Eddie Harrison was in deep trouble. It was 1960, and he was an 18-year-old Black man accused of killing a loan shark in Washington, D.C., where a first-degree murder conviction would send him to the electric chair. The only person fighting for his life was an eccentric public defender named L.A. Harris. The 49-year-old lawyer was known as a hard fighter who saved clients from death row using legal gymnastics and courtroom histrionics.

“He felt that we were going to win with no problem,” Harrison later recalled in his memoir, No Time for Dying. Harris told his client to make his story coherent and then stick to it. “Write it down, recite it every day, and don’t change it, no matter what happens.”

That story, Harrison’s version of it at least, began on a quiet March morning in 1960. Harrison was 17 and desperately needed a job—his teenage girlfriend was pregnant—so he and two friends, Orson White and Joseph Sampson, planned to travel to Maryland to find work. Harrison decided to pawn a shotgun to raise money for the journey.

After breakfast, Harrison arrived at the home of the loan shark in Washington. “Cider George” Brown weighed nearly 300 pounds and had six girlfriends, three houses and a Cadillac. He also liked to entice gamblers by reciting a catchphrase while fanning a large roll of banknotes: “Show them you got it, and they want it.”

Harrison knocked on his door.

“You got something for me?” Brown asked through the door. “Yes, I have a gun,” replied Harrison.

“Let me see it, come on in.”

When the door opened, Brown seemed startled for a brief second. Perhaps he had seen White lurking in the background, a man he didn’t know, and slammed the door. “As a reflex motion, I jerked the gun up to prevent it from breaking the glass as the door was closing,” Harrison remembered years later. The gun hit the window and accidentally went off. “I had never heard a sound as loud as this. It sounded like a tremendous explosion,” he said. Instinctively, Harrison sprinted away, hiding the gun under his sweater. The three panicking boys roared away in their car.

The close-range blast killed Brown instantly. It destroyed his brain, blew his eyes out of their sockets and nearly ripped his head off his shoulders. His massive body fell against the door, jamming it shut. Cops had to climb in through a window. “Gambler murdered!” screamed the headlines, in Harrison’s recollection. Others read: “Gangland-type slaying.”

Even though he later maintained that the shooting had been an accident, Harrison initially boasted to a friend, Benjamin Eugene Valentine, that he’d murdered Brown. “Somehow I wanted to be connected with the notoriety of being involved in such a newsworthy case,” he recalled in his memoir. “To hear people whisper my name. … I felt elated, a big-time gangster who would be admired by the rest of the hustlers.” Valentine turned him in, and all three boys found themselves under arrest at a police station, where Harrison says officers badly beat him.

Afterward, they dragged Harrison into a room where White and Sampson were waiting, eyes swollen, lips busted. The police had decided this was a premeditated murder—a robbery gone wrong. An officer pushed a sheet of typewritten paper toward Harrison. “Sign it right there,” he said. Harrison obliged.

Mugshots of three men convicted of murder
Newspapers ciurculated mugshots of the three accused teenagers. Newspaper clipping

All three boys were sent by bus to the D.C. jail and locked in separate cells. Harrison was passed a scrap of paper from his friends saying they were being charged with first-degree murder. At an inquest hearing, Sampson had rustled up a lawyer who agreed to represent all three of them. “L.A. Harris was a trial lawyer. He was Black and thin with a lean hard face and an inquisitive glare,” Harrison recalled.

When Harris heard that Harrison had signed that confession, he was incredulous. “I know these [police] are a bunch of lying bastards, but don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of it!” he promised. Their innocence would be proved at trial.

Harrison liked the lawyer immediately. “His presence alone somehow reassured me, and I relaxed.” As he told his story, Harris took notes and scribbled diagrams on his pad. Harrison insisted that he hadn’t even known the gun was loaded and had quickly destroyed it in an incinerator. But when Harrison finished speaking, the lawyer shook his head.

“If you go into a courtroom with that story, you’re going to talk yourself right into jail,” Harris said.

