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    Thursday
    Dec182014

    No Baloney

    I was shopping in a grocery store the other morning. It’s one of those chains with a decent variety of organic foods. Sometimes, I like that kind of stuff. Sometimes, some of it is rather silly. Take this, for instance. While looking at the bread selections, I happened to see organic hot dog rolls. ORGANIC HOT DOG ROLLS???!!! Huh? What do you put inside a hot dog bun? HOT DOGS!!! What’s good and healthful about hot dogs? No… please don’t tell me about vegetarian weiners because they are probably as exciting as sex with blow-up dolls. What’s the point?

    It reminded me of a car I saw with my friend, Stewart, in the Sarasota area a while back. We were sitting at a red light. VROOM! VROOM! Or was it ZHHH! ZHHH!? It was a Toyota Prius Sport. SPORT???!!! We laughed. For some reason “Prius” and “Sport” go together like salt and sugar, and “organic” and “hot dog,” don’t you think? Anyway, I don’t believe we’ll be seeing any Prius Sports on the NASCAR circuit any sooner than I’ll be eating a vegetarian hot dog on an organic bun. With ketchup.

     

    Monday
    Dec082014

    Whiskey River and the 3 Marlboro Omelet

    This is a piece I wrote in February, 2006, although I did edit it a little the last time I published it on Dec. 27, 2012 because my writing style improved. Today, I left it intact.

    Here we are, eight years after this story, and where are we? I see more racism now than I did in 2006, and I see it on both sides of the fence. If anyone thinks it’s a one-way street, they are blind to society. 


    When I was doing design work for a local printer, we had a film stripper who set up our work to make plates for the presses. He was a really good guy and we got along quite well. I was from New Jersey and he was a Florida native. A lot of people from here have a fair amount of resentment towards people from other parts of the country, especially northerners. If you were from Alabamee or Mississippa, you were OK. The northeast? Eh. Not so much.

    Ron and I used to tease each other about northern and southern differences - the Civil War, the South Rising Again! That sort of thing, but it was all done in a good natured, friendly manner with no implied intent. Whenever he brought up some Yankee thing to tease me about, I always had a standard reply; one he could not defend, “Well, at least I didn’t have a hangin’ tree in my back yard.”

    Ron lived in Apopka, which is a relatively rural town northwest of Orlando. Plenty of the deep south has areas of racial hatred, including parts of Apopka. I’m not trying to single out any community. They’re everywhere, and most of the town is not like that, but there’s a long history steeped in racial bias and, yes, hangin’ trees that should have been chopped down a long time ago. Ain’t been no hangins’ around these here parts in a long time, yet there still exists a small faction of folks who believe the old rules of the deeply segregated south should never and shall never change.

    When I moved here in 1981, I found a place in Winter Park called Harrigan’s. My sister used to work there. It’s been gone a long time now, but one of the bartenders ended up buying an established business in downtown Orlando on the corner of Orange Avenue and Pine Street called Tanqueray’s. It used to be part of a bank and housed the vault. You walk down a flight of stairs from street level, step inside, and immediately feel the warmth of the friendly crowd.

    Many of the regulars from those days were professionals who worked downtown and stopped in for a drink or two to unwind and socialize. It was known as a hangout for attorneys and it always seemed to be a well mannered, intellectual group. That’s where I met John Morgan, but he has nothing to do with this story. I seldom go downtown anymore, but if I do, I try to stop by, since I’ve known Dan a long time and he always has a few good jokes to tell, plus he’s an all-around great guy.

    One time, I dropped by for happy hour. I had to go into the city for some reason and, I figured, why not go see Dan. I took a seat at the bar, near the front door, and we exchanged some friendly banter. The place was quite busy, so we didn’t have much time to talk. Moments after I arrived, some guy was standing to my immediate left. Talk about rough around the edges, he didn’t quite fit in with the rest of that crowd. He ordered a draft beer and said to me, “Yup, I was at Whiskey River at 7 o’clock this morning.”

    Whiskey River is a liquor store on S. Orange Blossom trail. It’s certainly not in one of the nicest parts of the city. There are a few scattered around and they have a reputation for catering to hardcore drinkers - the labor pool and unemployment collecting types who live off their pay buying cheap booze and cigarettes. Such was this particular fellow. I have no idea why he chose me out of the crowd to enlighten, but there we were…

    “Whiskey River? At 7 AM? So, tell me, what did you have for breakfast?” I asked.

    “I had me a 3 Marlboro omelet,” he responded in his gruff, seasoned and rather pickled sounding voice.

    “Hmm. Sounds delicious.”

    “Yup. It was.” Suddenly, out of the blue, he blurted, “I’m a card carrying member of the KKK.”

    “No. No way.”

    “Yup.”

    I had never met anyone with any sort of affiliation to a white supremacy organization. You know, you always hear stories, but have you ever met anyone like that for real? “OK. Let me see your membership card.”

    “Ain’t got one. Don’t need one.”

    He didn’t come across as some sort of nasty fellow. He didn’t seem to have gone in there to start trouble. I think he just wanted someone from the “big city” to talk to. Maybe, I looked slick enough. I seem to collect those types, anyway, but I don’t mind. I guess I have a friendly demeanor that people pick up on.

    After telling me he lived in the outskirts of Apopka, I thought to myself, why not give the guy a chance to speak his mind. I would try to rationalize everything he says and come back with an appropriate response. I asked him how he could feel this way and have so much hatred inside?

    “They’re animals. Damn n*ggers are monkeys.” I think he really wanted to test me, yet I sensed sincerity in his statement and a certain curiosity on his own part, like he was questioning his own tenets; the ones he was most likely raised on.

    “Animals? What if you had sex with a monkey, could you get her pregnant?”

    “Nah, of course not. That’s stupid.”

    “What if you had sex with a black woman, could you get her pregnant?”

    “Yeah, of course.”

    “Well, what you are accepting is that if black people are animals and you could get that type of animal pregnant, then you are a monkey, too. You are an animal. We’re ALL animals.” He had no smart answer.

    With every racist claim he made, I had a response. At one point, I asked him, “What if you were in a horrible accident and needed a blood transfusion and found out later you now have the blood of a black man inside. A BLACK MAN. A NEGRO. AN AFRICAN-AMERICAN. What would you do? Would you try to return it? Would you tell your card carrying KKK members that you are now tainted with the blood of an animal? Would they hang you from the highest tree?”

    No responses to my queries made much sense. He didn’t necessarily agree with me, but I could tell he was grasping, if not absorbing, everything we were discussing. He really was trying to understand the other side. I brought up the “be they yellow, black or white, they are precious in his sight” song from Sunday School days of my youth. He knew the song, but many southern racists are born into religious families that adhere to odd and distorted interpretations of the Bible, as if Jesus was lily-white and black folk dangled from olive trees.

    I asked him about black heroes who had saved plenty of white hide during the war, World War II in this case. A lot of us wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for good ol’ blackie.

    The conversation had taken on a kind of flow. It was never a heated exchange and we showed each other respect. I couldn’t judge him for his status in life, but I surely did question his morals and prejudices with a vengeance. Our discussion began to wind down without ever really unwinding. The conversation had just taken its natural course. At the end, I had one final question to ask.

    “What if we were on a deserted island — just you, me and a really good looking black woman…” Suddenly, the door opened up and a group of very good looking women sauntered in, one of whom was black. “HER!” I exclaimed, looking right at her. She didn’t see or hear a thing. “What if it was just you, her and me?”

    “I’d kill YOU, not HER. A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.” I knew what he meant. Sex. Ain’t no way this dude was gonna go for me, Deliverance-style.

    “You mean to tell me you’d kill a white man to save a black woman? Wait a minute. Doesn’t this go against your entire credo? People you’ve hated all your life? What would the KKK say about that? Kill a WHITE to save a BLACK?”

    “You’re confusing me, man, you’re confusing me!” Aha! Gotcha, I thought to myself. “You know, you’re right.” he continued, “Yup, you are, but I’ll never tell my friends about it. I can’t. They’re my friends and they’d kill me.”

    I guess I felt some satisfaction in thinking I had gotten through to the guy, but did I really? He had listened to enough, I reckon, and I’ll never know for sure.

