Tattoo Tests Tale to Tell the Truth

A tattoo can readily identify someone, and sometimes one can become the key to the guilt or innocence of a man facing the wrath of a woman he may have wronged.

A tattoo figured prominently in the last case I tried as a public defender in Philadelphia. I didn’t know it was to be my final court battle. Post-traumatic stress (PTS) had taken its toll on me, and I thought two weeks of treatment at an inpatient veterans ’ clinic would cure the rage and anger that had led to three near-brawls in the courtroom. Turns out I needed the full 10-week course and a complete resignation from 20 years of stress as a trial attorney.

The Philadelphia District Attorney had charged my client with robbery as well as harassment and stalking in a case we were to try before a judge hearing the facts without a jury. The police report said he had repeatedly called his ex-girlfriend at her place of work and eventually stole a cell phone from her.

I wanted him to plead guilty when I got the charges lowered to just misdemeanors. In addition, he would have had to pay for the phone. He refused the offer, demanding to go to trial and get a chance to walk out of court free with only probation.

Violent, ugly visions popped into my head. I saw myself pushing my client’s head through the flat-white-colored wall in the tiny conference room cut out of a section of the courtroom. I yelled at him and asked whom he thought the judge would believe, him or the articulate girl who would have all the sympathy in the world when she told her story as outlined in her statement to the police?

I told him that a misdemeanor conviction would not keep him from getting a job. Most employers ask only if you’ve been convicted of a felony, the more serious offense. “Hell,” I said, “you could tell them the truth if you pleaded guilty to a minor offense to get away from an ex-girlfriend who was out for revenge for breaking up with her.”

“That’s exactly what happened, Mr. Contos,” he said. “And I won’t plead guilty to something I didn’t do.”

The trial went as I expected. The young, attractive African America woman was not only sympathetic, she spoke with a ring of truth while testifying. She said he had constantly called her house and her place of work. Despite her pleas with him to stop, he’d increased the calls and even threatened to confront her at work, she said, if he couldn’t get his way.

However, her story started to unravel under cross-examination. She produced no evidence to support her allegation. There were no phone records, no recordings of a castoff or angry ex-lover, no other witnesses.

It turned out that the defendant did confront her at work, and that he did take the cell phone from her. But she said it was his cell phone that he had given to her when their relationship was healthy and loving.

I knew we had raised reasonable doubt when I asked a question my client requested I pose when whispering to me at the defense table and she was just about to step down from the witness stand.

“Yes, I do have a tattoo,” she answered. “Yes, it’s his name,” she added, nodding in the direction of the man she accused.

My client testified persuasively that she was the real “stalker” after he broke off the relationship. I introduced “good character” evidence, which, in and of itself, could raise a reasonable doubt for a not-guilty verdict, and the judge acquitted him of all charges, explaining that he could not  decide who was telling the truth and that therefore, by law, he must find in favor of the defendant.

To this day, I believe the jurist, Judge Harold M Kane, reasoned that the woman had more to lose in the couple’s breakup because she had so much more invested in keeping the relationship intact. Mainly, she had his name forever marked on her arm.

5 comments on “Tattoo Tests Tale to Tell the Truth

  1. Michael j,
    I agree with Lea, with you, so much is said with so little.

    I also am fascinated by every tattoo story: who, what, when, where, and most interestingly, why? People from all walks of life seem to have them now. I have 3, the first when I was 40, each marking a different milestone after my divorce and coming to be more “me”. They are pretty, and also remind me of my pain and survival: bravery, transition, and heartache…My 1st is of my beautiful logo, the 2nd is a dragonfly, the 3rd is of a heart made of a treble and bass clef.

    That poor girl in your story was obviously thinking forever love, or of manipulation, when she got the name tattoo, who knows. I would never tattoo another person’s name on my body and/or something that I might come to regret. However, in my process I’ve also learned that it is most wise to “never say never”…



    • contoveros says:

      I tattooed “Maggie” in my heart soon after meeting The Spirited Soul.

      I like the small tattoos, ones on the back of a shoulder or on an upper arm. I don’t think a guy should ever get one on the lower back, the spot where you can barely see above the waste line. Those tattoos should only be engraved for women who don’t mind men checking out the artwork of all shapes and sizes.


      • Aw so sweet michael. There are countless intangible tattoos, especially for the spiritually-minded and sensitive. 🙂

        I agree with what you said. All of mine are small: my logo on my left ankle, dragonfly on inner right wrist, and of course, the purple heart on my sleeve (upper arm). 🙂 I don’t intend to get any more…


  2. Lea Strongheart says:

    Your writings are never boring…twists and turns. You say much with your short essays. Lea


    • contoveros says:


      I missed you at Omega. I hope all is well with you and I thank you for your kind words.

      Hopefully, we will meet again and duck the “Dharma police” at a silence-at-all-costs dining table again.

      michael j


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