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Conduct Of An Independent And Equitable Nature
- an article from the Business Times
 

 
   Nearly each night prime time television brings attorneys into living rooms across the country. Captivated by their keen sense of judgment and relentless pursuit of justice, America has become fascinated with Hollywoodís depiction of the everyday duties of those working in our justice system. Many picture prosecuting attorneys to be like that of Jack McCoy of "Law and Order" - the perennially stern, loner type Ė with nothing or no one to rush home to.

Bill Tackettís carriage and demeanor donít fit with the publicís perception of a prosecuting attorney. Stern and decisive when before the bench, yet from the street side of the courtroom doors, Tackett emerges as a lighthearted husband and father.

No, he may not be the real McCoy, but Tackettís professional record equals or exceeds that of the TV attorney - pretty impressive since Tackett said there are no scripts for closing arguments.

While television prosecutors mesmerize their audiences, Tackettís power is real and tangible. His is a power that can shape futures and change lives forever.


Beyond A Reasonable Doubt?

As one of four assistant prosecutors in the Cole County Prosecutorís office, Bill Tackett represents the state in criminal cases within the county. Tackett first becomes involved in the case after his office has made a charging decision and works through the process until the case is disposed of in one manner or another (charges dropped, plea bargain, trial).

"Itís the prosecutor who is ultimately responsible for charging decisions and then stacks up evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt," Tackett said.

This call is a difficult one and not one that Tackett takes lightly. It means he must objectively analyze the evidence within the framework provided by the law and ultimately decide if the evidence proves guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Pressure by various factions, including the public, law enforcement agencies or political figures, can often complicate cases. But Tackett said he is comfortable with making decisions on his own when called upon to do so.

"Ultimately, you are the one looking in the eyes of the jury saying Ďheís guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,í" Tackett said. "Standing before that jury, itís a lonely place. Itís a critical moment and those factions arenít there, you are."

Tackett said the prosecutorís early involvement creates a setting where a personís suspected guilt or potential innocence are given equal consideration. While his charge is clearly to defend the law and to prosecute those who violate it, Tackett understands the incredibly volatile situations that he deals with on a daily basis.

"When you make a charging decision, you are dealing with somebodyís future and their civil liberties," he said.

Consequently, when called upon Tackett makes every charging decision with the full assumption that each case will go to trial where 12 reasonable jurors conclude that the evidence proves guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

"To do less than that would be absolutely irresponsible," he said.

Tackett doesnít deny the possibility that there are some prosecutors that make charging decisions for the wrong reasons. Tackett said charges filed because the prosecutor believes the defendant is "good for" the crime, rather than whether the elements can be proved, "turn the process on its ear."

"If they (prosecutors) arenít satisfying the elements of the law and are filing these charges," Tackett said, "they will eventually be caught reaching by a jury which will result in an acquittal."

The cowboy image of a prosecutor riding into town saying, "Letís hang everybody or letís lock them all up regardless of their guilt," isnít consistent with the framework of the law that Tackett said he defends.

Nor is allowing affluent, high-profile, or powerful defendants to get through the cracks. Tackett said his office has dealt with several of these cases including a former secretary of state and two former state senators. He maintains that these are non-issues for he and his colleagues in the Cole County office.

"Those factors never played in," Tackett said. "To allow them to bastardizes the whole process. Itís inexcusable.

Chief of Police Roger Schroeder said that Tackettís blending of academic background and experience warrant his utmost confidence.

"Typically, when Bill takes a case to court, Bill wins that case," Schroeder said.

Schroeder also pointed to Tackettís sense of humor as another one of his strengths.

"Heís not afraid to laugh at himself and say, íThereís always another day,í" Schroeder said.


Evidence Of Success

The Cole Countyís Prosecutorís office is made up of some 20 people who work on the third floor of the courthouse annex on High Street. Richard Callahan heads up the prosecutorís office and is the departmentís only elected official. Callahan handles his own caseload; making charging decisions, investigating events, appearing in court, etc., and assigns cases to, and oversees the work of the countyís four assistant prosecuting attorneys.
 
