The Judge Who Would Be Nun: This Could Become A Bad Habit

Nun hiest

Sister Mary Ignatius explains it all: “Stick em up!”

You can’t make this stuff up.

Navahcia Edwards, 25, was being tried before U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly on charges of bank robbery. She performed the heist disguised as a nun. A scary nun.

Her attorney argued that the  robbery was carried out by a white thief, and Edwards is African-American. Her fiance, the defense claimed, hit the bank with a white accomplice who blackened her face under the old lady mask. This seems like a far-fetched defense to me, but criminal defenses when one’s client is probably guilty tend to be like that.

Judge Kennelly decided to test the theory. He said that he dressed up like the fake nun in the photo, mask and all, and looked in a mirror. His white skin was visible, so he rejected what he described as a “reverse Al Jolson” defense, and found Edwards guilty as charged.

This is unethical judicial conduct.

The ABA Model Rules of Judicial Conduct state that...

“A judge shall not investigate facts in a matter independently, and shall consider only the evidence presented and any facts that may properly be judicially noticed.”

Yet that is exactly what Kennelly did here. There are also elements of bias involved. This was his personal evidence, not one of the parties’ arguments. Naturally, a judge will be inclined to trust his own demonstrative evidence more than those of either lawyer, which is one reason a judge isn’t supposed to generate his own evidence. If Judge Kennelly wanted to see this test of the defense’s theory, he should have done it before both attorneys, in open court,and allowed them to criticize it, question it, or support it. (I would say the if he did this, someone else should dress up as a nun, other than the judge. A judge doing this in court would raise another ethical issue, a judge’s duty to maintain dignity and decorum. Dressing up like a refugee from the cast of “Nunsense” arguably doesn’t make the grade.)  Instead, he performed a test of his own design, for his own eyes alone, essentially becoming witness, prosecutor and judge simultaneously.


Facts and Graphic: Jonathan Turley

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at

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