Bob Harvey

Bob Harvey died the other day. Most of you wouldn’t know him. He was an agent with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation during most of my years as a prosecutor. A quiet man. Usually buried away deep in the bowels of the DCI building, in isolation, where he did his best work. A pro.

Firearms is what he did. He could tell you anything you wanted to know about a gun involved in a murder. Trigger pull strength. Markings the gun left on the shells. Operational ability. Where the gun came from. What shells it could fire. Bullet identification. And on and on and on.

And Bob’s opinion was unerringly the opinion the jury or the judge found true. Once I even dragged him out of retirement because a national gun expert said Bob’s work in an old murder case was wrong. I was stunned and worried. I shouldn’t have been. After Bob reviewed the national expert’s work, he carefully explained to me how the expert made a crucial mistake in his analysis. And, at the end of the day, the national expert agreed. No kidding. Listen, Bob knew his stuff better than the next guy. It’s just who he was.

But, frankly, smarts are never enough, and Bob brought more to the table. He brought credibility. When he spoke, the jury listened, the bad guy listened, and I listened. Why? Because he was never invested in the result. He was a scientist. It was never about winning for him. Ever. It was about getting the facts right. Period.

But Bob did care. He cared about the process. And he cared about all of us, even though personally I was a bit player in his life. He came across as the father we wish we had. Over the years, he would listen to my crazy questions and concerns, and patiently and clearly explain the facts. I would bring Bob into a grand jury to testify, where I would be rattled and on edge and dancing with out-of-control witnesses, and Bob would sit at the witness stand, smile, and calmly tell us about this shell casing coming from that gun, his deep voice resonating around the room like dark chocolate melting on your tongue. Warm and rich and comforting. And we all settled down and examined the facts. Not a bad trick.

Whenever Bob and I finished a case, he’d ask me: “How did I do, Joe?” And I was always surprised because he didn’t realize what a star he was. He genuinely didn’t get it. Everyone else did. The juries did. The judges did. I certainly did.

So, one last time, . . .

“Bob, you did great.”

May he rest in peace.


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