“I don’t know what else to say. It’s the truth, damn it!” Harrison replied.

“What I care about is winning the case,” Harris told him. “The government’s case is going to be hard to prove, and I’m going to make it tougher. … We are going to have to completely destroy the government’s case, piece by piece.”

On October 12, 1960, Harris marched into the courtroom wearing a snappy, British-cut suit. He openly chewed gum and, at times, didn’t bother standing to address the judge. But he eloquently and systematically set about demolishing the evidence against his clients. “If you’re going to convict a man on this sort of trash, ladies and gentlemen, then none of us in the District are safe,” Harris told the jury. The trial, which began in late September, quickly became the best show in town. The gallery overflowed with spectators.

One day, Harris tore into one of the policemen on the stand. “What would happen to a policeman who admitted to beating a suspect?” he asked.

“He would probably be dismissed from the force,” the sergeant said.

“Then I ask you, sir: If you had beaten Eddie Harrison, would you come into the courtroom and admit it? Will you answer the question, sir!”

The policeman fell silent. He looked to the prosecutor for help, but none came.

“I have no further questions, Your Honor,” Harris said in triumph. “The answer is obvious!”

“If you’re going to convict a man on this sort of trash, ladies and gentlemen, then none of us in the District are safe.”

Harris also introduced a key witness who said he’d seen Harrison at Cider George Brown’s home back in February, handing a gun to Brown. This proved that Harrison was in the business of pawning weapons to Brown, the lawyer argued. And anyway, if the boys had planned to rob Brown, why had police found over $2,000 in cash on his dead body? This had been no robbery, Harris declared triumphantly.

After four weeks of trial, both sides rested their cases. Harrison described Harris’ closing argument as “a fiery speech that was at times soft and hypnotic.” The lawyer reminded the jury that if there were any shadow of a doubt about his client’s guilt, they should deem him not guilty. Then, as his speech approached its climax, Harris reached for a glass of water, pivoted and collapsed in a heap on the floor, overcome by emotion and exhaustion. A female spectator let out a scream.

Harris was transported to a nearby hospital for “cardiac asthma” as the jurors weighed their verdict. By then, he had become the most talked-about lawyer in Washington. His behavior had aroused the suspicions of investigators who would later accuse him of being a fraud. One reporter would call his legal career “the greatest courtroom hoax America has ever known.” The case would soon involve FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, a national manhunt and the intervention of a sitting president. But it was the Washington Afro-American newspaper that first asked the question: “Who is Harris?”

When the man who called himself L.A. Harris started practicing law in 1949, it was almost impossible for a Black man to get a fair trial. The idea that defendants are entitled to “a jury of their peers” is never actually mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. It’s a phrase that goes back to Magna Carta, a 13th-century document signed by British noblemen to protect themselves from King John. The document declared that no “freeman” could be imprisoned, outlawed or banished “except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.”

Headline from the Washington Afro-American
A headline from the Washington Afro-American Washington Afro-American

In the Bill of Rights, the framers of the Constitution did guarantee “the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury,” but the word “impartial” left a lot of room for interpretation. For many generations, African Americans rarely had the opportunity to go to law school and were routinely excluded from jury selection, which meant that an accused Black man would go into the courtroom knowing that white lawyers, a white judge and a dozen white jurors would determine his fate.

If these were impossible times for Black defendants, they were also difficult for Black lawyers. Success stories like Charles Hamilton Houston were rare. In 1922, Houston became the first Black person to serve on the Harvard Law Review and went on to serve as the dean of Howard University School of Law, where he mentored Thurgood Marshall, the first Black Supreme Court justice. But even the most brilliant Black lawyers of the day generally had to hold down extra jobs to make ends meet. Walter Washington, who earned his law degree from Howard in 1948 and later became the first elected mayor of the District of Columbia, worked at the post office by day and practiced law at night, according to John Crump, executive director emeritus of the National Bar Association. Some Black lawyers had to wait tables to support themselves.

