Mark Lane is Much More Than An "83-Year-Old Jonestown Survivor"
Mark Lane's request that the Miami New Times approach its series about Gerald Posner with civility and accuracy was met by a published snide description by the newspaper of Mr. Lane as "an 83-year-old Jonestown survivor." That's hardly a fitting response to a person who one of nation's leading trial attorneys, a best-selling author, a leader of the Civil Rights Movement, a former NY State Legislator and much more. It also smacks of a kind of ageism which I would think is beneath your standards of criticism under any circumstances.
If the newspaper wishes to focus on the Jonestown episode, some relevant facts should be known. Lane had been asked by U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan to accompany him as he was officially investigating the "People's Temple" of Jim Jones. It might have interested your readers to know that and that during that visit in Jonestown, Lane, at the risk of his own life, saved the life of Congressman Leo Ryan while one of the Jonestown activists tried to murder Ryan with a knife. Lane wrested the knife away, was slightly injured and was praised by the congressman for having saved his life in an interview on film by NBC correspondent, Don Harris, who was later shot to death on Jones' orders at the airport. Harris' filmed interview survived and was broadcast later on NBC.
At Ryan's request, Lane remained behind in Jonestown to carry out the congressman's mission of interviewing those residents who wished to leave. During the subsequent hours, Jim Jones had Lane arrested and sentenced him to death. Lane and Charles Garry, who was the attorney for Jones, escaped and fled into the jungle that night until they found a road out.
If that matter was considered too remote for Florida readers by the New Times, it might have reported that after an innocent man, James Richardson, a resident of Arcadia, Florida, who had been sentenced to death in 1968 for the murder of his seven children Lane entered the case. At the time the Florida press remained silent. Lane uncovered proof of Richardson's innocence, presented it to the governor and demanded that a special counsel be appointed.
The governor appointed the Miami-Dade County State Attorney, Janet Reno. Her investigation revealed that the charges against Richardson should be dismissed. The photograph of Richardson and Lane leaving the jail, after Richardson had been freed after being imprisoned for more than two decades, was featured on the front page of numerous Florida newspapers and it became one of the most prominent news stories that year in Florida. The story was the lead editorial in the New York Times (about the death penalty). The story was also featured in Newsweek, and on nearly every major network news program, CNN and in media throughout the world.
An event even closer to the New Times' offices took place in the United States District Court in Miami. Lane represented a newspaper that was defending a defamation case brought by E. Howard Hunt, the CIA officer who had been convicted of crimes in the Watergate episode. Lane won the historic case and the jury forewomen stated that Lane had proved to her satisfaction and the other jurors that Hunt and the CIA had been involved in the assassination of President Kennedy, a central matter at the trial. Since the Florida press failed to accurately present the facts, Lane wrote a book, Plausible Denial about the matter. It was published by a small company without adequate resources to publicize the work. Nevertheless, it became a New York Times best selling book.
Lane had been a member of the New York State Legislature, endorsed by John Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt and former governor and senator of New York State, Herbert Lehman. He has been praised by federal judges as the best investigative lawyer in the country, after trying and helping to win the leading Wounded Knee case in the United States District Court for South Dakota and for having served the court in developing law in the best tradition of the American bar by the court in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.
None of these facts appear to be relevant to the New Times in describing Mr. Lane for their readers.