    “Thanks for the talk. Gotta go.” And off he went.

    What surprised me the most was that the patrons sitting at the bar had listened intently to our conversation, unbeknownst to me. After the guy walked out the door and it shut behind him, they broke into a loud applause. They, too, thought that, maybe, just maybe, I had gotten through to him. Perhaps, I did, but that was then…

    Occasionally, I think about him — the KKK man who sucks Marlboros for breakfast — the guy who returned to the hangin’ trees that only sway in the wind these days; back to the recollections of fiery crosses from days gone by. I hope and pray those days will one day be burned from all of our memories forever and that warm southern breezes of kinship will sweep through the minds of people like him everywhere. Gone with the wind.

    We can still have a dream, can’t we?

     

     See it HERE or:

    Saturday
    Nov292014

    Expert Textpert. Goo Goo Goo Joob...

    My editing skills have improved since the original version from four years ago. This is a fresh sychronization of The Beatles audio and Styx video versions of “I Am The Walrus” - from today, November 29, 2014.

     

     

    Wednesday
    Nov262014

    I want to thank the prosecutor's wife

    In light of Ferguson, I was reminded of an experience I had with a couple of local police and a prosecutor back in the 1970s. While there are no comparisons, it’s still something that came to mind. Everyone handles situations their own way. This is how I handled mine.

     

    INTRODUCTION

    In 1975, I was 23 and the spirit of youth was still in full bloom. It was a great time in my life except for one harrowing experience with the Delaware Township Police Department, located in central New Jersey. I had gone out that night with a friend of mine, Ken [Redacted.] We hit a couple of bars and settled in at a place in New Hope, PA, called John & Peter’s. There’s a café in front and a small listening room in the back. As small as it was (and still is,) they had some pretty big name bands perform, like Iron Butterfly and The Chambers Brothers. One of the local favorites back then was a group out of Philly called Johnny’s Dance Band. Some nights, you just didn’t know unless a barmaid let you in on the secret of who it would be. It didn’t matter who was playing the night we showed up. We didn’t go out for that. We didn’t even go out to drink much. We just went out to have a good time until he dropped me off at my apartment…

    THE BUST

    My place was right in the center of Sergeantsville, a very rural community with one blinking light. You were in and out town before you knew it. Directly across the street was the municipal building and home of the police department. We sat there for a few minutes discussing what the rest of the week was looking like, sort of like planning another night to run around, drink a few, and hit on some babes. Slowly, a police car crept up across the street and parked. Two officers got out and started to walk towards us. I wasn’t afraid of anything. Neither of us were drunk and we certainly weren’t doing anything wrong. I recognized one of them, Rich [Redacted,] from my high school days. I got out and stood at the front of my friend’s Dodge van. Rich and I greeted each other, shook hands and talked about what we had been up to since those earlier times. The other officer went over to the driver’s window. Both Rich and I were oblivious to what was transpiring until we both heard, “I smell marijuana. Get out of the van right now! You are under arrest!”

    Rich and I looked at each other with surprise. I turned to face the other officer and said, “Hey, what are you doing?”

    He stared at me and said, “You are under arrest, too!”

    He made my friend get out of the vehicle and ordered us over to the police car, where he demanded that we empty our pockets. I didn’t respond in the split second time he wanted, so he thrust me down on to the hood of the car, knocking the wind out of me. In two seconds flat, I was in handcuffs and he was emptying all of my pockets, where he found a frog, a couple of marbles and a secret agent compass. Maybe some pocket change, too, but absolutely nothing illegal. As a matter of fact, nothing of interest was found in my friend’s pockets, either. I asked this overzealous cop what we were being arrested for. He hesitated and said, “For being drunk and disorderly!”

    I knew right then and there we were being charged with something trumped-up. We weren’t drunk and we weren’t disorderly. Had we been drunk, this stupid officer, Jack Demeo, should have been smart enough to charge the driver with a DUI (or DWI back then.) The keys were in the ignition.

    The cop commandos marched us up the stairs and into the police station.

    “Watch them,” Demeo said to Rich, giddy with delight, as if he had just apprehended serial rapists or something. He went outside and returned with the ashtray, dumped it on his desk and went picking through the tightly packed butts. Lo and behold, he pulled out a marijuana roach that amounted to…

    2/10 of a gram!

    Whoa! The biggest bust of the century! “Ha, ha, ha…I gotcha now!!!” An obvious glee and an evil grin had overtaken him, as we were soon to be facing life in prison in his eyes. “So, on top of being drunk and disorderly, I’ve got you on a CDS charge, too!”

    “What’s CDS?” I asked.

    “Controlled Dangerous Substance,” he snapped back, with a sarcastic snarl. That roach could have been in the ashtray for weeks, for all we knew. The ashtray was packed with butts, but had we known it was there, we would have smoked it long before the cops showed up.

    After sitting for what seemed like an eternity, I had to pee. I asked Demeo if I could go. “NO!” I asked him several times and got the same commanding response. Finally, I pulled something out of my head…

    “As a U.S. citizen and subject to rule number 17 of the U.S. Constitution, Section C, Part 203, I am allowed to use a restroom facility when I consider it necessary, under penalty of law.”

    “Take him into the men’s room,” he ordered Rich, “but watch him.”

    As I was peeing, he was apologetic. “Hey, Dave, I had nothing to do with this.”

    Demeo was filling out paper work interrogating my friend when we returned. He looked at me and attacked like a junk yard dog. “Where’d you get this stuff?”

    “I don’t know.”

    “Tell me!”

    You’re going to bust us with that? You’re a joke.”

    After about a half hour of brutal questioning, he realized he wasn’t going to get anywhere, so they loaded us into the back of the squad car and drove us to the Hunterdon County Jail. The entire ride consisted of Demeo making wise cracks and telling us we were the lowest and vilest sub-humans of the community. We laughed. Oh, how it angered him more.

    DELIVERANCE

    Finally, we arrived to the fanfare of the hungry jailers. They took our mug shots and fingerprints. One of the guards was a high school teacher who moonlighted at the jail and remembered us. He took us upstairs and put us in a holding cell, It was just me and Ken.

    “I’ll come back and put you in a better cell as soon as we get rid of these asshole cops,” he said, and he did. When we awoke the next morning, the TV was showing an old science fiction movie. Yes, it was high-class. Color, too. There was another guy who was already there. We introduced ourselves, shook hands and I asked him what he was in for.

    “Murder.”

    “Oh.” I didn’t want to pursue that conversation, so we just settled in. At one point, he got up and switched the channel to American Bandstand. I wasn’t about to say, “TURN IT BACK! I WAS WATCHING THAT MOVIE!”

    Later that morning, the jail doors were opened to freedom, fresh air and sunlight, and our nightmare was temporarily over. $50 later.

    THE PLOT THICKENS

    We knew we had to get legal representation. My friend got a lawyer and I talked to an attorney friend of mine, Jay Thatcher. We were in the JAYCEES together. I told him I didn’t have money to hire a lawyer. He asked me to tell him what transpired that evening. I told him. He said, “Dave, this is the most ridiculous injustice I’ve ever heard. I’m going to represent you for free.”

    Jay was a great guy and a very good friend. I was so glad he decided to help out someone in need. He got in touch with the other attorney and they both agreed to file a Motion to Suppress Evidence, a request to a judge to keep out evidence at a trial or hearing, often made when a party believes the evidence was unlawfully obtained.

    The judge at our arraignment hearing was Thomas Beetel. Years earlier, my Aunt Bertie worked for him when he was in private practice before being appointed to the bench. We shared the same last name and they didn’t get along. I think he might have fired her. I wasn’t aware of any connection at that time - I was told later - but he should have recused himself on grounds of prejudice. He did not. Our respective attorneys requested that both officers not be present in the courtroom together when each was to give their own testimony. The judge did allow that. Both cops gave conflicting reports of what transpired that fateful night. I assumed my old high school “friend” would set the record straight. He did not. He lied through his teeth even more than the arresting officer did. I could not believe what I was hearing. Then, Demeo told the judge he was trained by the Marines to smell marijuana better than a dog. When I took the stand, I noticed the judge was doodling stupid little pictures, as if he wasn’t paying attention, and had already made up his mind. I guess he did because he sent it on to trial. Motion to Suppress Evidence denied!

