‘Snapped’ will feature big court win by Foster, Norfleet
By CHRIS HARRIS, CJ Staff Writer Commonwealth Journal
Local attorney Scott Foster was pleased to come out on top in a big murder case. He didn’t know he’d also become a TV personality.
The Laurel County case of Lisa Gilliam, who was acquitted in October of charges claiming she murdered her attorney husband, is expected to be featured on an upcoming episode of “Snapped.”
The Oxygen Network program features “true crime”-type stories of women who have committed, attempted, or been accused of murder, portrayed in documentary fashion along with interviews with key figures in the proceedings. Every episode shines a spotlight on a different case, which often have to do with women who try to kill their spouses.
“Frankly, I’d never heard of it until they called me,” said Foster, who quickly learned what it was all about. “Apparently, everybody and their ... brother has seen the show.”
Foster said the format of the show, as described to him by its producer, David Lane, “deals with women who had all they could take and snapped and killed” someone — but not necessarily women who are actually guilty of the offenses.
“I think they changed the format to women who were acquitted because of battered spouse syndrome; now it’s become women who were accused of (murder) or they didn’t do it at all,” said Foster. “That’s not the sole format, but it’s getting into new areas.”
That’s where the Gilliam case comes in, especially because of the unique nature in which the case was decided. Gilliam was acquitted on October 19 at a pre-trial conference in Laurel County Circuit Court by Special Judge Robert McGinnis, who said that there wasn’t enough evidence for another trial (according to information from the Corbin Times-Tribune).
This was after a jury just couldn’t decide on whether Gilliam was guilty of murdering her husband of 44 days, London attorney Larry Gilliam, or if he’d committed suicide, and came out of deliberations as a true “hung jury” — in a way rarely seen in Kentucky courts.
“Our case took an extremely rare turn — literally, there were other lawyers who had never heard of this before and didn’t think it was possible,” said Foster, who defended Lisa Gilliam along with attorney Robert Norfleet.
“We tried it in September to a jury; after three days of hearing evidence, they retired to deliberate and came back ... and said they could not reach a verdict,” he continued. “They got what is called the ‘Allen Charge’ and were told to go back and deliberate again.”
The “Allen Charge” is a strong reminder from a judge to a jury of the importance of reaching a verdict given the time and resources put into the trial by those involved and that beliefs aren’t the same as careful examination of evidence. Yet despite this warning from the bench, the jury came back without a verdict a second time.
“At that point, the judge had to dismiss them,” said Foster. “When he did that, it created the rare circumstance where (we were) allowed to move for a direct verdict of acquittal.”
The defense attorneys did just that, within three days of the jury’s dismissal, and the judge eventually granted that motion.
The key piece of evidence in the case was a gun in the desk drawer of Lisa Gilliam, according to the prosecution, in the same office where Larry Gilliam was found dead in January 2011.
“The officer who took this case to the grand jury to begin with, I asked under oath if he had any evidence to link my client to this gun, and he said no — no evidence she touched it, fired it, that she shot him, nothing,” said Foster. “(Judge) McGinnis said the question of the case literally boiled down to who put the gun in the desk drawer.
“The gun ended up in the top righthand desk drawer of where my client was sitting ... but that doesn’t necessarily mean that my client did something,” he continued. “It could be the lawyer shot himself right over the drawer and the gun fell in. It could be that she dropped it in the drawer to keep him from shooting himself further. The judge said the gun could have gotten in the drawer for a good reason or a sinister reason, but there’s not reason why anyone should speculate or infer from that.”
Apparently, the question was too tough for the jury to answer, resulting in the set of circumstances which ended up setting this case apart from others like it.
“I don’t want to state with authority that that’s the first time it’s happened in the history of the Commonwealth, but I’ve never seen it before,” said Foster. “I’ve known a lot of people practicing law for a long time and have never heard of it in a murder case. It captured a lot of attention — not just in Kentucky, but in a lot of areas.”
It also apparently captured the attention of the producers of “Snapped,” who quickly reached out to the Somerset defense team, still celebrating the big victory.
“They called me on the telephone (about four weeks ago) to see if we wanted to do a story,” said Foster. “Naturally, we’re always happy to tell our client’s success story.
“After we’d talked about the case for a while, they came up (to Somerset) and went over evidence for several hours on what happened, the procedure, what our evidence was, what the prosecution showed in their evidence, looked at the trial tape.”
The show interviewed Foster and Norfleet, as well as paralegal Gena Southerland and attorney Ryan Morrow, who was a witness in the case.
It was the first time Foster had taken part in any sort of media attention of this type, local TV news interviews notwithstanding, but he even got a shot at a major network show out of this, though local technology provided a bit of a hang-up for that version of the Gilliam story to get on the air.
“‘Dateline NBC’ actually flew down and interviewed us too,” said Foster. “They were considering doing a show, but they couldn’t do a show unless the judge ordered a new trial, because they had to have high-definition video footage for their show, and they didn’t have it — they just had the courtroom camera.
“‘Snapped’ is just relying on (existing footage),” he added. “They went to Laurel County and got some still shots and video of the surrounding area. I suspect that they will have re-enactments, but I don’t know that for certain.”
Foster didn’t expect this sort of media attention, but said that it was “definitely interesting” to see the process of making a show like this up close and in person, and all of what went into the program. He’s also aware of just how much is done to produce a limited amount of on-screen material.
“I know they will probably only play about 10 to 15 minutes of the interview, but the show took probably three to four hours of video footage to get that,” he said.
However, the experience was a pleasant one — “The crew was just such a nice, kind group of people; extremely easy-going,” said Foster. “It was just such an interesting case.”
Exactly when the “Snapped” episode will air on Oxygen, a lifestyle cable channel aimed at a decidedly female demographic, is unknown, though the timeframe for producing an episode usually takes several months for shows of this nature.
Foster is just glad his client got the justice he felt she deserved — and that her story will be seen by a national audience, even if it gets the classic television treatment.
“I would imagine they have to put a certain spin on the show for broadcast ratings,” said Foster, “but I also believe that anyone who watches the show and sees the evidence will agree that there’s nothing there to support a murder conviction.”