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Wednesday, July 8

Jury Duty: One spin through the system - Part 2


Tuesday was both more and less eventful.

I parked in the parking garage this time, since I now knew what the fixed cost was. I took a packed elevator up to the seventh floor and found my way to the jury room, which was behind the main courtroom by way of a corridor labeled "Attorneys only." The signage in this place never ceased to amaze me.

The jury was about as diverse as I expected it to be. Two Hispanic women in their forties, two Hispanic men including myself, one black man in his thirties, three white men in their twenties to thirties, one white woman in her late thirties, and three older white men. One of the Hispanic women hadn't arrived yet. There was a television on tuned to Rachel Ray In The Morning. She was cooking. The bailiff instructed us to push the red button on the wall once everyone had shown up. Most of us had the foresight to bring things with which to entertain ourselves. People brought books and newspapers, and I plugged into my phone. No one was really commiserating because at this point the only thing we all had in common was the thing that we couldn't talk about yet. After about an hour the last juror arrived with the requisite traffic apology, and we pressed the button.

It took about twenty minutes after the button push for the bailiff to actually call us into court. We filed into the jury box through a door in the back of the courtroom and I took a seat in the back row. There was a pretty Hispanic girl in the witness stand. Judge Adams noted for the record that everyone was in attendance and introduced everyone of consequence in the room. The Hispanic man with the headphones and slicked back hair was the defendant. The man next to him was his attorney. There was another Hispanic man sitting in a corner speaking into a small device that was identified as the defendant's interpreter. Now the headphones made sense. The two women were Dallas county DAs. The girl who looked like Marcy stood up and introduced herself as District Attorney Felicia Oliphant. Then she broke straight into Law and Order.

"During the course of this trial you'll hear about this man" she gestured toward the defendant "and the two very different sides to his personality. On one side of him you'll find that he was a good father. A good provider for his family and a law-abiding citizen. On the other you'll find a sick man who abused his daughter. A man who on the day of the birth of his son chose not to be at the side of his wife but instead to lie naked with his stepdaughter in his own bed. A man who for years used his position as head of the household to coerce this young woman into sexual acts with him." She went on and it was all very theatrical. Afterward we would all believe that she was looking directly at us as individuals as she spoke.

When she finished the defense attorney began his comments. I wish I could remember his name, because he was also very good. He talked again about the burden of proof and he too referred to the defendant's ability to provide for his family and work multiple jobs just to keep them afloat. He hinted at what he felt would be holes in the prosecution's case, and then sat down.

The judge instructed the prosecution to call the first witness, and they called the girl that was patiently waiting in the jury box. A box of tissues had been placed on the witness stand in case she needed them. I think we all suspected her to be the main victim here, but she was never really identified as such when questioning began. Oliphant remained in her seat, and the other DA, a youngish black woman, commenced with the questioning while also remaining seated behind the attorney's desk. Initially the girl was asked some baseline questions that were probably as much to let the jury get a read on what she looks and sounds like when she's very obviously not lying as a baseline. I actually found this very useful, since I suspected that the entire case was going to hinge on whether or not we actually would believe what this girl has to say.

"How old are you?"
"Do you have a job?"
"At McDonald's."
"What is your job title there?"
"I'm the assistant manager."

After a while the questioning took a much different turn. Can you tell us about your stepfather? How long has he been a part of your family? Tell us about the first time he made you feel uncomfortable.

The girl went on to give a detailed testimony about years of abuse and coercion that began when she was twelve and continued until she was sixteen, when she turned him in. She told us about how he told her that he was going to teach her how to have a boyfriend when she grows up. She said he was going to teach her how to kiss. He felt her breasts and butt a lot. She told us that he showed her his penis and eventually would convince her to give him handjobs. She complied so that it would end, and because she really didn't know any better. She told us about the feeling she got when he would put a movie on for her little sister and then call her back into his bedroom. She talked about the specific incident on the date of her baby brother's birth, where he got naked with her in the bed and worked to open her legs. She said that she felt it go in a little and then she managed to turn over and reject him. She talked about her body being excited, but her mind knowing that all of this was wrong. She never cried, and the court reporter eventually took the tissues off of the stand. She talked about having troubles with subsequent boyfriends because every time they kissed or did anything else she could only see her stepfather in her mind and it made her feel weird. She took her time with her answers, and while it felt as though she'd told these stories a hundred times she never really felt rehearsed. She was only seventeen, but she looked like a grownup on the stand. For context the DA produced photos of her when she was twelve, and in those pictures she almost looked like she was ten. Neither of her parents speak English well, and she told stories of how her mother would send her out to the grocery store with her stepfather to act as a translator. She told of the abuses that would then happen in the car in the parking lot once they arrived back at home. She was always very calm and eloquent. Never overtly emotional, yet there were times when she would stop and compose herself after giving an answer. Pictures that she drew while in counseling were produced and analyzed. She told us about her father having spies that would give him detailed information about her days that he could never otherwise know. She told about text messages that said "solo eres mio" - "you're only mine." She told us that her stepfather said if she would just let him go all the way then she could tell any future husband that she had a bicycle accident. She described both of her parents as controlling and overprotective, not allowing her to date or play sports. She graduated a year early because her parents told her to lie about her age, and did the same to get a job afterwards so that she could help support the family.

