Nothing but the Truth
by Brian Beise
Karissa Case Taylor ’96 began her first trial with confidence. A law student interning at King County’s district attorney’s (DA) office, she prepared a sound case against a drunk driver but was out-maneuvered by the defense attorney. She lost the case, and knew immediately she wanted to be a prosecutor. Though she entered law school intending to go into politics, she knew she could come back to cases like that and see justice carried out. Nine years into her career in that same DA’s office, she is familiar with the complications and challenges of the work.
Long before that trial, Karissa decided on law as her future. “Growing up, I was a pretty talkative, argumentative little girl,” says Karissa. “I remember my grandfather telling me at age four that I was going to become an attorney because I was very interested in convincing people of the rightness of my opinion. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. I really was that weird kid.” Having been raised by parents who followed Christ, Karissa is no stranger to balancing her ability to convince with her love for others and respect for truth.
As an assistant DA, she prosecutes violent gang offenders in Seattle. “It’s the coolest job on earth,” she says, and freely admits the difficulties of the profession, citing frightened and uncooperative witnesses and victims. Much of her work leading to trial is done with the police, piecing cases together through investigation and interviews. Karissa’s husband is also an attorney, one she met before law school, while working as a paralegal. They recently adopted a four-month-old child.
Karissa grew up in Seattle, and initially had no intention of choosing Covenant for her undergraduate studies. Covenant’s pre-law program was not yet in place, and neither was the philosophy major. Her father had graduated from Covenant Seminary, though, and drove Karissa to visit Covenant’s campus. “I stepped out of the car, turned to my parents and said, ‘This is where I am supposed to go.’” She majored in interdisciplinary studies with a heavy concentration in philosophy, and notes the reading and writing skills she acquired, along with the ability to think critically, were vital as she pursued a career of seeking truth in stories of fear and deceit.
“I deal everyday with original sin,” says Karissa. “I have a very cynical understanding of human nature, but it also gives me a sense of compassion that makes my faith deeper. I look at these criminals, and I think they don’t have Jesus and they don’t have forgiveness and that’s their only hope. So it gives me a greater understanding of mercy and grace and how those play such an important role in my own life.”
Karissa is committed to pursuing justice. She remembers that first trial, seeing the drunk driver go unpunished because of the skills of his attorney. “I wanted to get better and never lose like that again,” she says. In her years at the DA’s office, however, she has made difficult decisions, prioritizing justice even over the satisfaction of victims.
“I did a rotation where I dealt with sexual crimes against children,” she says. “One of the cases was a man charged with molesting his girlfriend’s daughter. She’d clearly been abused; there was no question about that, but I did months and months of interviews with everyone involved, and at the end of that time I sat down with my boss and said, ‘I believe she was molested; I just don’t think he did it.” Her office dropped the case.
It is likely Karissa saved an innocent man from conviction, but to this day, no charges have been filed for the violence against the girl. It must weigh on the child and her family that her attacker might never be convicted. Some prosecutors might have pursued the case against the mother’s boyfriend, despite their misgivings, all for the sake of gaining a conviction and providing closure for the victim.
Not so with Karissa or her co-workers. “I love representing victims’ interests and seeing them made whole, keeping the community safe,” she says, and some might expect her to bemoan the sadness and unfairness of her position, pursuing justice even if it disappoints victims, but Karissa thrives in that place. She makes it clear that her primary goal is not simply to work for convictions, but to seek the truth and with God’s help convince others to believe it.