    THE TRIAL

    On the morning after our arrest, the judge we were going to be facing, Jacob Chantz, was attending a funeral with my grandfather, Reverend George W. Landis. They were very close friends. He should have recused himself, too, because of that friendship, but he didn’t, and I guess I am thankful for it. The evening we went to trial, it was one big family; the two officers, the prosecutor, our respective attorneys and us. My close friend, Frank Foran was sitting in the gallery, along with my parents. Our trials were to be handled separately, but together, if that makes sense. Our attorneys approached the prosecutor to work out plea deals. 

    After minutes of whispering, Jay came back to me and said, “Dave, this is what the prosecutor wants. He’s willing to drop the drunk and disorderly charge if you plead to the CDS charge. It means that after a year, you can apply to have your record expunged and it’s completely erased. It’s as if you were never arrested. You pay a fine now and there is no jail time. What do you want to do?”

    “No way am I going to plead guilty to anything. I didn’t do anything wrong.”

    “Great! That’s exactly what I was hoping to hear you say.” He went back to the prosecutor with my response.

    “Oh no,” the prosecutor told him, and there came a very special AHA! moment. You see, prosecutors can be moved around to different jurisdictions if the need ever arises. The need arose that particular evening. 

    “What do you mean?” my lawyer asked.

    “My wife is 99.9% pregnant. I came up from south Jersey. I’m filling in for the regular prosecutor, who’s on vacation. She could have the baby any minute. I just want to get this over with and go home. How long is this going to take?” 

    “At least seven hours as far as I’m concerned. I’m going to pick every legal trick out of my hat on this one.”

    “You’re kidding, right?”

    “No, I am not. My client is 100% innocent of these charges and I intend to fight it all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary.”

    “This isn’t all that important of a case to me. Let’s just drop the charges.”

    That was it. It had absolutely nothing to do with my guilt or innocence. Case dismissed. All on account of the prosecutor’s wife being pregnant. Now that was justice.

    My friend had the drunk and disorderly charge dropped but the prosecutor said someone had to take the rap for the 2/10 gram of Mary Jane. It was his vehicle, so he did and a year later he did have his record expunged.

    So went my first foray into the legal system. The judge later told my grandfather it never should have reached his courtroom. It should have been dropped at the Motion to Suppress stage and, if not, he had planned on dismissing the charges against me anyway.

    AFTER ALL THIS

    Oh, yeah. Good old Jack Demeo. He got himself into a little trouble about a year or so after our trial. He was accused - on several occasions - of flashing his badge out of his territory and for trying to pick up women he pulled over. He should have been dealt with for breaking the law but he wasn’t. Cop. Good old boy syndrome, I guess. I also heard he had been planting pot in cars to make busts, but had he done that to us, I’m sure more than 2/10 of a gram would have been found. The clincher that finally sealed his fate and brought his law enforcement career to a screeching halt was when he was in Atlantic City inside a casino, Unfortunately for him but lucky for the rest of the country, he flashed his badge at the wrong people at the wrong time. He told a dealer he was with the NJ Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control and he was doing an investigation. What kind of favors can you do for me? The manager of the casino got involved and promptly called his brother-in-law, who worked for the ABC. Why is one of your guys trying to bribe me?

    The agency launched an investigation faster than a poker player folds on a five high hand, and dispatched agents to the scene immediately. Jack Demeo was arrested on the spot. Because of that, his credentials were stripped and he was told he could never be a police officer again. The former police chief of Delaware Township, where I was arrested with my friend, told me he did try years later, but the retired chief, the late Warren Peterson, put the screws to that. My guess is that he’s probably assistant head of security at a Dollar General store somewhere in Podunk, Arkansas. I did run into Rich a couple of years later and he wanted to extend an apology for what had transpired. I told him that, “as an officer of the law, you were there to tell the truth. You didn’t. I’m having a tough time with what you put me through.”

    Quite obviously, that experience was still on my mind. One day, he approached me at the Weiner King in Flemington, where I was the manager, to tell me he could get me a really good deal on a Jaguar XKE. He had hung up his gun and went to work for a car dealer. The car had just come in and it wasn’t even prepped yet. I took him up on the offer, it was a great deal, and I forgave Rich after all. I think he just got caught up in the cop ego trip thing and eventually let it go. All was well between us and I know it ate at him all those years. He really wanted to make things right, and he did. I don’t hold a grudge.

    EPILOGUE

    I learned my lesson that you can’t always trust a man with a badge and prosecutors don’t always work for true justice. I’ve known a lot of police officers and a few prosecutors over the years and most of them are honest and hard-working. Never again have I run into a bad cop like Jack Demeo, but that one time was all it took to keep me on my toes. Fortunately, most guys like him are eventually weeded out of police departments, but not always.

    Oh yes, one more thing. The guy we spent the night in jail with who was charged with murder? He was found not guilty. He had a different prosecutor, too.

    Tuesday
    Nov252014

    FerGRRRRRason

    As a credentialed journalist, I covered two trials extensively - both the Casey Anthony and the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin cases. I wrote about the “alleged” murders long before the trials began, too. I say alleged because, prior to trial, that’s exactly what they were. A trial is intended to determine guilt or innocence. Sometimes, situations arise where where there is no cause to move to trial. I know nothing about the St. Louis County grand jury other than what was reported on the news from August 9 through what prosecutor Robert McCulloch stated at the press conference. I do intend to read what’s made public, though, due to Missouri’s sunshine law, which is similar to Florida’s.

    Because I am not familiar with the Ferguson case, I will proffer no opinion one way or the other. Not until I know something more. (If I ever say a word.) This was an extremely sad event. For four-and-a-half years, I witnessed the twisting of news as it was told from all sides. I was part of the system. Not to mention the trolls. I took down a judge. I slept with Casey. I fathered bastard children. I had STDs. I was a drug addict. You name it, I was the scourge of a handful of online derelicts. But in my writing - in the real world - God knows I tried to be fair; however… deep down inside, I had a real soft spot for Caylee and true compassion for Trayvon. Sometimes, it showed. My heart poured out in the words I chose. In the case of Michael Brown and Darren Wilson, I just don’t know enough about the case to offer any kind of opinion, and if I do, it would surely upset the other side. Please don’t even try to second guess me. WHICH ONE IS THE OTHER SIDE, DAVE???!!!

    You see? There are no winners here. We all lose, and I never want to be an attacked messenger again. This one would be like walking into an active volcano wearing a backpack filled with gunpowder.

     

    Thursday
    Nov202014

    What's Age Got To Do With It?

    I’m not a violent man. Never was. I know that, as I get older, I’m supposed to be more temperamental. Maybe I am. Perhaps I am quicker to anger. Old codger stuff. Is it just a male thing?

    Today, I had an urge to eat French fries. Why? I don’t know. I don’t usually crave them. Call it a “hankering.” I knew that, if I were to order them at the nearby McDonald’s, I’d have to ask for them without salt. Would they do that?

    As I wheeled into the parking lot, some a-hole cut me off. Zoomed in right in front of me! I almost hit him. Just who did he think he was? JERK! He quickly pulled into a parking spot and I soon followed into a nearby one. He jumped out of his car in a flash and ran toward the side door. I really thought about giving him a piece of my mind as I exited mine, but three things stopped me from saying a word…

    #1 Age. I was a lot older, wiser and more experienced. Patience goes a long way. Or, it should.

    #2 He was a construction type dude. Bigger than me, in other words. He would have kicked my you know what. Plus, he was a lot faster than me.

    #3 He made a bee-line to the men’s room.

    That third one (#3) told me he was in a hurry to do a number two, probably, without going into further detail, and that gave him license to get where he needed to go as quickly as humanly possible. That’s where #1 came in. There may be circumstances beyond someone’s control that cause something to happen. (Imagine if he had come along a second or two earlier. BAM! He would have hit me and there would have been two accidents.)

    As he disappeared into the restroom area, I went through the main door and waited near the front counter to order. A minute or two later, I was able to ask for them without salt. Yes, I was told, and they come out fresher that way, but it took a little longer.