All of this made the glamour of L.A. Harris especially conspicuous. Along with his fancy tailoring, Harris was known for driving a white Corvair and boasted about knowing Robert F. Kennedy. He scored lucrative civil damage cases, criminal cases and first-degree murder cases. For a year and half, he was one of the most active lawyers in the nation’s capital. Once he told a colleague: “I am tired, tired; if I win this one, I will go to Bermuda for six months.”

Harris was a chameleon who knew how to bamboozle a rival lawyer with baffling legalese, just as he knew how to gain the business of common criminals by speaking the language of the streets. He knew when to tell a murder suspect to get his story straight, as he did with Eddie Harrison. He knew all these things because he’d been there himself.

Before he was L.A. Harris, or Bert Campbell, or Reginald Van Water, or any of the 25 other fake identities he assumed during his life, his parents scrawled his given name in the family’s Bible: Daniel Jackson Oliver Wendell Holmes Morgan.

Morgan was born in Birmingham, Alabama, on June 6, 1911, according to a 1961 article in the Washington Post. When he was a teenager, his family moved to Michigan, and he briefly attended high school in Detroit, but at age 14 he ran away from home and told people his folks had died in a train wreck. In 1928, he was found guilty of grand larceny in Salt Lake City. Three years later in Los Angeles, he was convicted of robbery.

Morgan spent time in San Quentin, Folsom, Jackson and Marquette prisons. There, Morgan heard tales of his cellmate’s trials and became fascinated by the legal system. He saw the law could be used as a weapon and dreamed of wielding its power. He haunted prison libraries searching for any legal books he could find, and he applied for a correspondence course in law. He taught himself to type and was punished for “doing legal work for other inmates,” a prison behavior report claimed.

Doctors at San Quentin sent Morgan to a mental hospital after he claimed to be unable to walk. Once there, he miraculously won a 100-yard dash in a contest. Prison records show he was declared schizophrenic. In 1943, at age 32, he was charged in Detroit for carrying a concealed weapon and locked away once again.

By 1949, he was in Chicago, living an entirely different life. He’d rented a one-room office and started practicing law as “Edward A. Simmons.” There had been a real lawyer by that name who’d given up law and moved to Detroit. Morgan had stolen his identity and stepped into an entirely different role of an erudite man who avoided liquor and never swore. From his watch chain swung a Phi Beta Kappa key from Howard University, a symbol of membership in America’s oldest academic honor society from the country’s most respected Black institution of higher learning.

Morgan’s new incarnation of Simmons quickly attracted a new set of clients and a reputation as a fearsome public defender—cantankerous and arrogant at times, but highly successful. “He won more cases than he lost,” another lawyer later declared. Ebony wrote that he focused on cases close to his heart. “Attorney Simmons believed in racial equality,” the magazine noted.

Around 1950, the Baltimore Afro-American reported, the man then known as Simmons won the acquittal of a man charged with first-degree murder. His small law firm exploded in popularity after that, as eager young men arrived straight from law school, hoping to learn from the legal superstar as he won complicated cases and wowed spectators. Soon he upgraded to swanky new offices. But some colleagues noticed strange personality traits hiding beneath the polished exterior. “Simmons” sometimes behaved as if he’d never seen a trial before, as when he’d forget to rise from his seat before addressing the judge. One spectator assumed this was a tactic he used to “deliberately … make them mad.” Leroy Vital, a local attorney, recalled: “He seemed highly nervous and gave the impression that he suffered from ulcers. He had a way of keeping conversation on only the subjects he wanted to discuss and never let it get on him.”

Morgan acted in secretive ways. According to the Chicago Defender, on one occasion, after he was captured in a group picture at an event for attorneys, he convinced the photographer that his camera was a valuable antique and paid him $50 for it, including the film.