Tackett estimates working about 100 felony cases a year. Of those, Tackett said several go either to pretrial hearings or to trial each month. (These stats are roughly the same for the other three assistants and Callahan.) Of the nearly 65 juries that Tackett has presented cases to on behalf of the people of Cole County, heís had incredible success. One jury returned a vote to acquit and one returned hopelessly deadlocked Ė the other 63 returned guilty verdicts. Of his jury trials, about half have been appealed to higher courts, which have upheld all of Tackettís convictions to date.

"Things have broken well for me at trial," Tackett said. "and luck can play a big part in this. But I could lose the next one - thatís just how volatile the business is."

Tackettís 12 years of service to Cole County havenít went unrecognized by community leaders.

"Bill has stayed with us even though Iím just guessing that heís been offered positions with more money," said Cole County Sheriff John Hemeyer. "Iíve watched these guys for about 29 years in law enforcement and he is unique."

Cole County Circuit Judge Tom Brown said that Tackett has been successful because of his talent and his understanding and commitment to the communityís sense of justice.

"Bill just has that natural ability to talk to a jury," Brown said.

Eight years ago, Tackett received his first call to act as a special prosecutor for a high profile case in Gasconade County. Special prosecutors are appointed by presiding judges in instances when a case creates enough emotional tension or a potential conflict of interest within the local prosecutorís office, requiring that an outside attorney be brought in to deal with the case.

In Tackettís first case as a special prosecutor, a car leaving a Hermann bar drifted from the northbound lane of Highway 19, across the centerline, colliding with an incoming southbound car. The occupants of both cars were killed.

The crash happened during "Oktoberfest," and all in the errant car had been drinking. The owner of the bar was now in hot water, with statewide sentiment calling for the abolishment of the popular citywide fall festival.

In taking his first case as a special prosecutor, Tackett worked evenings and weekends to establish a timeline of events. He discovered that: the men in the northbound car had driven to Hermann earlier in the day from St. Louis; that they had been drinking long before they arrived at the bar in question; that witnesses at the bar said the occupants of the errant car carried themselves as if sober; and that, if not all in the errant car, certainly the driver had fallen asleep at the wheel, unknowingly setting in motion a series of deaths.

After careful examination of the evidence in the Hermann case, the bar owner Tackett was to prosecute, was keep blameless for all intents and purposes.

"I called a grand jury and they refused to indict the bar owner based on the 28 witnesses I presented during the grand jury proceeding," Tackett said.

Itís rare for an assistant prosecutor to serve as a special prosecutor, but due to Tackettís handling of the case, Missouriís judicial community has since tapped him as a special prosecutor 26 times.

The Gasconade County case outlined the very components of the prosecutorís job that Tackett values. A case can be taken to trial, or a plea bargain can be arranged before a trial occurs. Or it might be found during discovery that thereís simply no merit in a trial at all.

Just as his first case as a special prosecutor is memorable for Tackett, certain cases within Cole County stay fresh in his mind as well, if for no other reason than for their sad illustration of what one person is capable of doing to another.

Not that many years ago, a womanís boyfriend left her to be with another woman. The abandoned girlfriend later learned that the new girlfriend had become pregnant and that the man intended to stay with her. Ignorant but determined, the bitter woman hired three people to beat the girlfriend to induce a miscarriage. During the beatings, the attackers also attempted to inject a mixture of antifreeze and cocaine into the developing child. The desperate womanís reasoning? Her wayward man would return once the prospect of fatherhood was eliminated.

"Luckily, the needle on the syringe wasnít long enough," Tackett said.

The woman recovered, her child was born (unaffected by the attack) and four people are now in the process of paying their debts to society.

Regardless of public sentiment or heinous circumstances, Tackett noted that itís important to know when to take a case to trial and when not to.

"You have to take only the cases (to trial) that you feel are beyond a reasonable doubt, so the jury doesnít tell you differently," Tackett said. "You have to maintain a healthy respect for the juries."

The respect and dedication for public service and government displayed by Tackett was influenced, if not inspired by his grandfather. At the age of 24, Tackettís maternal grandfather took his place in the senate chambers in Wisconsinís capitol. The young senator helped draft a number of legislative initiatives, including one that created Wisconsinís university extension system.

