Book Review: Danger Road by former prosecutor John P Contini
By Ray Hanania
As a journalist, I have covered my share of felony court trials, including several involving murder. I’ve seen how painful these trials can be for everyone, especially when a life has been taken.
The public has seen and read about dozens of these cases through the news media. But few have really had a front row seat in a trial where a man’s future faced life or death.
John P. Contini is a highly experienced and high powered veteran of criminal law. A former Broward County felony trial prosecutor based in Ft. Lauderdale in South Florida, Contini used his experience to open his own practice in 1987, this time defending the criminally accused. He has since successfully represented thousands of criminal defendants in Florida and throughout the United States.
One of his cases involved a Miami-Dade police officer, Gilbert Fernandez Jr., who was one of three defendants accused in the killing of three drug dealers who were murdered in 1983. No case is more controversial than when a police officer is accused of involvement in a crime, especially one involving murder and drugs. Seven years later, Fernandez and two other officers were indicted and sat center stage in a high profile trial that received national media coverage.
But Contini fought for his client’s rights against overwhelming odds to a surprising conclusion.
“Danger Road: A True Crime Story or Murder and Redemption” tells the story of the crime, the years between the indictment and the trial. It also tells the story of Fernandez, a former Mr. Florida bodybuilder champion and black-belt karate instructor, whose life transformed as he transitioned in the face of harrowing challenge, finding God.
Contini not only details the crimes, Fernandez’s life transformation and the trial, but he also gives his readers deep insight into the victims, their families, and the accused and their families. So many people suffer and lose in a crime like this on all sides.
With so much public animosity towards the accused police officers, you can imagine the pressures on the judge and the court. Contini writes in his epilogue about the conflicted feelings he experienced, fighting to defend his client, while facing a jury conviction and sentencing.
“When I used to think about the incredible unfairness and illegalities in the trial, I would only think selfishly about the fact that I had been robbed, too. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that the loss of the acquittal and my perception of malfeasance during the trial doesn’t even belong in the same category as the losses suffered by the victims and their loved ones, or the losses experienced by Gil’s family.”
It’s an incredible story that will hold your attention hostage through every page. Real life drama that we only hear about in condensed, news media brevity. The real story can only come out from someone who was embedded in the case from the beginning. Someone who has worked on both sides of the criminal court as a prosecutor and a defense attorney, and from someone who has a powerful and deep sense of religious faith.
Contini is recognized as one of the nation’s top faith-based as well as secular legal authorities on individual rights and freedoms. He can speak with equal authority from both the secular perspective and the faith perspective, citing the statutes or the scriptures when appropriate.
In 2010, Contini was recognized by the National American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) for championing the rights of Husien Shehada. Shehada, on a visit with his brother, had been gunned down by a controversial Miami Beach Police officer with a history of violence and drugs. The ADC Pro Bono Award was presented to Contini during a ceremony in Washington DC to also honor U.S. Attorney Eric Holder. ADC credit Contini’s “selfless fight to defend the rights of Shehada” and “for his outstanding commitment in serving the Arab-American community and for his unwavering assistance to ADC.”
“Everyone has the inalienable right to the best professional legal defense, regardless of guilt and irrespective of the charges,” Contini said. “And I also strongly believe the individual is benefited greatly in more ways than one, when they are reintroduced to faith and develop a renewed hope in moving on with their life."
Contini frequently speaks to church groups, legal conferences, public workshops and conventions about his experiences and his books with a passion that is compelling. He’d love to hear from you.
Danger Road: A True Crime Story of Murder and Redemption
Liberty Press Publishing, 2006
254 pp Softcover
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(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist, author and former Chicago City Hall reporter.)