Chicago attorney Fred H. Elliott told Ebony that he’d noticed in Morgan a bitterness toward all wealthy and prominent people. “I always got the impression his knowledge was derived from talking to other lawyers about his cases. He had some peculiarities,” he said. When “Simmons” lost a trial, he was known to drag the judge into shouting matches over insignificant corners of the law. “The judge and the prosecutor would throw the thing out just to get him out of their hair,” said one observer. Morgan-as-Simmons sued the Chicago Tribune for $1 million after an article mistakenly named him as the defendant in a case, instead of the attorney. He sued the Chicago Transit Authority for another $1 million after a bus driver was rude to him.

“He was a good trial lawyer who could hold his own against the best,” one of the few lawyers who ever beat him in a trial, Earl E. Strayhorn, told Ebony. “But he had a knack for antagonizing the court, a nastiness and snootiness that was his Achilles’ heel.”

“I always got the impression his knowledge was derived from talking to other lawyers about his cases.”

In November 1955, Morgan-as-Simmons tried a case in Freeport, Illinois. When his client’s release was delayed, he argued that the sheriff should be cited for contempt. A furious judge ordered an investigation into Edward A. Simmons.

Attorneys and others who had known the real Simmons reported that he’d been in his 50s, stocky and of medium height. So who was this tall young man? Sensing a net closing around him, the false Simmons pulled down his diplomas, licenses and certificates “to have them reframed,” and dashed out, complaining about his ulcers. He didn’t stop running till he reached California. There, he adopted yet another persona.

When John “Jack” Frost applied for a job as a newspaper salesman at the Black-owned Crown City Press in Pasadena, California, the man who interviewed him, J. Robert Smith, noticed suspicious items on Frost’s resumé. Frost claimed to have worked at the Portland Oregonian, a paper Smith knew had no Black staff. But there was something else. “Perfection,” Smith recalled. “He did everything just right.” Smith, a former investigative journalist with the Associated Negro Press, quickly discovered Frost’s true identity. The FBI had been looking for Morgan for his Chicago foibles; Smith called the feds and printed a damning exposé in his newspaper.

Federal agents caught Morgan hiding in a closet. After his arrest, he refused to admit his identity and fought extradition to Illinois for 18 months by performing complicated legal maneuvers. Eventually, he was thrown into a special section of the Cook County jail to separate him from his former clients. In prison, he gave up smoking and spent a year buried in law books, making clever suggestions to his court-appointed attorney.

Outrageously, Morgan made a bid to disqualify all District Court judges from presiding at his trial, claiming that the “bloodstream of court has been fouled and is poisonous.” After this failed, he unexpectedly pleaded guilty and asked for the court’s mercy. The judge joked that Morgan’s long name “alone was enough to drive the man to almost anything,” and the court sentenced him to six months in federal prison.

Not long after he was released, Morgan arrived in Washington, D.C. and quickly got back to his old ways. He opened up a legal office five blocks from his home and started doing business. He took on the identity of a lawyer named Lawrence Archie (L.A.) Harris, with whom he’d briefly shared an office back in Chicago. Soon after, he’d take on the Harrison case to save his client from the electric chair.

His spectacular collapse in the courtroom at Harrison’s trial did nothing to sway the jurors, who found Harrison and his two co-defendants guilty of murder in the first degree. But the collapse did attract the attention of a private investigator sitting in the gallery. Clarence Sweetney had a nagging feeling that he had seen Harris before. He shared his suspicions with another lawyer friend, Julius Robertson, who remembered reading a Jet magazine article about the imposter lawyer in Chicago.

Robertson remembered that conversation when Morgan got into a car wreck in January 1961. The injured woman hired an attorney who happened to be Robertson’s partner, and when Robertson saw the name “L.A. Harris” on the lawsuit, he decided to visit the Washington office of Jet magazine. There, he found a copy of the article about Daniel Morgan, the fake Chicago lawyer, with a photograph of the man he knew as L.A. Harris. He showed the article to the judge, who called the FBI.

But it was too late to catch Harris. Sensing danger, he’d skipped town on June 22, abandoning his Corvair and flying from Philadelphia to San Francisco.