After leaving public office and becoming a successful businessman, Tackettís grandfather continued to capitalize on his ability to take causes he felt worthy and to then bring together enough like-minded people to turn ideas into civic action.

Tackett said that visits to see his grandfather in northern Wisconsin were filled with evening trips to fundraisers, dinners and meetings and he considers him an inspiration in public service.

"He was deeply rooted in public service and on top of that, he was a great orator," Tackett said.


A Foundation Of Education

In the 1950s, college professors Marshall and Natalie Tackett were raising two sons and a daughter in Highland, Ind. In 1959, their youngest child, William, was born, and two years later, the Tackett family moved to Maryville, Mo. A town of some 10,000, Maryville was home to Northwest Missouri State University where the senior Tacketts had accepted teaching positions.

William, known by Bill to most everyone, said growing up in a small college town was a pleasant time in which he learned a host of life skills.

Billís parents owned a number of rental homes in Maryville, and the men of the Tackett family served as handymen to the rental enterprise. Thanks to young, rambunctious tenants and old, high-maintenance homes, most Saturdays were spent practicing the varied building trades of roofing, plumbing, electrical work and carpentry. In time, Billís older brothers left the house, creating a two-man maintenance crew of father and youngest son.

"Iíll tell people that Iím going to put on a roof, or drywall or something and they canít believe it," Tackett said of the reaction he gets as an attorney with a mastery of basic construction.

Unfortunately, those lessons taught by father to son were tragically cut short.

On a northwestern Missouri fall weekend in the mid-1970s, Billís father went for a walk with the familyís dog. Not long after he had left, Bill heard the sirens. Marshall Tackett had suffered a fatal heart attack.

Tackett, 16-years-old at the time, said his dad might have even asked if heíd like to go along on the walk. Understandably, Tackett remains unsure if it would have made things better, or worse had he gone along. But he is certain about something his father told him on that last fall day.

"He told me, ĎReally, there are only two things you need to know: pay your bills and be a gentleman,í" Tackett recalled. "And itís true. Simple, but true. How much trouble can you get into if you follow that advice?"

Tackett went on to graduate from high school in Maryville in 1978. Days later, he and his mother moved to Jefferson City, where Natalie Tackett embarked on a new position in academia. Meanwhile, her son Bill embarked on an impressive educational tenure at the University of Missouri-Columbia, where he earned a bachelorís degree in journalism, a masterís in public administration and, in 1987, a law degree.

"When I first met Bill, I recognized a young man of energy and promise," said Odie Dickens, a public relations firm owner who first met Tackett in 1980.

"He had a single-minded purposefulness about him," Dickens recalled. "I think he knew what he wanted in life early on and he knew how he was going to go about getting it."

While at the university, Tackett worked on various Missouri Supreme Court committees and said that the experiences garnered in and out of school during this time helped to stimulate his interest in pursuing a career in law.

Not long after graduating with his law degree, Tackett briefly clerked at the Supreme Court before securing a position in Kansas City as an assistant prosecuting attorney in the Jackson County prosecuting attorneyís office.

"I went there to get a look at how things were done in the big city," Tackett said. "Itís far more diverse in places like that with larger populations and it was extremely interesting."

Tackett knew in advance that he wasnít looking to make a lifelong career in Kansas City, but had planned to work there for at least two years. During his first year, though, Tackett received a phone call from a Richard Callahan. Callahan, who was first elected to serve as Cole Countyís prosecutor in 1986, was looking to add to his staff of three assistant prosecuting attorneys to respond to an increased workload.

Callahan strongly encouraged Tackett to finish out his plan of a two-year stint in Jackson County, but the lure of being close to family again and a sense of accomplishment after a year in the Kansas City office weighed heavily on Tackettís mind.

"Rich and I had known each other for years and he had encouraged me to go into prosecution," Tackett said. "We had discussed the possibility of my joining his office over several months and it eventually became apparent to me that he would he have to fill the position with or without me."

Callahan found he wouldnít have to do without - in 1989, Tackett headed back to the Capital City.


