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Friday, April 13, 2012

My recent jury experience gave me some insight into the court process, but it also enlightened me on something else. Our local police are quick to respond to emergency calls. The victim in my case, Lucy, called 911 at 12:01 am, just after midnight on a Thursday night. On the witness stand, Officer Smith checked his notes and told us he was dispatched at 12:02 and arrived at the residence at 12:07.

By the time he arrived, Satchel was gone, having taken off in his SUV in pursuit of the suspect. Lucy called him when the officer arrived and told him to come on back. He had earlier told us that when he got that call, he was already headed back, having been overcome with the vapors at his close call with well, nothing, really. He basically drove around a few city blocks, then went home. He told us the phone records show he was gone from seven to nine minutes. We never saw the records, but the time line wasn't questioned on cross examination.

From the 911 report and his interview with Lucy, Officer Smith identified Spike as the suspect. When he attempted to contact Spike, he learned that an arson call at Spike's residence had come in at 12:24, and there was already another officer on the scene. Smith asked Officer Jones to bring Spike to Lucy's residence. When he did, Spike was questioned and arrested for the two counts of vandalism.

We next heard from Officer Jones, who arrived at Spike's house (actually Spike's sister Luna's house) in response to the arson call and found the ATV, and a nearby tree, burned to their charred remains. Spike told the officer that he suspected Satchel of burning his ATV. Jones got Spike to agree to ride with him to Lucy's house to sort things out.

When Officer Jones got to Lucy's house, he questioned Satchel about the arson. He testified that Satchel admitted to the crime and described it in detail. Earlier, Satchel had told us that Officer Jones had bullied him into a confession with threats of prison rape. Jones denied (with a dismissive shake of his head) making threats of any kind. He did confirm that Satchel was sick and vomiting while being questioned.

So Smith arrested Spike, and Jones arrested Satchel. When she was on the stand, Lucy had told us that Spike, in addition to his calls to her earlier in the evening, called her several times from the police station after his arrest. She answered the first time, then hung up on him. As far as we knew, this was the last contact until the morning the trial was scheduled to begin.

In her testimony, Lucy said that she saw Spike on the freeway the day before the trial started. He had tailgated her car until she pulled off the freeway, she said. Then he had pulled alongside her and gestured violently toward her. He was shouting, she said, but she couldn't hear what he was saying. She said she was shaken up by this incident but wasn't allowed to speculate why he had followed her.

That was the extent of the prosecution's case. The people rest, your honor. We had testimony from the three victims and two police officers. They painted a picture of an abusive stalker. There was a pattern of threats and other unwanted communication. Spike had been seen in the neighborhood and had banged on the door in the middle of the night. One witness identified him at the scene. The other two could only say they "knew" it was Spike, but they didn't see him.

The damage was real, and everything we had heard so far pointed to Spike. I was ready (so ready) to hear the defense case, because we had been promised an alibi that would make our job easy. I wanted the verdict to be so clear to us that we wouldn't have any doubts either way. On the other hand, I suspect neither lawyer would have let things get this far if he thought the other had an open-and-shut case.

It might seem that I'm using the police officers' testimony to remember some things that came out earlier, when the victims were on the stand. That's because that's exactly what I'm doing, but also because some of what the officers told us illuminated the earlier testimony and made it more memorable.

The truth is, the further I get from the trial itself, the harder it is to remember some of the finer points (but most of the confusion comes not from what we heard, but from when we heard it). I wish I could have written these entries while the trial was going on, but that would have been not doing my duty to keep from drawing conclusions before hearing all the evidence.

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