Most people outside of the medical profession never face an instance where someone’s life depends on how good they are at their jobs, but Lafayette attorney Gerald Block found himself in that scenario in 1984 when he defended a man facing the death penalty on a murder charge.
Block, now 71 years old, started his career as a plaintiff’s attorney and in 1983 switched to the public defenders office in the Lafayette area. Shortly after making the switch, he had a capital murder trial. The client, an African-American man, was charged with murdering a white man attempting to buy drugs.
It was a daunting task. Beforehand, Block sought the counsel of others who tried similar cases. He felt the jury selection would be critical. He requested sequestered voir dires, meaning that each juror should meet individually with the lawyers and judge. That request was not granted, but the judge allowed them to interview four jurors at a time.
“The selection of the jury was really important,” Block says. “We needed open-minded people.”
During the trial, Block sought to poke holes in the prosecution’s witness testimony. One witness was a drug user high on the drug Preludin (which is also known as Phenmetrazine) at the time of the murder. Another was a drug dealer. A third was the owner of the gun used in the murder. The gun owner claimed
Block’s client gave him the gun after the murder. The gun owner said he then immediately threw the weapon in the nearest body of water. Block argued that no one in his right mind would take back a gun that was just used in a murder.
Through it all, Block felt the weight of the case on his shoulders. He constantly questioned his decisions and evaluated his performance.
“I kept asking myself questions like ‘Am I doing everything I possibly could be doing?’ and ‘Why did I sleep those five hours when I could have gotten by with three instead?’” Block says.
The self-recriminations were unnecessary. After a two-and-a-half week trial, Block’s African-American client was acquitted by the all-white jury after a deliberation of only an hour. Block still sees his client periodically. He’ll be out on a walk for exercise and hear “Hey, Block!” then see his former client riding by on a bicycle or driving in his car.
Block has remained in criminal defense. When asked what keeps the work interesting after 41 years of practicing law, he said it’s both the people and the ever-changing nature of the law. There are different prosecutors and facts of the case, changing laws and other factors that make each day distinct.
Born in Lafayette, Gerald Block graduated from Loyola University of New Orleans in 1971 with a BCS degree. He earned his doctor of jurisprudence degree from Louisiana State University in 1971. He has been married to his wife Linda for 48 years. They have two children (Jennifer and Pamela) and one grandson (Thomas).
When he’s not practicing law or spending time with his family, Block loves to travel. He visited Europe for the first time in 2011 and is fascinated by the Roman ruins. In June, he and his wife will take a Baltic cruise and hit stops like Copenhagen and St. Petersburg. A former recreational athlete, Block no longer plays sports but still enjoys watching.