That’s My Life Up There on the Stage!

For public defender John Littrell, the line between theater and real life got a little blurred

Published in 2009 Southern California Rising Stars — July 2009

They say that good theater has the ability to make its audience relate to one of the characters on stage.

For John Littrell, 33, a Los Angeles-based federal public defender, that wasn't difficult at all when he attended For All Time, a wide-ranging exploration of the criminal justice system that debuted in the fall of 2008 at Cornerstone Theater Company.

Littrell has spent many hours with playwright KJ Sanchez, sitting for several lengthy interviews that she gathered as background to write For All Time. He also sat in on initial readings of the play and advised Sanchez on rewrites.

Sanchez also spoke with prosecutors, prison guards and inmates, but it was one of Littrell's cases that proved to be the play's centerpiece: the story of a prisoner who has served 19 years in prison for murder and is denied parole six times despite claims from prison officials that he is a model of successful rehabilitation.

In weaving together a mosaic of crime stories, Sanchez and director Laurie Woolery said that For All Time is not intended to be sympathetic to the offenders or even the victims, but rather to point out aspects of the criminal justice system that elude media coverage.

"It took a sincere and credible look at the whole system and some aspects of it that are not working," Littrell says.

As a federal public defender, he handles mostly federal criminal trials and capital habeas cases. Littrell says he loves working with death row prisoners and others who are facing dire circumstances.

"There is a certain kind of intensity that comes with seeing people through the worst days of their lives—in helping them get through the fear of not knowing what's going to happen and allow them to feel confident that there is somebody on their side," he says.

Because of his unabashed loyalty to his clients, Littrell says it was valuable to see the victim's point of view expressed so eloquently in For All Time.

It's a perspective on crime that he—not to mention the play's audience—rarely gets to see.

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