    That guy? As I left, he was still in there somewhere, I’m sure, but I had no desire to go reprimand him for anything. Actually, I didn’t give him a thought at all. Instead, I learned a simple little lesson about maintaining a level head. Self-control prevailed. I’m sure we’ve all been there before - old and young.

    Cross-posted on Daily Kos

     

    Saturday
    Nov152014

    I JUST DROPPED IN TO SEE WHAT STATE MY STATE WAS IN... YEAH, YEAH, OH-YEAH

    One of the definitions of the word “state” is the particular condition that someone or something is in at a specific time. Skip that definition for now. Let’s move on to another one.

     

    STATE: a nation or territory considered as an organized political community under one government.

     

    Robert Owen Paxton (1932 -) is an American historian who specializes in Vichy France, fascism and Europe during the WWII era. He wrote that fascism is:

    “… a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.” 

     

     

    What is the definition of Islamic State when there is no nation under one government? For that matter, why is state capitalized at all? There is no “State.” Instead of IS or ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) or ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), what should we call this group of butchers? They are savages, indeed, straight out of the 7th century; save their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who has expensive tastes in modern-day accoutrements like watches, and sports dazzlingly white, perfectly-formed teeth (for an otherwise third-world slaughterer.) Or is he? Most are hypocrites at best. Yes, his followers are pretty high-tech, but they rape, murder and pillage at will. Very low-class. They force themselves upon their own version of disbelievers. If they don’t like you, you’re an infidel. Naked women. Young children. Men dropped to their knees. Off with their heads! That’s what they capitalize on. TOTAL FEAR. Annihilation. Devastation. Their goal is violent cleansing and expansion throughout the world. They want total domination of the world in the name of religion. I suggest calling them islamifascists. No capitalization because the majority of Muslims disagree with what they do in the name of their god - I think; however, no one in Syria, Iraq or Turkey has ever lived under a democracy and most Muslims remain quiet. Is it out of fear for their lives or is al-Baghdadi the one true caliph, a descendant of the Islamic prophet Muhammad as he claims, and they don’t know what to believe?

     

    Whatever. These islamifascists want their convoluted religious law to spread like cockroach infestations and beyond. We will never rid ourselves of their kind, but we must contain them by any and all means possible. Except palling around with Sayyid Ali Khamenei. He’s a fire ant. Bashar al-Assad is a killer bee. I am a most passive man, but these are two men we should never trust. 

     

    Like the islamifascists, Saudi Arabia likes beheadings, too, yet when the kingdom drops its cost per barrel of oil (is it due to cheap black market IS oil?) and our gas price goes down at the pump, we’re happy. Just in time for America’s Thanksgiving and the Christian world’s most commercialized holiday! Praise the..! Oh my… I’m most definitely in a STATE OF CONFUSION! All capital letters! Will any good ever come of this? Why are conservatives still so up in arms over alternative energy sources?

     

    Cross-posted at Daily Kos

     

     

    Sunday
    Jul062014

    Cheney Mason Jars the Truth, By George!

    It’s hard to believe that Casey Anthony was found not guilty of first-degree murder three years ago, but she was. My coverage of the case began in November of 2008 and continued in earnest until the verdict. That’s when it ended. Many people wanted me to resume writing about her — the lawsuits and bankruptcy — but my job was finished. Those news stories were of little relevancy to me, so I never wrote about her again. Until now. Something (or someone) has piqued my interest. Most assuredly, it must be of major importance to stir me from my restful, peaceful, crime-free, post-Zimmerman Rip Van Winklish sleep, right? Yes, and it’s Cheney Mason. Just as the Casey Anthony saga began with a flurry of horrible lies, the nest of iniquity continues.

    Certainly, I have reasons to seek vengeance on those who took down the presiding judge at my expense, but I’m not a begrudging type, and the years have softened my stance to some extent. Jose Baez apologized years ago. It was nothing personal against me, he said, but he didn’t feel Casey could get a fair trial, especially in light of the check fraud pleas. That’s a different story and I understand more about the incident after years of study and reflection; however, I firmly believe the idea was the brainchild of a vindictive Cheney Mason. Mason had it in for Judge Stan Strickland and you are just going to have to trust me on it with no further explanation at this time. Asking the judge to recuse himself from this case is not the reason why I decided to pick up my pen. It’s to set the record straight over what I consider to be a persistent and perpetuating lie perpetrated by Mason — that poor, little Casey is innocent of any and all wrongdoing, and that the media and prosecution are guilty of everything. 

    In his book, Presumed Guilty | Casey Anthony: The Inside Story, Baez wrote:

    Casey and I had discussed her sexual abuse, and I felt it was only a matter of time before she would tell me the truth about what happened to Caylee.

    This was immediately followed by:

    The day I had a major breakthrough with Casey came in the early months of 2009 […]

    He continues to explain what Casey told him about the drowning and her father’s involvement:

    “Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone. I’m taking care of it. Don’t say a word of this to anyone, especially your mother,” and he walked away.

    Believe what you want. My point is that for over two years, until the onset of the trial in downtown Orlando, her defense team maintained an oblivious facade about the cause of Caylee’s death, and the public and many facets of the media were eschewing whatever Baez, et al, spit out. If she was so innocent, why not come forward much sooner than the trial? To be Nancy Grace-like, it would have been a BOMBSHELL and it would have sent the prosecution reeling into a downward, spiraling tizzy… momentarily, at least, until it had a chance to regroup. Instead, the young woman sat in jail from October 14, 2008 to July 17, 2011.

    (I think it’s important to remind you, before I go on, that Baez was not death penalty qualified, so Mason was hired, pro-bono, in March of 2010, a year before Casey opened her mouth about the death of her daughter, as cited above. Mason had collaborated with Baez prior to officially joining the defense, too, so he was aware of his new client’s alibi and the accusation of sexual abuse. Unfortunately for George Anthony, he was going to be the defense scapegoat and he didn’t have a clue. If I was a minor target, George was huge.)

    §

    Presently, I know precisely what Mason is spewing. It’s called marketing propaganda and he’s doing it to promote his new book, Justice in America: How the Media and Prosecutors Stack the Deck Against the Accused due out soon. I think it’s important and fair to first note that Mason does come with credentials. He’s a highly regarded veteran of criminal defense trials, as CNN’s Jean Casarez just pointed out in her interview with him, What life is like for Casey Anthony, updated July 4:

    A former president of the Florida Association of Criminal Lawyers, Mason, who just that year had been selected by Florida Monthly magazine as one of Florida’s top lawyers, was disgusted with the local media coverage about the relatively inexperienced Baez.

    That’s great. What a hero. Definitely, Baez was treated with contempt by the public and press, but it came with the territory of representing the most reviled woman in America and Baez knew that. What he needed was help forming a strong and capable defense, not a pompous ass press secretary/superhero. For now, though, let’s continue with the version Casarez wrote and elicited from Mason:

    Shortly before jury selection was to begin, Mason got word that Anthony’s handwritten letters describing sexual abuse at the hands of her father were going to be made public under Florida’s open records law.

    He believed it was only right that Anthony’s parents, George and Cindy, were warned. He called them to his office late on a Friday afternoon.

    “We had them one at a time come into my personal office and made the announcement: ‘Monday’s going to be a bad day for you George. I felt man to man I would tell you in advance.”“

    Mason said George Anthony’s reaction was “basically none.” “He looked at me … I turned sideways a little bit, he clapped his hands down on his thighs — let out a big sigh but didn’t say anything,” Mason said.

    “He never admitted doing anything,” Mason said. “All we had were the letters and (separately) the statements Casey had made to the psychiatrist.”

    According to Mason, he then called Cindy in to inform her.

    Next it was Cindy Anthony’s turn. “We called Mom in, Cindy, and told her and she immediately welled up with emotion, cried, was very upset,” Mason said.

    This is not what I recall from my experience with the case. Please note that Mason said George and Cindy Anthony went to his personal office after he got word, yet in his book, Baez wrote something contrary to Mason’s revelation.

    Two psychiatrists evaluated Casey for the defense, Drs. Jeffrey Danziger and William Weitz. Danziger was initially appointed by the court in 2008 following her arrest. For the defense, he met with her four times in November and December of 2010. Weitz conducted two interviews in February and March of 2011. According to Baez:

    After the prosecution took the depositions of the two psychiatrists, both sides agreed they should be sealed because they contained medical information as it related to Casey’s mental health, and there were issues of sexual abuse by George and Lee, which was protected under state law. Perry immediately sealed them, saying that he wanted to review them before deciding whether they should remain sealed.

