Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Defense (Un)Rests

On Friday, the entire defense team rested its case WITHOUT CALLING A SINGLE WITNESS. One by one, the defendants responded to the judge's questions about their right to take the stand on their own behalf. To the man, they all declined to do so. With no one else, apparently, willing to either (1) perjure him/herself under oath to be an alibi witness or (2) claim under oath that these young men are of good character, court ended early on Friday because at least one of the defense attorneys claimed he was "not ready" to give his closing arguments. The truth is, no one wanted to give a closing argument that would be forgotten over the weekend.

So, Monday opened with the first of six closing statements, each of which could be two hours long. First to speak was the prosecution co-counsel who explained the law for the jury for the first time. He explained about legal responsibility, specifically how each party to a crime can be held legally responsible for the actions of only one party. This is because of two legal principles: "party to the crime" and "conspiracy." For instance, if two men decide to rob a bank, but only one actually goes into the bank while the other stays outside and drives the getaway car, both are EQUALLY responsible for the bank robbery. And, if the one inside the bank assaults or kills someone, both are equally charged for murder, even though there was only one shooter.

This applies directly to our case. For two weeks, the defense attorneys have argued their clients' innocence of the charges because there was only one shooter and no one (except Ahmad) claimed to know who the shooter was. Well, the co-prosecutor shredded that defense with a simple explanation of the elements of each charge against the defendants (there are 15) and with examples everyone could understand. He used a power point presentation to illustrate his information and he provided evidence from the trial's 33 witnesses and over 200 exhibits to show why these people should be found guilty. His presentation took a little over an hour, just as he had said it would.

When the judge asked the defense attorneys how long each of their presentations would be, they answered from twenty minutes to less than an hour. That was the first lie they told.

The first defense attorney who spoke represents the (unadmitted) shooter, MB. He had said his presentation would take about 20 to 30 minutes, but because he repeated himself so often, he ended up speaking for over an hour. He advised the jury that they were the "barrier" between the "awesome power of the state" and his client. As an example of this "awesome power," he noted that the prosecutors used Power Point, while he was reduced to his legal tablet and scribbled notes. There are five-year-olds who can put together a Power Point presentation. This relatively simple technology might have helped him organize his thoughts. If he had had a clear plan of presentation, he might have cut out all of the unnecessary and annoying repetition. Then his summation might truly have been only 30 minutes. From his opening to this closing, this lawyer deserves to be labelled "Unprepared."

After a break, the next defendant's two attorneys split their two hour time allotment. This was Ben Matlock and his co-counsel. The co-counsel spoke first. He made it known that the true presentation of the laws that apply to the charges against the defendants will come from the judge, not the prosecutor. A valid point. He also pointed out the lack of evidence against his client concerning his "gang affiliation."

"He had just graduated from high school two months before this tragic incident. How could he be a member of a gang?"


He also lacked any of the "gang" tattoos, and on his MySpace page, he was never seen wearing a bandanna. He neglected to remind the jury about the gang "symbol" flashed by his client repeatedly on his web pages. He continued to claim his client was "just passing through" the secured apartment complex at the time of the incidents, having gained access by crawling under a fence. The trouble is, this reminded everyone in the court, including the jury, of the fact that his client's "re-enactment" of this entry was shown to be impossible on video tape. Mercifully, his summation was short.

Ben Matlock, unfortunately, was neither brief nor interesting. He began by simply restating what each witness for the prosecution said on the stand. I admit, I left the courtroom during his presentation. There is something about the sound of his voice that just irks me. But reports from Justin's friends indicate he continued his recitation in the same vein, to what purpose only he (and presumably his client) knows.

While in the hallway outside the courtroom, I had an encounter with a friend of one of the defendants. I know, I know, we're not supposed to speak. But the young man approached me, and it's not in my nature to be nasty or even impolite. He asked me if I had a friend in the courtroom, and I told him Justin was my son. Despite the fact that I think he knew this already, he showed genuine sympathy. He let me know that he and the defendant had been friends since 5th grade. But he did not go on to say how impossible it is that his friend could be involved in such criminal activity. This may be because his friend is already a convicted felon, having driven a getaway car from a shooting involving an AK-47 a couple of years before.

This brings up an interesting and disturbing fact about all but one of these defendants. Three of the four on trial have previous arrests and convictions for felony crimes. Felonies involving guns and home invasions and weapons on school property. MB is still facing charges in North Carolina for involvement in a murder case. He was OUT ON BAIL when he shot Justin. Why? Why? Why are these boys out on the street??????

The last closing argument for the day came from the attorney who could be labeled "Has not a clue." It is impossible for me to relate here the many illogical statements he made during his hour and half presentation. Early on, this was his claim: "The evidence that my client knew nothing about the shooting is that he asked 'Nancy' (a co-worker who lived in the apartment complex on Aug. 2, 2007, and whom his client called that night to gain access to the property) 'Did you hear about the shooting at your apartment complex last night?'" He asked this before any news reports had been published. He asked this before Nancy, or any of the residents, had been notified of the incident by management. But, oh, he "knew nothing" about it. Except that it had happened.

Actually, this lawyer made some good points about evidence not offered by the prosecutors, evidence which might have strengthened their case. For instance, he pointed out that since each of the boys reportedly climbed over a fence with barbed wire at the top, there must have been some blood evidence to collect. No such evidence was offered. Also, a "wife-beater" tee shirt and a "do-rag" were recovered on that barbed wire, indicating the criminals used these to avoid getting too cut up. But no DNA tests were performed on these items, tests which might have definitively placed at least some of them there. However, these perfectly reasonable points were lost in his rambling, otherwise illogical, oftentimes contradictory remarks. Furthermore, he insulted the jurors several times! "I can hold you here for another 45 minutes" he told them when he learned he had been speaking for over an hour. "I know you want a bathroom break, but I'm going to keep talking," he said.

You had to be there. The jurors, the defendants' friends and family, Justin's friends and family, and EVEN THE COURT REPORTER could not help but express incredulity at this attorney's close. I've seen very few closings in real life, but I've watched a lot of Law and Order. This has got to be the worst closing I've ever seen!

Today, the last defense attorney, the exuberant African, will give his arguments. We can all expect a dramatic presentation. Then the lead prosecutor will close. We can all expect a highly competent presentation. Then the judge will give the jury instructions, and they will retire to deliberate.

The light at the end of this tunnel appears. We are all ready for this to be over.

1 comment:

Trena said...

Great summary of the day...ROFL at "exuberant African"!

TOO FUNNY!!! What a show...