He was once again Daniel Morgan, dealing with Daniel Morgan problems. The FBI had printed his photograph on 127,000 flyers and prepared to add Morgan to its list of ten most wanted. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover spoke directly to the press, hoping the public would watch out for Morgan. “Man of many names hunted,” read a newswire sent out on June 26, 1961. “He has spent time in a mental hospital,” the FBI warned. “He should be considered possibly armed and dangerous.”

Eddie Harrison was lying on his bunk when a news report about the manhunt wafted across death row from an inmate’s radio. He was barely listening until he heard that police were searching for an ex-convict who was suspected of posing as L.A. Harris, a lawyer who had represented three Black men recently sentenced to death in the electric chair. Harrison jumped out of bed.

“Brother Orson,” he hissed at his co-defendant. “Did you hear that?”

Harrison, Orson and White were not the lawyer’s only clients serving time. A man named Emanuel Pea was also awaiting execution for killing his wife, after Harris failed to win his freedom. Several accused bank robbers were serving 5- to 15-year sentences, too. “For the first time I was somewhat shaken at the thought of being on death row,” Harrison recalled in his memoir. “I had a tremendous amount of faith in L.A. Harris and trusted that he would get me out of this trouble.”

Yet, after the initial shock subsided, Harrison had an epiphany: It was illegal for a court to try a person for a capital offense without an attorney—and technically speaking, regardless of Harrison’s own culpability, he hadn’t had proper representation. He had been illegally tried and convicted. And he couldn’t be tried again for the same crime without invoking the double jeopardy rule. “Now I held the aces, and I was going to be damn sure to play them right,” he said.

That realization left Harrison deeply relieved—and rooting for the man who had fooled him and so many others. “It was amusing to know that a Black man who had never been to law school could make a complete and total mockery of the whole judicial system by posing as an attorney,” Harrison remembered thinking. “Licensed or not, L.A. Harris was one hell of a lawyer, and I hoped they’d never catch him. Run, Black man, run!”

Morgan was a master of disguise, but he couldn’t escape the FBI for long. He was apprehended by federal agents at a YMCA hostel in San Francisco, where he’d checked in under a false name. He had shaved his head and grown a mustache, but agents identified his fingerprints. “I am John D. Clark,” he protested. “They’re all wrong. They must have made a mistake. They are not my prints. I have never been to Washington.” One headline read: “Morgan Denies He’s Morgan.”

Ebony magazine spread titled "king of the courtoom fakers"
A feature in Ebony magazine highlighted the misadventures of the so-called "king of the courtoom fakers." Clipping of Ebony magazine

Next, he refused to be extradited to Washington to appear before the U.S. commissioner, claiming he was “allergic to air travel,” and scribbled legal petitions in little notebooks that he carried. Eventually, Morgan was flown to Baltimore’s Friendship International Airport and delivered to U.S. District Court in Washington in a limousine. He hid from photographers behind a hat and later a sweater that he pulled over his head on the stand. There he insisted to the judge that he was Mr. Clark, a “paperhanger” by trade. But one reporter noticed that “Clark” shared a distinctive trait with L.A. Harris: the way he chewed gum.

The case of the marvelous Mr. Morgan dominated newspaper front pages for weeks and divided the American media. In some corners he was described as “the marvel lawyer of the age,” for mastering law without passing the bar. Others claimed he was a menace, leaving behind a trail of cases that would have to be retried. In a statement, U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy—whom Morgan had claimed as a personal friend—confirmed the hoaxer had worked on a hundred cases.

One by one, his clients started to appeal. A woman named Elsie V. Jones was granted a District Court hearing in a bid for a new trial. This gave fresh hope for several young men on death row in the District of Columbia Jail.

Nine months had passed since Harrison was sentenced to death. The United States Court of Appeals had sent his case back to the District Court to entertain a motion for a new trial with a court-appointed lawyer who planned to argue that his first trial was a sham. While waiting in D.C. Jail, Harrison found himself caught up in the excitement and the hope of freedom. Then one afternoon, he later recalled in his memoir, he was lying in bed reading when he heard a familiar voice:

“Say, Eddie?”