    Baez continued:

    A couple of days later, Cindy called me to say she and George had an appointment the next day at the state attorney general’s office to discuss the depositions of the shrinks.

    I lost it. I smelled the skullduggery of Ashton and immediately contacted Perry, telling him that the state was planning to meet with the Anthonys to discuss the information that he had sealed. 

    Perry had a clear response: “Sealed means sealed.” Despite this clear message from the judge, the prosecution went ahead and had its meeting anyway. That was the arrogance of Ashton, whose attitude was, “I can do anything I want because I can get away with it.”

    And get away with it he did.

    In fact, according to Baez, the prosecution didn’t show the Anthonys the depositions, it showed them the notes they took during the depositions:

    […] The benefit to the prosecution by making sure the Anthonys found out what was in the shrinks’ depositions, of course, was that when the Anthonys found out that Casey was revealing George’s sexual abuse, they would turn on Casey, no longer support her, and became [sic] state-friendly witnesses.

    I thought Cheney was going to have a heart attack. […]

    This is proof that Mason did not individually call George and Cindy into his office to “warn” them. Instead, Baez warned Mason about what the Anthonys learned from prosecutors. But wait! There’s more…

    Before Presumed Guilty was released, then assistant state attorney Jeff Ashton published his book, Imperfect Justice | Prosecuting Casey Anthony. He had something to say about this matter, too, and it offers a third view, far removed from Cheney Mason’s.  Beginning on page 215:

    Even though the witnesses had been withdrawn [Danziger and Weitz], Linda [Drane Burdick], Frank [George] and I wondered how much of this George and Cindy knew. Just because the defense had dropped the witnesses didn’t mean they were abandoning the argument completely. There was still a chance that George could be dragged into this.

    One evening around the time that all this was happening, Mark Lippman, the attorney who by then was representing George and Cindy, filed a strange press release. It said something to the effect that George Anthony had nothing to do with the disappearance of Caylee.

    Ashton contacted Lippman, assuming that Baez had spilled the beans:

    Mark told me that a few days earlier, Baez had asked for a meeting with just Cindy. When she arrived at his office, Baez, Dorothy Sims, and Ann Finnell via the phone were waiting for her with important news. Baez proceeded to tell Cindy that Casey had authorized him to say that Caylee had died at the house and that her death had been an accident. Baez also told Cindy that the state was investigating George’s involvement with Caylee’s death. Baez claimed that the authorities had information from a witness who said that George’s phone records held valuable clues.

    I was speechless. Poor Mark only knew the tip of the iceberg. It was the cruelest thing I have ever seen an attorney do. […] To tell this grieving woman…

    To say that Ashton was outraged would be an understatement. This is what pushed him to tell the Anthonys the whole story — to warn them.

    I told Mark we weren’t investigating George, although sadly, there was more bad news. But I had to get back to him about it. Linda and I discussed the best way to handle the therapists’ reports and we decided to invite Mark, Cindy, and George to our office. I gave Mark a call.

    “Are they saying that George disposed of the body?” He responded by telling Lippman it was worse than that. 

    When Baez found out that Cindy was coming to our office to see what the doctors had said, he immediately shot off an e-mail to Judge Perry, essentially accusing us of violating Perry’s order.

    Linda said that Judge Perry’s order indicated only that the transcripts would not be made public documents; it never restricted our ability to investigate the story, and there was no way we were going to let Jose’s lies go unchallenged. Baez would later attack us on this point, but the judge agreed with us.

    The prosecutors decided to discuss their notes and recollections with the Anthonys since the depositions were, in fact, sealed. Caylee’s grandparents needed to know the truth about what was actually going on, despite the inherent risk of possible witness tampering accusations.

    George and Cindy were visibly upset when they arrived at the state attorneys office, Ashton pointed out.

    Before the meeting, we’d told Mark that we would speak to him privately and share what we knew with him. Then it would be up to him to decide what to tell the Anthonys. We put George and Cindy in the conference room and took Mark into the office with us.

    Lippman heard the entire story…

    Mark left and went to the conference room to talk to the Anthonys for what seemed like twenty to thirty minutes. Linda and I were in a nearby conference room when Mark came to find us. Cindy and George had questions, and we accompanied him back to the conference room. Cindy was sitting at the table just looking down. George was next to her, his face bright red. Cindy looked angry. George looked like he had been crying, like someone had just killed Caylee all over again. He was just devastated.

    “I just want you to know that none of this is true,” George said to us.

    Cindy patted him on the hand and said, “It’s okay, George. Nobody believes this.”

    His words would catch in his throat as he assured us one more time, “I just want you to know that everything I told you is the truth and I am not changing any of it.”

    I remember Cindy saying something like, “I don’t know what’s wrong with her,” referring to Casey. At least she was finally willing to admit that there was something not right about Casey. How it would affect her testimony at trial, though, was anyone’s guess.

    There you have it. The rest is history. But is Cheney Mason rewriting the history books to glorify himself? To give himself most of the credit for saving poor, innocent, child-like Casey? Sometimes, certainly in this case, when someone keeps telling himself the same thing over and over and over again, he begins to believe it. Mason is, after all, one of Florida’s BEST attorneys, as I’m sure he would quickly remind us and his mirror. And if Washington chopped down the cherry tree, he chopped down the giant Ashton tree. And didn’t tell a lie. Yes, man-to-man, he gently pulled George into his office to softly break the news. What a kind and compassionate father figure. Only, I wouldn’t buy a used lemon from the man.

    The amazon.com Website promo intro of Mason’s book says, “He shares never before revealed media bias, and enough case secrets to make readers re-examine their conscience and the quick path to judgment and personal conviction of Anthony.”

    I am deeply concerned about the honesty of those “case secrets,” especially coming from a man with so much documented bias against the media. Until he needs to use us.

    § 

    I think it’s important to mention something more enlightening about the defense psychiatrists, Drs. Danziger and Weitz. They were most likely removed as witnesses out of fear that the judge would have granted the state their own psychiatrist, who would have interviewed their client. That would have been problematic for Casey and the entire defense. It’s also necessary to say that Danziger was highly uncomfortable with being a mouthpiece for these “very, very serious allegations against someone in a situation where there is no other evidence he actually did anything.” (Imperfect Justice, Page 210.)

     

    Monday
    Jun232014

    Knock Knock

    I have neglected my blog for a long time… Almost a year. WAY TOO LONG! I will start writing again because I have a lot of things on my mind. I hope you understand that I cannot cover news stories outside of the Orlando area. I need to get inside the courtroom. I need to go to the scene of alleged crimes. I need to sense and feel what’s going on inside the minds of those involved. Until then, I may just go back to human interest stories for now.

    Saturday
    Jul202013

    Once Upon A Time...

    Once upon a time, Pudgie the Bear was skipping through the woods when Trigga the Tree Troll stopped him.

    “Why are you running in my forest?” Trigga demanded, as one of his giant tree limbs stopped Pudgie dead in his tracks.

    “I… I… I have every right to be here,” Pudgie quickly responded. “Why did you stop me?”

    “Because these are my trees. You are robbing my forest of flowers, leaves, grass, mushrooms, berries, roots and nuts!”

    “No. Not me!!! I like honey!” Pudgie cried, but Trigga wouldn’t relent. The young bear tried to fight his way out, knocking chips of bark all over the place. “I’m going to make compost out of you!”

    “No you won’t,” Trigga replied, and just like that, his powerful limb lifted up and came smashing down; knocking the stuffing out of poor Pudgie’s body, sending it flying all over the place. 