The New Law

In 1982, Tackett, via of a series of acquaintances, was asked to give a high school student from Boonville a tour of the capitol. Tackett took on the task grudgingly - when youíre in college, high school kids are light years away from your intellectual level - and ended the tour by losing his one and only tourist.

"I left her on a bench and told her Iíd be right back, and when I did come back, she was gone," Tackett said.

Tackett eventually found his charge roaming the corridors and the event was quickly and gratefully over, though he kept occasional tabs on the girl through the girlís sister, who was an MU classmate of Tackettís.

Thirteen years later the four-year age difference seemed less like light years and more like a possibility. Through an MU alumni newsletter, Tackett had discovered that the girl from Boonville was now working for the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Cautiously, Tackett eventually mapped out a strategy and drove north.

"I went up to MU to ask her for a date," Tackett said. "I told her Iíd like to take her to a football game and she said, Ďyes.í"

As he was about to work out the details of time, place and ticket procurement, Sarah Reesman told Tackett that, as a part of her job, she already had tickets to that game, and every football game. For that matter, she would have tickets to just about every MU sporting event imaginable.

After all, she was an assistant athletic director.

"It never dawned on me that she would have had tickets," Tackett said with a laugh. "I thought about that all the way home that day."

Although he was recognizably not the most capable of tour guides, Reesman agreed on a meeting with Tackett.

"I knew who he was and there were some similarities in our backgrounds Ė I guess you could say that I was open to at least visiting with him," said Reesman with a laugh, noting that it took Tackett two years after reading about her in the newsletter to find the courage to approach her.

The following year, in June of 1996, Tackett and Reesman were married.

Reesman had also earned a law degree, which she used briefly in private practice in Kansas City before signing on with MU as one of the four associate athletic directors

Tackett and Reesman have a daughter, Kelley, who is now 3-and-a-half years old.

Tackett has carried what he learned as a child in a family environment rich with parental interaction and affection to his own role as parent and husband. Nearly every morning, Tackett reads to daughter Kelley for 45 minutes. He then takes her to daycare, where Kelley stays until the afternoon, when Tackettís mother picks her up.

"For her first two years, I would feed her lunch, too - even when there was a trial on," Tackett said.

Usually leaving the office no later than just after 5 p.m., Tackett picks up Kelley from his momís and the two spend the early evening together, typically preparing the family dinner in advance of Sarahís arrival.

"Itís rare for us not to be together in the evening," Tackett said, adding that all three together take in most of the evening MU games at which his wife is obliged to be present.

Outside the home and the office, Tackett makes a civic investment of time and talent to organizations like the Special Olympics and Boy Scouts of America. Over the past six years, Tackett has also worked extensively with the Rape and Abuse Crisis Service (RACS).

In his first year with the office, Tackett prosecuted one of Cole Countyís first domestic violence cases. Since then, heís tried many, many more, each involving an abuser and an abused and most involving young children as frightened observers, trying to make sense of what has unfolded in their homes. Unfortunately, children of abusers Tackett has prosecuted have themselves been tried on domestic violence charges.

"Thatís typical for the cycle of violence," Tackett said, a long time RACS board member and past chairman. "That cycle can be broken with the right counseling and thatís what RACS provides - not just counseling for the victims, but for the children, too."

Tackett offers not only his legal expertise, but also his personal ambition to improve the quality of life.

"Bill has been able to offer not only his professional experience helping victims of domestic violence and sexual assault as a prosecutor, but also his personal dedication to improving and expanding the services RACS provides to those victims," said RACS Director Jim Clardy of Tackett. "He also gives dozens of presentations to local groups to help raise the awareness of abuse problems in the area."

Tackettís domestic violence cases have often brought him into close contact with children who have either witnessed, or been the target of abuse.

Tackett said that that before his daughter came into his life he would automatically begin thinking of case strategy when leading a child into a courtroom to testify. Hardly indifferent, Tackett was simply prone to remain in "trial mode," thinking more about the job he had to do and much less about the emotions involved.

"You have to disassociate yourself from the cases to a certain degree. You just have to," Tackett said. "But now that we have Kelley, I better understand the to the feelings of the children involved in cases."

 
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This page last updated 13 January 2015