Trial begins (one of two parts)
Posted by joeabbott on May 3, 2015
OK, last post I detailed the extensive jury selection process, my new understanding of how it worked, and a little bit about me still growing up and seeing the world (or my corner of it) in a bigger way. Yes, I was interested in the process; no, I didn’t want to spend weeks experiencing it; yes, I’ve been more fortunate than some and should stand up to my obligations.
So, here we are … trial time.
The alleged crime
I glossed over this part in my last post because it’s not a subject that I’m comfortable with. Not part of my life, not part of my experiences, and completely repulsive to me. So, easier to not talk about, right? Well, these things happen and as challenging as it was for me, my discomfort is nothing compared to victims of crimes like this. I’ll endeavor to give it brief but complete and accurate treatment here.
This was a criminal case in which the defendant was charged with four counts of rape of a child. The details state that starting in 2001 the defendant started inappropriately touching his five year old daughter and in 2004 began engaging in sexual assaults which continued until 2009. In 2009 the family separated due to other factors and the daughter went to live with her mother. In 2010 the divorce was finalized and sometime later the father moved out of state. In 2013 the mother remarried and, after adopting and gaining confidence of his new daughter, the step-father learned of the assaults. Charges were brought in 2013 and the case came to trial this year (2015).
The defense lawyer agreed the charges were heinous but stated his client was innocent of all issues. The father and daughter shared a strong bond and, after the divorce, the mother’s issues with her former spouse colored the daughter’s perception. After the defendant moved out of state, the daughter felt abandoned and, when the “new father” came onto the scene, she made up a lie that got out of control … and here we are.
The defense promised to provide evidence in the form of conflicting testimony, the daughter’s changing story, the implausibility for a crime of this magnitude to go undetected by other family members for the alleged 8-year duration, and ultimately, there wasn’t a single shred of any physical evidence to support these allegations.
Let’s take a little break from the serious stuff: while my impression of the prosecuting and defense attorney’s had absolutely zero to do with the final verdict, their mannerisms, style, and bearing were intriguing. Again, part of learning and being observant.
The prosecutor was a woman lawyer who appeared to be in her 40s but could have appeared more aged for the austere hair style (short, tight to the scalp) and the “I’m a lawyer” apparel. She never smiled, often appeared tired or drawn, and because she had the majority of “props” (easel, television for taped testimony), she ended up doing a lot of “housework” around the courtroom … arranging the prop, fetching an easel pad, and then putting things aside at the end. I don’t tend to have much in the way of a “feminist radar”, but I couldn’t help wonder if this didn’t have some impact on perceptions around the courtroom.
The defense team consisted of the defending lawyer and his investigator. The lawyer was a classic mid- to late-50 male, a bit heavier than he might want to be, and confident as the day is bright. Like the prosecutor, he wore what I called “lawyer apparel”, but there was a swagger as he’d stand and, without a hint of self-consciousness, fasten the top button of his coat; he wore it well. He made piercing eye contact, spoke assertively, and it was beyond him that we were even there discussing this nonsense. Throughout the trial he was ready with objections (about 60-70% sustained), caught an error in paperwork submitted by the prosecutor, and seemed like the sort of guy you’d want in your corner in a legal battle.
The defense lawyer’s investigator was another story … and I’m not certain at all that I would have had him in the courtroom. If you imagine a high school social outcast some 25-30 years after graduation, it would describe this chap. Portly body, bad beard, questionable hygiene, a suit that didn’t fit very well (together with no socks or very short socks … so that you’d see nearly the entirety of his shin when he sat), and the odd habit of kibitzing with the defendant throughout the trial. Apropos to nothing, he was an odd choice to have at the table.
My like and dislike for the lawyers ebbed throughout the trial. For the defense lawyer, I liked his confidence and the (in my eyes) potentially credible story; as the details and testimony came out, however, the preponderance of guilt was shifting and his demeanor took a demeaning and reaching tone. In the end, I believe he did as best he could with what little he was given to build a defense around the accused.
For the prosecutor … well, there was no personality to connect with and the style she used in questioning the witnesses was darned annoying. She’d jump around events from early years, to later in life, and then back again, with seeming little regard for building a cohesive timeline. It was clear she was trying to evoke emotional sympathies from the jurors as she’d continue to ask the young lady bringing the charges, “how did that feel?” And then repeat the question after the young lady recounted another incident of assault. I felt that if I heard her say, “let’s go back again” one more time, I’d have to shout, “NO! Let’s not! We’ve heard that part!”
But, as I said earlier, my like or dislike of the lawyers had no weight in the decision I’d made at the end of the trial.
I’m somewhat tickled that I don’t know much of anything about any of the other jurors. We weren’t there to make friends, we weren’t building alliances, we were just 14 people listening to a trial and then 12 of us would go off and debate the merits of the case. I think I caught one or two of their names, but throughout I’d continue to refer to individuals as “Juror #12” or the appropriate number. Ten males, four females.
A couple of them stuck out.
Juror #6, a young man, never spoke. He would doodle in a notebook during breaks, would disappear at lunch, and with some regularity would return late. Juror #8, another young man, would talk to me off and on. He seemed friendly and worked in the tech industry and like getting out for walks. Juror #8 first caught my attention as he was the only one to raise his hand for the question, “who wants to be here?” He was quite eager to see the trial through. Those two come to mind first as, just before deliberations started, they were the two chosen as alternate jurors and were asked to leave.
Juror #2, a young lady, had my eye because, while we were still part of the “jury pool”, I overheard her make the rather stupid comment, “of course he’s guilty … he wouldn’t be here if he wasn’t”. I remembered that and was determined to ensure she didn’t compromised the accused’s right to a fair trial. In the end, she took a higher road than even I was on … I’ll cover that little story later.
And lastly, Juror #14, a retired man, caught everyone’s attention as he was the most gregarious fella you’d ever met. In a silent room he’d say to no one and everyone, “did you catch Dancing with the Stars last night?” and regale the room with the details of the competition. He’d tell you about things he’d built on his property, the dinner parties he enjoys with his friends, he’d compliment your outfit, and always had something positive to say about anyone’s anything. In the end, he was our foreman but I did have to shoot him the stink eye at one point. And, as above, that tale will wait until I talk about deliberations.
Well, that’s if for the setup. The tedium and annoyance of the trial was about to break as we enjoyed bite-sized days of testimony. But, the scene was set, the backdrop laid out, the actors roles’ understood, and now we just had to hear a very sad story and determine if a father had chosen to do the unthinkable or if the daughter had turned on him.