    §

    Attorneys Natalie Jackson, center, Benjamin Crump, center right, and Daryl Parks, far right, representing the family of Trayvon Martin sit stoically as George Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict is read in Seminole circuit court in Sanford, Fla. Saturday, July 13, 2013. Zimmerman was found not guilty in second-degree murder for the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin. (Gary W. Green/Orlando Sentinel/Pool)

    After the verdict came last Saturday night and my journey was over, I was tired. From the very first article I wrote; from the very first hearing I attended to the very end, I put in a lot of hours. One of my friends asked me if I would be alright. How would I handle it now that it’s over? Would I be depressed? No, I answered. This is the life of a writer of true crime and courtroom drama. A climbing crescendo, long and winding, coming to a tumultuous climax and compelling completion is what it’s all about. Cut to the end. If we can’t deal with it, we’re in the wrong business. That’s just the way it is. Death becomes a way of life.

    By Sunday morning, most of the civilized world that paid attention to the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman trial knew the outcome. All that was left to do was to discuss it, but not me. I needed a break. Throughout, there were multitudes of directions each and every one of us had taken — like a hundred road intersection — converging into a massive mess of a traffic jam. Which one of us had the right of way? I don’t know. I still don’t, although a jury of six women decided for us. Yield! Move on or get run over! I suppose I could write a lot about the verdict, but what’s done is done. To perpetuate the story is, to me, unbearable. I won’t let it dog me. 

    The Pavlov’s Dog Affect

    From the beginning of the trial — jury selection or voir dire — we were warned by the Court and deputies to turn off all cell phones or set them to vibrate. This included iPads and other tablets and devices. No noises would be tolerated in courtroom 5D. Even Siri became a serious problem. Initially, we were given two strikes — a warning, then an ejection. That changed after the second or third day when (then) Chief Judge Alan A. Dickey changed the rule. It was one of his final orders before leaving his position, which was part of routine circuit rotation. Judge Nelson wanted it to remain two strikes but, instead, it became one, you’re out, although someone in your news organization could replace you; however, if your replacement made a noise, it would be strike two and your outfit would be banished for good — to the media overflow room you go. 

    Unfortunately, I heard dings, dongs, boing after beep and ring after cell phone song from the gallery. Out went a few journalists and members of the public, until the rest of us were conditioned to be scared to death. That’s a fact. For the remainder of the trial and days beyond, whenever I heard a digital noise of any kind, no matter where I was, I cringed. If I happened to be in the produce section picking out peppers when a cell phone pinged, I panicked. It was either mine or someone else’s and it meant immediate ejection from the courtroom. I called it PDSD — Post Dramatic Stress Disorder. It took some time, but I finally broke free and now feel safe when my phone barks.

    Dog Eat Dog

    This wasn’t my first go ‘round in criminal court. I was credentialed during the Casey Anthony trial. When journalists from all over the country and elsewhere began to come together at the courthouse for the Zimmerman trial, it was nice to see familiar faces again. We couldn’t believe it had been two years, but it was. After friendly hellos, hugs and handshakes, it was all business. Of course, there were plenty of new faces, too, from local news stations and major networks, including cable. 

    It’s the nature of the business to out-scoop each other, so there’s always a competitive edge. There’s eavesdropping and lots of interruptions while talking to someone involved with the trial, as if their questions for Ben Crump seem more important than the rest. Generally, they’re not, but that’s the way it goes. Don’t get me wrong, most of the media reps are very nice, but there are a few egos that get in the way; more so from producers than from on-air personalities. Like what I discovered during the Anthony case, the more famous the personality, the nicer they seemed, and the more intrigued they were with local news people.

    There was an emotional tie inside the courthouse and, most certainly, inside the courtroom. Aside from the actual trial, I mean between journalists. I could clearly sense that, after the strike rule went into effect, plenty of those people sitting on the media side would almost kill to get one more of their own in that opened up seat. They hoped and hoped a cell phone would accidentally go off, although everyone cringed when it did. We all knew it was to be expected. It’s the nature of the beast. Goody! Goody! The problem with me was that there were no replacements. I was the only blogger inside that room with credentials. Some may have resented that fact, but most didn’t. When I was asked who I was with, I proudly said, “Me!” I represented no one but myself.

    Throughout jury selection and the trial, that’s the way it was. When the State rested, everyone’s attitude changed. Gone were the vibes that begged for someone’s phone to go off. There was almost a camaraderie among us. The end was near and we all sensed it. Once again, in a matter of days, we would be going our separate ways. Surely, Mark O’Mara and his defense team wouldn’t take long and we knew that, too. How did we know? Because most of us realized the State did not put on a good case. It was a letdown. Is that all there was? They sure didn’t prove anything beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, the defense wouldn’t need to put on much of a show. Besides, they had cross-examined the State witnesses very effectively.

    With the last few days of trial at hand, what we had waited for and built up to was going to come down. A verdict was nigh and it would be over. Time to say good bye to those who cared enough. Some just packed up and left. They knew we would meet again at the next big one. Surely, there’s always a Jodi Arias out there to cover.

    On the final day, last Saturday, I could feel the electricity in the entire courthouse. The building was supercharged. I asked Rene Stutzman, who covered most of the case for the Orlando Sentinel, if she could feel it, too. “Yes,” she responded. “Absolutely.”

    I spoke to one of the administrators on a floor not associated with the trial in any way. She also acknowledged that her coworkers felt it, too. It really cut into their levels of concentration. Of course, some of that could have been attributed to protesters, but they didn’t come until the final three days and, even then, it wasn’t that many. No, this was a powerful trial; one that touched the entire area surrounding the courthouse.

    As a final aside, I must say that Judge Nelson was one tough judge. No, I’m not going to humor your thoughts on bias, one way or the other. This has nothing to do with that. Comparing her to Judge Belvin Perry, Jr., Perry was a pussycat. He gave us an hour-and-a-half for lunch each day and there were lots of restaurants in downtown Orlando to choose from. Plenty of time to eat, in other words. Nelson, on the other hand, gave the jury an hour each day and if there happened to be any unfinished court business after they were excused, it cut into our lunch time. That meant less than an hour, generally, with NO restaurants nearby. Well, WaWa. Despite it being cold in the courtroom, I couldn’t bring perishables, so I brought MorningStar Grillers Prime or Chipotle Black Bean veggie burgers on a toasted English muffin. No butter. Plain. I heated them in the lunchroom microwave, where I ate almost every day with a handful of other journalists. Sometimes, we’d talk shop as I nibbled on fresh tomatoes and assorted fruit. Today, there are no more daily events to discuss among my peers, but I am sticking with the diet. Plus salad. Those veggie burgers grew on me, especially the Grillers Prime.

    And in the end…

    After nearly five years of writing about local murders, I hope nothing else like the last two cases comes along again. In the Zimmerman trial, one must understand the residents of Seminole County in order to grasp the verdict. It is a predominantly conservative Republican county made up of a mostly Caucasian population. Gun rights is an important issue. It is not a racist area, although it used to be many, many years ago, but never as much as the surrounding counties. Ultimately, the jury based its decision on the law and how it’s written; not so much on the absolute innocence of Zimmerman, as if he did nothing wrong. In the eyes of the law, Casey Anthony did not murder her daughter, did she? Or was it, more or less, because the prosecution did not prove its case?  

    In the Zimmerman/Martin confrontation, it was the ambiguity of the final moments that cemented the verdict. All you need to do is to look at something else in order to figure it out. Take a DUI (DWI) traffic stop, for instance. If you refuse all tests — field sobriety and breathalyzer — and keep your mouth shut in the back seat of the patrol car, there’s hardly any evidence against you other than the arresting officer’s word. The less evidence a prosecutor has, the less chance of a conviction. That’s what happened here. There just wasn’t enough evidence. Without it, the jury could not convict George Zimmerman — not as presented by Bernie de la Rionda and his team. There wasn’t even enough for a manslaughter conviction, was there?

    On the night of February 26, 2012, something horrible took place. Was it poor judgement or bad timing, perhaps? Was it both? Had Martin arrived at the Retreat at Twin Lakes only five minutes earlier, Zimmerman would have gone on to Target. Had Zimmerman only left the Retreat five minutes earlier, Martin would have walked safely home to watch the NBA All-Star Game. Who started it and who ended it can and will be argued about for years to come. I formed my own opinion, but I choose to move on now. A verdict has been rendered. Let the rest of the media hound on it. They get richer and richer off the story and I never made a dime. In the end, trust me, Trayvon Martin did not die for naught.

