Defense lawyer in Pioneer Hotel fire trial struggles with emotions at Taylor's release

2013-04-07T00:00:00Z 2013-04-07T22:09:28Z Defense lawyer in Pioneer Hotel fire trial struggles with emotions at Taylor's releaseKimberly Matas Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
April 07, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Attorney Howard Kashman's emotions were mixed Tuesday as he sat in the courtroom and listened as a judge set free a former client.

The release comes 42 years late as far as Kashman is concerned. He was the Pima County public defender who represented a 17-year-old Louis Cuen Taylor at his 1972 trial. A jury found Taylor guilty of killing 28 people in the Pioneer Hotel fire. Kashman continued to represent Taylor into the mid-1980s when all appeals were exhausted.

"It was emotional," he said of hearing a Superior Court judge finally release Taylor. "A lot of juices flowing, with happiness for Louis and sadness for the way it had to come about."

Taylor's release was contingent upon him pleading no contest to 28 counts of murder. The plea was part of a deal brokered between the Pima County Attorney's Office and the Arizona Justice Project. The agreement set aside Taylor's original conviction and gave him credit for time already served.

Taylor has steadfastly maintained his innocence.

And Kashman believed so strongly in his client's innocence that Taylor lived with the attorney, his wife and their children during the trial.

Kashman was 27-years-old when he took on the case after the deadly Christmas-week fire in 1970. He was Pima County's first public defender. He had opened the office 11 months earlier with a handful of lawyers, a couple of secretaries and one investigator.

"We started from zero, with nothing - renting the space, buying furniture. I'd just come back from a few years in the Air Force as a legal officer. I'd been a deputy prosecutor, but other than that I had little legal experience."

Kashman hailed from New York City. He came to Tucson in 1958 to attend the University of Arizona. After earning his law degree, he took a job as a prosecutor with the County Attorney's Office. Kashman left the county in 1966 to take a three-year assignment in the U.S. Air Force's Judge Advocate General's Corps.

When he returned to Tucson, he was asked to head the public defender's office. He resigned from the office a month after the Taylor trial and went into private practice.

"Overall I feel like I did everything that could have been done," Kashman, 71, said.

"The things that turned this case around many years later were things that weren't available to me or anyone else until the County Attorney's Office turned over its entire file to the Justice Project."

At a press conference Wednesday Taylor had praise for his Justice Project attorneys, but he also remembered Kashman's contributions to his case.

"He's my hero, too. He was bombarded. The county attorney had all the resources," Taylor said.

Kashman still practices law, dividing his time between his Tucson office and Colorado, though the former criminal defense attorney has lightened his load considerably.

"I have had a lot of big cases in my career - 13 murder cases," Kashman said. "I've won some cases that I didn't think I would. I won a couple that, emotionally, I wish I hadn't. That was the role of the defense lawyer. But I had an interesting career. It was challenging."

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