Through all of this I was using my poker mind as much as possible. Looking for bluffs and tells. Looking for little lies that would show up later as inconsistent. Nothing ever caught my radar. Every location that she said her father worked at lined up with my recollection of where they were in my own experience. All of the aspects of the Hispanic family unit were there as well. From the father being the main breadwinner and head of household to the little secrets that they kept from each other in order to avoid drama. Anytime the assistant DA was questioning a witness intensively, Oliphant was in constant communication. She would be scribbling calmly on her legal pad from the beginning of each response until the end, and occasionally she would take her pen over to the assistant DA's note pad and write something down. The other DA would glance at it and continue questioning. Sometimes after a note was scribbled she would switch to a new line of questions. They continued in this manner for an hour with the girl.

Then something strange happened. She was asked to identify the defendant in the room, and was unable to do so.

"Is the man that did this to you in the room today?"
She looked right at the defendant.
She squinted.
"I think that's him."
She squinted some more.
"Do you need glasses honey?"
"No, I don't think so."
"Are you sure that's him."
"His facial hair looks different, but he changed it alot."
"How long has it been since you've seen him?"
"Since they picked him up. About a year. Yes, that has to be him."

He never flinched.

Next came cross-examination. The defense was obviously aware of what a sympathetic witness she had been and he made what I feel was a good decision to not overtly attack her.

He talked more about how controlling her parents had been. He asked her how long she had to maintain the lie about her age in school. He asked how she managed to keep the wool pulled over her employer's eyes for so long. He read a statement from her describing how happy she was now that she was finally out of the house and away from her parents. He talked about the other members of the family that she did not have a good relationship with. They discussed her being kicked out of an uncle's house after her father's arrest because she had slept at a boy's house without calling and saying where she was. He asked her about how often she skipped school, and confirmed with her that she had skipped so much that she had been taken to truancy court. The girl never seemed rattled. She never dodged the questions about her lies about her age or her other family problems. She never seemed embarrassed or confused when she addressed those issues. He never ventured into her inability to identify the defendant.

The prosecution rebutted a few points with the girl and then both sides had finished questioning her.

The next witness was the girl's little cousin. She still looked like she was twelve. The translator stepped forward from the shadows and stood next to the girl, where he began translating out loud for the entire court to hear. I know both English and Spanish, and this man ended up being very very good. I felt much better about trusting whatever he was whispering into the little handheld device after hearing him work. Through the translator the prosecution asked the girl to take us through what happened when the victim confessed to her. She told us about the chain of people that they told, which eventually led to the police being called. The defense actively objected during her initial questioning when she got anywhere near hearsay. When it was his turn he asked about some of the lies that they had told to their respective families, and about the secrets that they kept from them. His storyline was becoming clear.

Next was the cop.

He testified about his experience. Twenty one years on the force, six years as the head of the child abuse division. Highly decorated both in his field and in general as an officer. When the police had arrived, he was the first on the scene. After witnessing the girls' forensic interview he believed her and made the decision to arrest and contacted the defendant by cell phone. He asked him to meet him at a gas station, where he arrested him.

The defense was not convinced.

"She mentioned text messages in the interview. Did you subpoena them?"
"Did you get a warrant for the home to look for DNA?"
"It's their house and the last reported abuse had happened weeks before."
"Have you ever heard of Monica Lewinski? I'm sure you remember the little blue dress."
"Well yes, but..."
"Why did you not seek any physical evidence at all?"
"Well I don't have in my notes here why, and I really don't remember."
"You realize that by acting so hastily you're depriving this jury of critical evidence that could help in their deliberations."
"Did you personally interview the defendant?"
"You mentioned hard science that would lead you to believe her. Did you bring and documentation of the studies you're referring to so that the jury can review it for themselves?"
"No I did not."

I thought the cop got ripped to shreds.

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