    As for me, what does my future hold? I may re-stuff Pudgie the Bear and write fiction. Yup, you know… Once upon a time, we had characters like the Lone Ranger. In those days, good guys always wore white and bad guys never got away.

    George Zimmerman is congratulated by his defense team after being found not guilty, on the 25th day of Zimmerman’s trial at the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center, in Sanford, Fla., Saturday, July 13, 2013. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/POOL)

    Cross-posted on the DAILY KOS

     

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    Sunday
    Jul072013

    The Court of July

    The Gregorian Calendar has been the most widely accepted date-keeping standard since 1582. It means that, in most parts of the globe, July 4 is just another day of the year. In the United States; however, it’s not. It’s our birthday and we love to celebrate. Yankee Doodle. Feather in the hat. Macaroni salad. It’s a time for festivities of all kinds, including some of the most impressive fireworks displays the world has ever seen. We call it Independence Day because it’s the date signed on one of our nation’s most cherished symbols of liberty, the Declaration of Independence from the British Empire in 1776. This is a holiday to eat apple pie. It’s also a great day to munch on a hot dog while taking in an American staple — a good, old fashioned baseball game. How much more patriotic can we get than that… baseball, hot dogs and apple pie? Well, we can celebrate the US Constitution and our system of justice. That’s a good part of what it’s all about. Many of us saw it in action during the Jodi Arias trial and, before that, Casey Anthony. Now, there’s George Zimmerman. Charged in the February 26, 2012 shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, his second-degree murder trial began began June 24.

    Speaking of baseball and Casey, and I’m not referring to the 1888 Ernest Thayer poem, Casey at the Bat, July 5, 2011, was the day Ms. Anthony received her declaration of independence from the justice system. Not guilty. While most Americans have been able to enjoy an extended four-day weekend this year, death took no holiday in Seminole County on July 5. Court was in session. Ironically, two years later to the date of her verdict, the State of Florida rested its case against Mr. Zimmerman. While some might call this the 7th inning stretch, although the defense did put two people on the stand, Zimmerman’s mother and maternal uncle, I do not. Sadly, I have heard lots of people in the courthouse and elsewhere refer to trials almost like sporting events. Who won this day and that day. Points made in the courtroom are points on a scoreboard. Most certainly, any time a matter of life and death is brought into an equation, it’s not a game. Young Martin is dead. He will never play another game of baseball. Zimmerman might not, either. Nelson’s courtroom is not a stadium and she is not an umpire calling balls and strikes. We are not eating Cracker Jacks in the gallery. Did I say Cracker?

    What we have is the Constitution in action. The right to a fair trial. Part of our Declaration of Independence guarantees that we are all equal.

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

    There is no doubt that the United States is still a land of golden opportunity. Everyone has a chance to follow the path to success. We see it in action every day, but in some situations, it’s not really equal; not that it has to be, because we do not live under any kind of Utopian rule. We do not live “where nothing in society will belong to anyone, either as a personal possession or as capital goods, except the things for which the person has immediate use, for either his needs, his pleasures, or his daily work.”

    That statement is attributed to French thinker and novelist, Étienne-Gabriel Morelly. Where am I going here? Proof positive of the American system at work. Look at Jose Baez, speaking of the Casey Anthony case. He walked into a gold mine. What was he before she came along? An ambulance chaser? A DUI lawyer? While I am making no accusations against his background, Casey got his name from two women sitting in a holding cell at the Orange County Jail. The rest, they say, is history. Mark O’Mara, on the other hand, worked very hard throughout his career as an attorney to get to this point. He earned it through many long and arduous hours. Granted, Mark NeJame referred Zimmerman to him after turning him down, but he wouldn’t have done so had he given a thought that O’Mara’s solid credentials were less than stellar. While some of you may wonder why I bring this up at all, let me remind you that you can read about daily trial events in the newspaper. You can see and hear all about it online, on radio and on television. What I am is a pundit; a purveyor of private opinion made public. It’s my own brand of commentary, and here some of it goes…

    §

    A very powerful conservative blog, strongly favoring Zimmerman, splintered over O’Mara. Some believed his intention, all along, was to sabotage his client. Well, look at him now. He has done a splendid job dissecting many State witnesses, neutralizing some while turning others into Defense allies. This is the “mark” of a great attorney in the making, although I knew all along it was in him. He’s a great orator and thinks fast on his feet. There aren’t too many in the field of law that can pat you on the back while stabbing you in the gut — and — at the same time, keep you smiling. That’s O’Mara. That’s class, no matter what his courtroom adversaries and the public may think. His partner, Don West, on the other hand, is blunt and direct; straightforward to a fault. He is quite effective, too. In my opinion, they complement each other. West goes in for the kill and O’Mara soothes the pain. Or is it the other way around? O’Mara numbs you first. Either way, it’s a talented team.

    But has it always been effective? No, it hasn’t. Take the case of Ms. Rachel Jeantel, the State’s reluctant key witness. She was the last person who spoke to Martin before his death, other than Zimmerman. That is a matter of fact that cannot be disputed. The problem lies with her testimony, and what is left in its wake is quite complex. It falls into two vastly different camps; the thems that believe her and the thems that don’t. Granted, she lied under oath on more than one occasion, so why should anyone choose to believe her now?

    Witness Rachel Jeantel gives her testimony to the prosecution during George Zimmerman’s trial in Seminole circuit court in Sanford, Fla. Wednesday, June 26, 2013. (Jacob Langston/Orlando Sentinel)

    In order to understand Ms. Jeantel, one must consider her style in the courtroom, not just her substance. Let’s say she will never be a diplomat. Nor will she ever be a United Nations interpreter, although she is multilingual. English is just one language and it’s not her first, obviously. De la Rionda established that she grew up in a Haitian family speaking Creole. From what I’ve learned, she lives in a ghetto section of Miami. She and her friends understand urban-speak. She knows hip hop. She comes from a different world of imperfect grammar and Ebonics, living in a different generation; under separate rules of engagement. Ghetto people of all generations have no respect for the police. If you must ask why they disrespect law enforcement, then you know nothing about inner-city culture. Why then, would anyone, in all seriousness, ask her why she didn’t call 911 after Martin’s phone disconnected? So the police would come banging at her door to interrogate her? We’re not talking about someone with visions of white knights in shining armor, anticipating that “help is on its way.” That is so delusional in her world where whites, let alone knights do nothing for her. Is it any wonder why she was adversarial?

    What we got was a frightened 19-year-old girl, 18 at the time, who lied about going to the hospital because she didn’t want to see Trayvon laid out dead in his coffin. She lied under oath because she was questioned in front of the boy’s mother. She didn’t want to hurt or offend her. Was it wrong? Yes, but it shouldn’t have discredited all of her testimony. Admittedly, she also lied about her age, but she said she did so because, as a minor, she knew she could deflect the media from herself to her mother, meaning there could be no direct contact.

    Where she had me at hello was when she told the Court that Martin called Zimmerman a “creepy ass cracker.” Who would possibly make something like that up to hurt the person she cared so deeply about? Immediately, one would think of anti-racism, like antimatter. Pot? Call the kettle black. Profiler profiling profiler. West jumped on it upon cross-examination.

    “Do people that you live around and with call white people creepy ass crackers?”

    “Not creepy,” replied Jeantel, “but cracker, yeah.”

    “You’re saying that in the culture that you live in — in your community — people there call white people crackers?”

    “Yes, Sir.”

    This was, in my opinion, an attempt to transfer the racial profiling onus from Zimmerman to Martin. Did it work? The answer is two-fold. No and no. The term Florida cracker came from the cowboys that cracked their whips to herd cattle because they didn’t use lassos. That’s one version. There’s another theory for its usage. Slave foremen in the antebellum South may have used bullwhips to discipline slaves. Hence, they cracked the whip and became known as crackers.

    Without going into fine detail over what Jeantel said on the stand, I believe that the longer West crossed her, the more credible she became. He overdid it. Call it overkill. My father put it best when he later told me, “He made the sale, and then he bought it back.”

    Incidentally, my father is quite conservative, but doesn’t support either side. What’s your opinion of Jeantel? 

    §

    Now, we’re left with several problems. One is that the State has rested. Did it prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt? At this point, I would have to say no, but I do feel that the general consensus among media types is that Zimmerman is guilty of something. The man is, by no means, innocent of everything. The State did cast him in a very negative light, but will it be enough to convict? In my mind, he was a creep the night of February 26.

