Longform

Forget Shorty, Get Marvin!

Page 2 of 7

The Boca Raton defense attorney, Antony Ryan, questions Fan Fan through an interpreter -- Fan Fan speaks only Creole -- but Ryan's not getting anywhere because Fan Fan just wants a chance to explain.

You're a witness. You don't get a chance to explain, Ryan tells him. Just answer the questions. Meanwhile Dily sits behind the defendant's table, looking cool and sharp in his dark suit and tasseled burgundy loafers.

During a recess Ryan raises an objection. He's tall and lean, wears a blue pinstripe suit, and struts back to his seat each time he finishes with a witness. He served in the county public defender's office for four and a half years and now works in private practice, but he has never been in Judge Mounts' courtroom before.

In the Fan Fan-Dily case, Ryan objects to one of a series of photos that the state -- represented by red-suited assistant state attorney Lisa Hanson -- wants to enter into evidence. One of the pictures shows Fan Fan in the hospital with a bullet wound in his leg; another shows his bloody head; a third, Ryan claims, shows nothing. It is, he points out, irrelevant.

It is also fairly intimate.
Mounts leans forward in his plush leather chair to look at the pictures. His thick, black-framed glasses contrast with his thinning gray hair, which he wears combed back on his head. From the bench of his eleventh-floor corner courtroom, Mounts faces south toward the three-panel window that overlooks the rooftops of Clematis Street and downtown West Palm Beach.

"You'd think the police would have a little more couth than that," Mounts says in a slow drawl that hints at, but does not quite duplicate, a Southern accent. But, he continues, the photograph reveals the way the bullet entered the leg. It is relevant.

"Which one?" asks Ryan.
"The one that reveals the unfortunate glimpse of his nether region," Mounts replies with a straight face.

This particular day in Mounts' courtroom boasts all the necessary characters for a true-crime paperback or TV drama: a swaggering young defense attorney, a blond prosecutor in a red suit, an alleged victim who claims he's been shot at but can't remember pertinent details, a nonplussed defendant, and -- most important -- a take-no-guff judge with a vaguely Southern accent, a wry sense of humor, and a backlog of more than 35 years of stories that border on the bizarre.

Stories like the crucifixion. That occurred in 1967, back when Mounts worked as a prosecutor in the city solicitor's office, the precursor to today's state attorney's office. Members of the notorious Outlaws biker gang had nailed Christine Deese, a tall redhead with freckles, to an oak tree for fifteen minutes in an upright position with her feet on the ground and her arms outstretched. The bikers disciplined her for holding out on $10 worth of a check that they'd told her to cash. After dispensing her punishment, they released her and took her to St. Mary's Hospital in West Palm Beach. Pictures reveal the holes in both of her hands, in the joint between the ring and middle fingers.

"As you can see, she was no beauty queen," Mounts comments now.
The case made national headlines. One-term Florida governor Claude Kirk waited at the West Palm Beach Airport with the county sheriff and two police lieutenants as the bikers believed to be responsible for the crucifixion were extradited from Michigan. That same week, by coincidence, a New York Times Magazine profile of the governor called him a "dizzying experience." According to the article, Kirk pledged during his governorship to fry every one of Florida's condemned convicts, debate Fidel Castro, and end the war in Vietnam if elected President. Kirk also said he planned to ban the motorcycle chains bikers wore as belts because they were "dangerous weapons."

Thirty years later Mounts keeps one of those chains in his courthouse office. Just for show. "If you got yourself in a fight in a bar," he says slowly, displaying it, "you've got yourself a pretty good weapon."

It's stories such as that one that attracted Elmore "Dutch" Leonard to Mounts. The two men first met in 1989, although they corresponded with each other off and on for four years before hooking up in person.

Every year Marvin Mounts gives a prison tour that has become fairly legendary in the annals of Palm Beach County law enforcement. He invites a group of attorneys, reporters, and VIP types to visit the state prison in Starke to see death row and ogle up close the notorious electric chair known as "Old Sparky."

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Freedman