There was his former lawyer, “L.A. Harris,” wearing the prison blues.

“Say listen, don’t you worry about a thing,” said Morgan, who had not yet been transferred to federal prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. “You have a free ticket right out of this place if you play your cards right!”

“I was unsure of how to react to him,” Harrison said.

Their careful conversation drifted toward the trial, and soon they were working together on legal strategies to get Harrison out. Morgan “was still very much the dynamic lawyer,” Harrison recalled. “We talked for a while about the status of the case, and he agreed that our double jeopardy point was a winner.” It was strange, Harrison later recalled in his memoir how their attorney-client relationship remained intact, even under these bizarre circumstances.

Harrison’s second trial began on April 22, 1963, but it didn’t go as planned. The judge refused to make a ruling. Then, during recess, a marshal antagonized Harrison’s co-defendants, White and Sampson, and a brawl broke out. The men returned to the courtroom in shackles. All three were sentenced to life imprisonment. “A punishment harsher than death,” Harrison remembered thinking to himself.

Meanwhile, Morgan worked on his own bid for freedom. “I have now decided to represent myself,” he told the judge in a brief courtroom appearance. “I have that right.” His trial took place in November 1961, in a packed courtroom. “The characters involved in the trial made it a sideshow,” recalled one of the prosecutors. “We played a full house the whole two weeks.”

Morgan argued on his own behalf as co-counsel to a flamboyant, licensed lawyer with the improbable legal name King David. David allowed Morgan to take center stage, and later told reporters that simply watching his client was like “going to school.” Many of the people who testified on Morgan’s behalf were his defrauded—and convicted—clients, including Harrison. “The marshal would bring witnesses from the cell block. Then they’d say what a great guy Morgan was,” another prosecutor recalled, with a chuckle.

A drug dealer named Leon J. Davis even refused a retrial, saying that he was happy with his lawyer’s performance. The Baltimore Afro-American reported: “Many of his clients said he represented them though they had no money.” Morgan himself boasted of his reputation: “During the time that I have engaged in the practice of law—more than ten years—I have never had a complaint.” The spectators cheered him on. “The people are with me because they know I tried to protect their rights,” Morgan explained. It was “quite a tribute when the people the government claims you swindled testify in your behalf,” he added.

The trial took a surreal turn when the prosecution introduced as a witness William Henry Morgan, a 51-year-old foundry worker and Daniel Morgan’s older brother. Speaking to a Washington Post reporter outside the courtroom, the elder Morgan said he’d been ambivalent when he was asked to testify against his brother but that he felt it was his duty “as a citizen of the United States.” The younger Morgan, still defending himself and refusing to accept his own identity, cross-examined his brother with comic detachment.

“Mr. Morgan,” he asked coolly, “when was the last time you saw the defendant?”

The elder Morgan replied that it must have been five years ago, just before the death of their mother. Morgan quickly concluded his questioning.

Next, he came face to face with the real L.A. Harris, the licensed lawyer whose identity he had stolen. They had worked together briefly in Chicago, when Morgan was posing as “E.A. Simmons.” Refusing to break character, Morgan asked if Simmons had been a “successful” criminal lawyer. Yes, said Harris.

In closing arguments as his own counsel, Morgan said his purpose “was to serve individuals” who had a constitutional right to be represented by “men of their own choice.” Morgan ridiculed the value of formal schooling. After all, he pointed out, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln and Harry Truman had all practiced law without formal training.

As usual, Morgan frequently clashed with the judge, John D. Martin Sr. He made frequent objections, refused to stand when addressing the court, and on one occasion chastised the judge for interrupting him. “You should be dealt with summarily, for not being respectful,” Judge Martin replied. When Morgan accused him of misconduct, the judge shot back: “You are very insulting. That’s a scurrilous charge.”

After all, he pointed out, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln and Harry Truman had all practiced law without formal training.

