Nxivm defense quotes ‘Mockingbird,’ Churchill in bombastic openingMay 8, 2019
A defense attorney for Nxivm cult leader Keith Raniere quoted “To Kill a Mockingbird” and compared himself to Winston Churchill on Tuesday during his opening statement.
“You need to crawl inside his skin and walk around in it,” Marc Agnifilo told jurors of Raniere, misquoting fictional “Mockingbird” lawyer Atticus Finch — and likening his client, who’s accused of keeping a harem of sex slaves, to the Harper Lee novel’s falsely accused rapist Tom Robinson.
In the rambling trial opening, the lawyer admitted jurors might find certain aspects of the case “distasteful” — such as allegations that his client possessed child porn and had his sex slaves branded with his initials — but that he would “defend [Raniere’s] intentions until my very last breath in the courtroom.”
Agnifilo then recalled the Battle of Dunkirk and compared himself to Churchill, borrowing from the late British prime minister’s 1940 speech following the defeat.
“I will defend my island home, and my island home is that man’s good faith,” he said, pointing at Raniere. “Until the shooting is done . . . and at the end of that the flag of freedom will be flying.”
“A lot of this is about perspective,” the lawyer said of his 58-year-old client. “[Witnesses] are going to come in here and say Raniere was hard on us. But that’s what they wanted.
“This is something people signed up for.”
Then, at day’s end, Agnifilo motioned for a mistrial, saying his client’s right to a fair trial had been torpedoed by a decision from prosecutors to address some witnesses by first names or nicknames only but provide full names of others, therefore signaling that some people were true victims.
Brooklyn federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis said he’d hear arguments from both sides in the morning but erupted when Agnifilo tried to make an additional point.
“I didn’t stop you when you compared your client to Winston Churchill,” the judge barked, misstating the defense arguments.
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