2.12.2002 09:12

An act of law

Prosecutor take the stage

Journal Staff Writer

For Raymond Veary, a jury can be just like an audience, one settling in for an evening's performance, waiting to hear a good story.

And Veary, a prosecutor in the Bristol County district attorney's office, aims to please. Only he is not looking for applause or fame or accolades. He seeks to tell stories with a larger purpose: "to get a verdict and be able to bring some wrongdoer to justice."

"Good storytelling not only helps the author, it helps the actor on stage and it helps the lawyer in the courtroom," said Veary.

He is one to know, counting himself not only as a lawyer, but as an actor and playwright, too.

The law bug bit Veary early, in his undergraduate days at Norwich University, in Vermont. "I'd always been interested in government and how it works, history," said Veary, now 54. "I think law was a natural development from those interests."

Veary did an internship with the Vermont Department of Correction, touring county jails, gathering data as part of plans to regionalize. "That gave me a particular insight into the criminal law," said Veary. "That, quite honestly, gets my juices going more than some of the other areas of the law."

Veary's career has never strayed far from criminal law, passing through the district attorney's office several times.

Beginning in 1977, after Boston College Law School and a stint in the Army, Veary found himself in private practice, working part time as a prosecutor under John Tierney, the district attorney who went on to a career as a Superior Court judge. When the state did away with part-time district attorneys, Tierney stepped down, and Veary's law partner, Ronald Pina, won election as district attorney. Within a year, Veary was first assistant district attorney, the D.A.'s top lieutenant.

With that standing came several big cases. "I am cursed with being around notorious cases with some regularity," said Veary. "It's just God's plan for me."

Heading that list is Big Dan's, the 1984 gang rape trial that inspired the Jodie Foster movie The Accused . The Big Dan's case was broken into two simultaneous trials, one heard in the morning and one in the afternoon. Veary handled the afternoon prosecution, securing convictions of the two defendants in that case.

The latest big case finds Veary prosecuting five teenagers charged with plotting a massacre at New Bedford High School. The notoriety, along with the public criticism and second-guessing that comes with a high-profile case, are familiar to Veary -- and something with which he said he does not concern himself.

"It's a path that I've walked before," said Veary. "You make your decisions. You try to be true to those decisions. Chances are you're going to get credit when you don't deserve it and you're going to get blamed when you don't deserve it. Hopefully, it works out evenly."

Veary's first full-time run at the district attorney's office came to an end in 1991, when Paul Walsh took over after beating Pina. Veary returned to private practice, partnered with Pina.

As the 1990s came to an end, Veary and Pina saw their legal interests heading in different directions. "I was looking for different possibilities." Walsh called him and asked him to have a cup of coffee. Walsh offered him a job, and Veary returned to the prosecutor's office in March 2000.

Veary has no intentions of leaving. "I see myself being here as long as they'll have me," he said. "Even if I won the lottery, I'd report to work the next morning."

Veary would not say the same thing about acting.

"I don't really enjoy performing as much as I once did. I'd really like to get out of it," said Veary. "It's just part of my life that keeps presenting itself and I'm pretty much resigned to it."

The stage found Veary later in life.

"I had no interest in theater through high school or college, or anything like that," said Veary. After his tour of duty in the Army in Georgia and a time performing legal work for inmates at Rhode Island's Adult Correctional Institutions, the Acushnet native returned to the New Bedford area, where a friend invited him to a local theater production. In 1979, Veary signed on with Your Theatre, a local company. "I was looking for some creative outlet," said Veary. "It also put me in the company of other creative people."

Veary would much rather write for the stage than perform on it. "Writing is more creative. Acting is recreative," he said. "You can let your imagination run wilder."

But the two compete in Veary's life. "What suffers most in preparing for a performance is the writing," he said. "The bane of all actors -- or certainly of this one -- is memorizing the lines."

Besides writing and performing character sketches of figures from New Bedford area history, Veary also has written several plays that have been performed locally and at the New York Theatre Studio. His works include Keepers, an adaptation of the Henry James story The Birthplace about the caretakers of the historical home of a famous author; Icarus, about an Italian aviator in the Mussolini era who is lost at sea, and a work that strikes close to his "other" line of work, Fear of Rats, about a prosecutor and a witness in a protection program.

Though his enthusiasm for performing is waning, Veary can see where acting has paid off in his writing and in his lawyering. "When you're performing what is written, you have a real sense of what is effective storytelling and what isn't, and that helps." Whether it is an audience or a jury, Veary seeks to feed "the hunger in us to receive a story."

Storytelling in the courtroom can sometimes be a challenge. Veary said it is an art to decide which elements in a case to leave out and which ones to emphasize.

Although it is all the rage in the media these days, Veary is not much of a fan of DNA evidence. "It's more confounding than it is helpful," he said. Unlike other evidence, such as fingerprints, it is hard to tell the story of DNA to a jury. While a police detective can take the stand and say, without hesitation, that a fingerprint belongs to so-and-so, DNA is a story of probabilities and conflicting experts.

Some of Veary's frustrations as a lawyer are not in the courtroom, but outside the courthouse.

"The streets are tougher, and people are tougher than they were 10 years ago," he said. That has resulted in more cases stalling because witnesses are more reluctant to come forward. "Serious wrongdoers are going unaddressed," said Veary. "Some people who would call themselves friends of victims have betrayed that friendship because of cowardice."

As Veary sees it, good witnesses -- not good prosecutors -- make for good cases. "The only thing the prosecutor has done is taken the bows afterward."

The son of a letter carrier and a homemaker, Veary turns to his faith to help him handle the demands of his job. A Roman Catholic, he said he attends chapel almost daily. "I pray for guidance," he said. "I've never prayed for a verdict. All I can ask is God's help in doing the best job I can do."

Next to God's help, he values the support of his wife of 16 years, Claudette a middle school teacher.

And, while he professes to be happy in his current job, he does entertain a certain fantasy as an author: "I'd love to sell bait down in Key West and write in the evening."

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