At the end of the trial, Morgan was convicted on 14 counts of impersonation, forgery, perjury, fraud and false pretenses. He was later sentenced to three to ten years in prison, and he vowed to appeal. “There are a lot of errors in the record,” he told a reporter. “You know, I always make sure that if I am going to fall, I have a mattress to fall on.” A marshal who escorted him to jail later recalled that the prisoner tried to refuse to be handcuffed. “I said, ‘Mr. Morgan, you have been convicted of impersonating an attorney, I have to handcuff you.’”

In his years behind bars, Morgan didn’t lose his taste for litigation. He filed a hand-written 85-page appeal. It was denied. From his prison cell at Leavenworth, where he was transferred in 1966, he sued the warden and chief medical officer for $3,265,000, claiming that jailers had injected him with some kind of substance and then battered, clubbed and beaten him. Leavenworth was a federal facility, but Morgan skillfully convinced a state court to hear his complaint, giving him an advantage.

All the while, Eddie Harrison was still fighting for his freedom. He always maintained that the death of the loan shark was an accident. “I was upset to discover that George was dead,” he recalled in his memoir, but felt he didn’t deserve to rot in jail for it. His case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which eventually overturned his conviction, ruling that tainted testimony had been introduced from his second trial into the third. In 1968, eight and a half years after he was sent to prison, Harrison found himself on a city street in Washington, D.C., clutching his only possession, a bus token. He was 26 years old. “Just standing in the fresh air with the knowledge that I was free was enough,” he recalled. A couple of years later, in 1970, his sentence was commuted, and in June 1971, President Richard Nixon awarded him a $500,000 grant to run a rehabilitation center, where he devoted his life to helping incarcerated juvenile delinquents.

Around that time, Daniel Morgan was also released from prison, and he found himself back in the news. A legal technicality sent his case against Leavenworth all the way to the Supreme Court. “Glorious Day Is Ahead for Imposter Lawyer,” read one newspaper headline, before Morgan, now in his late 50s and graying, took his seat at the counsel’s table at the highest court in the land.

Supreme Court headline
The case went all the way to the Supreme Court. Newspaper clipping

Morgan had filed the suit by himself, but he appointed as his co-counsel the Rev. Joseph M. Snee, a professor at Georgetown Law Center. “Usually they say a man who represents himself has a fool for a client,” Snee proclaimed. “Here’s a layman who represented himself and got all the way to the Supreme Court.” They lost the case, but Morgan had his moment in the spotlight performing inside the great marble palace of justice. The Kansas City Star described his court appearance as the legal equivalent of playing in the Super Bowl.

Since he was a teenager, Morgan had been arrested or sentenced to jail every year of his life—apart from those years he practiced law in Chicago and Washington. “What a waste,” one parole board member said. “He could have done such creditable things.”

Yet Morgan genuinely helped clients like Harrison. Before the young man met “L.A. Harris,” other court-appointed attorneys tried to force him into a plea deal. He would have spent his life in prison, but Morgan showed him how to fight and never give up. “I knew that he had represented me as well as any lawyer could have, probably even better than most,” said Harrison, who died in 2023. “I don’t know why he did it, but one thing I do know, he sure didn’t do it for money.”

Though Morgan never spoke of his motivations for the hoax, an attorney he knew named James Parsons hazarded a guess: “A part of what he was doing was getting even with all the judges and prosecutors who had sent him to jail in his lifetime.” A psychiatrist familiar with Morgan’s history spoke to the core of Morgan’s calling to the law: “When he defended a criminal, perhaps he felt he was defending himself. That may be why he fought so hard.”

After his Supreme Court appearance, Morgan’s long name disappeared from the historical record, and it is not known what he did next, or who he decided to become. Maybe his heart finally gave out, or the ulcers got him. Or maybe he perfected his scheme and saw out his days practicing law in a small office surrounded by phony certificates. It’s easy to picture him behind the wheel of a white Corvair, driving to yet another fine day in court.

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