively that Vasquez had been in prison five years for a crime he could not have committed.

Hudson listened to the presentation. In his book, he offered his response to the news that he had zealously pursued the wrong guy: "I certainly wish him the best and regret what happened. However, I offer no apologies."

Hudson himself calls the Vasquez prosecution a "career-defining case." It's a career of crime fighting that in its beginning included a Fritos theft and a dog-abuse prosecution and now brings him face to face with Michael Vick and a dogfighting conspiracy. If Vick wants to know what to expect Dec. 10, he might want to talk to the Fritos guy or to David Vasquez.

Lester Munson, a Chicago lawyer and journalist who has been reporting on investigative and legal issues in the sports industry for 18 years, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.