    However…

    Looking at (1) FLJI 74 MURDER - SECOND DEGREE

    3. There was an unlawful killing of (victim) by an act imminently dangerous to another and demonstrating a depraved mind without regard for human life.

    While some may conclude that Zimmerman was depraved when he followed Martin, it’s not as simple as that.

    An act is “imminently dangerous to another and demonstrating a depraved mind” if it is an act or series of acts that:

    1. a person of ordinary judgment would know is reasonably certain to kill or do serious bodily injury to another, and

    2. is done from ill will, hatred, spite, or an evil intent, and

    3. is of such a nature that the act itself indicates an indifference to human life.

    This was the major contention on Friday after the State rested. This was what O’Mara fought vehemently for in his JOA, a Judgement Of Acquittal, argument. What Zimmerman did had nothing to do with ill will, hatred, spite or an evil intent. The judge disagreed and said the State had presented enough evidence for the trial to continue. The jury will return on Monday morning. The State will now cross-examine and we will see how they do.

    Some people have wondered during court breaks whether this case would have made it to the courtroom had it not been for Civil Rights leaders. Is that true? I don’t know, but were the original powers that be too quick to jump the gun (no pun intended) and take one person’s perspective as the truth; the shooter, of all people? We cannot simply overlook the accounts of all witnesses, and that should have been enough for an arrest then, not 45 days later. Ultimately, it’s all the victim’s family wanted out of this — a day in court. For that reason alone, I do not believe there will be riots at the courthouse if Zimmerman is found not guilty.

    In my closing argument today, I will say that the State did not prove its case. With the possibility of a jury in doubt and the Defense lurking about, waiting to pounce, a conviction on second-degree murder is a long shot. This defense team is very strong and smart. I mean the entire team. In my opinion, it is O’Mara’s trial to lose, and I doubt he will, although I will not predict whether the six-member panel will contemplate a felony manslaughter conviction. There’s no doubt in my mind, something went horribly wrong that night. Just remember, this is not a game, the judge is no one’s teammate, and neither is the jury; not even among themselves, yet the verdict must be unanimous. No timeouts for them. There is no score card.

    Sunday
    Jul072013

    The Court of July

    The Gregorian Calendar has been the most widely accepted date-keeping standard since 1582. It means that, in most parts of the globe, July 4 is just another day of the year. In the United States; however, it’s not. It’s our birthday and we love to celebrate. Yankee Doodle. Feather in the hat. Macaroni salad. It’s a time for festivities of all kinds, including some of the most impressive fireworks displays the world has ever seen. We call it Independence Day because it’s the date signed on one of our nation’s most cherished symbols of liberty, the Declaration of Independence from the British Empire in 1776. This is a holiday to eat apple pie. It’s also a great day to munch on a hot dog while taking in an American staple — a good, old fashioned baseball game. How much more patriotic can we get than that… baseball, hot dogs and apple pie? Well, we can celebrate the US Constitution and our system of justice. That’s a good part of what it’s all about. Many of us saw it in action during the Jodi Arias trial, and before that; Casey Anthony. Now, there’s George Zimmerman. Charged in the February 26, 2012 shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, his second-degree murder trial began began June 24.

    Speaking of baseball and Casey, and I’m not referring to the 1888 Ernest Thayer poem, Casey at the Bat, July 5, 2011, was the day Ms. Anthony received her declaration of independence from the justice system. Not guilty. While most Americans have been able to enjoy an extended four-day weekend this year, death took no holiday in Seminole County on July 5. Court was in full session. Ironically, two years later to the date of her verdict, the State of Florida rested its case against Mr. Zimmerman. While some might call this the 7th inning stretch, although the defense did put two people on the stand, Zimmerman’s mother and maternal uncle, I do not. Sadly, I have heard lots of people in the courthouse and elsewhere refer to trials almost like sporting events. Who won this day and that day. Points made in the courtroom are points on a scoreboard. Most certainly, any time a matter of life and death is brought into an equation, it’s not a game. Young Martin is dead. He will never play another game of baseball. Zimmerman might not, either. Nelson’s courtroom is not a stadium and she is not an umpire calling balls and strikes. We are not eating Cracker Jacks in a peanut or popcorn gallery. Did I say Cracker?

    What we have is the Constitution in action; the right to a fair trial. Part of our Declaration of Independence guarantees that we are all equal.

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

    There is no doubt that the United States is still a land of golden opportunity. Everyone has a chance to follow the path to success. We see it in action every day, but in some situations, it’s not really equal; not that it has to be, because we do not live under any sort of Utopian rule. We do not live “where nothing in society will belong to anyone, either as a personal possession or as capital goods, except the things for which the person has immediate use, for either his needs, his pleasures, or his daily work.”

    That statement is attributed to French thinker and novelist, Étienne-Gabriel Morelly. Where am I going here? Proof positive of the American system at work. Look at Jose Baez, speaking of the Casey Anthony case. He walked into a gold mine. What was he before she came along? An ambulance chaser? A DUI lawyer? While I am making no derogatory claims about his background, Casey got his name from two women sitting in a holding cell at the Orange County Jail. This is not hearsay. Baez told me. The rest, they say, is history. Mark O’Mara, on the other hand, worked very hard throughout his career as an attorney to get to this point. He earned it through his strong convictions and efforts. Granted, Mark NeJame referred Zimmerman to him after turning him down, but he wouldn’t have done so had he given any thought that O’Mara’s credentials were less than stellar. While some of you may wonder why I bring this comparison up at all, let me remind you that you can read about daily trial events in the newspaper. You can see and hear all about it online, on radio and on television. What I am is a pundit; a purveyor of private opinion made public. It’s my own brand of commentary, and here’s some more of it…

    §

    A very powerful conservative blog, strongly favoring Zimmerman, splintered over O’Mara. Some believed his intention, all along, was to sabotage his client. Well, look at him now. He has done a splendid job dissecting many State witnesses, neutralizing some while turning others into Defense allies. This is the “mark” of a great attorney in the making, although I knew all along it was in him. He’s a natural orator and thinks fast on his feet. There aren’t too many in the field of law that can pat you on the back while stabbing you in the gut — and — at the same time, keep you smiling. That’s O’Mara. That’s class, no matter what his courtroom adversaries and the public may think. His partner, Don West, on the other hand, is blunt and direct; straightforward to a fault. He is quite effective, too. In my opinion, they complement each other. West goes in for the kill and O’Mara soothes the pain. Or is it the other way around? O’Mara numbs you first. Either way, it’s a talented team.

    But has it always been effective? No, it hasn’t. Take the case of Ms. Rachel Jeantel, the State’s reluctant key witness. She was the last person who spoke to Martin before his death, other than Zimmerman. That is a matter of fact that cannot be disputed. The problem lies with her testimony, and what is left in its wake is quite complex. It falls into two vastly different camps; the thems that believe her and the thems that don’t. Granted, she lied under oath on more than one occasion, so why should anyone choose to believe her now?

    In order to understand Ms. Jeantel, one must consider her style in the courtroom, not just her substance. Let’s say she will never be a diplomat. Nor will she ever be a United Nations interpreter, although she is multilingual. English is just one language and it’s not her first, obviously. De la Rionda established that she grew up in a Haitian family speaking Creole. From what I’ve learned, she lives in a ghetto section of Miami. She and her friends understand urban-speak. She knows hip hop. She comes from a different world of imperfect grammar and Ebonics, living in a different generation; under separate rules of engagement. Ghetto people of all generations have no respect for the police. If you must ask why they disrespect law enforcement, then you know nothing about inner-city culture. Why then, would anyone, in all seriousness, ask her why she didn’t call 911 after Martin’s phone disconnected? So the police would come banging on her door to interrogate her? We’re not talking about someone with visions of white knights in shining armor, anticipating that “help is on its way.” That is so delusional in her world where whites, let alone knights do nothing for her. Is it any wonder why she was adversarial? Her friend was dead at the hands of what?

    What we got was a frightened 19-year-old girl, 18 at the time, who lied about going to the hospital because she didn’t want to see Trayvon laid out dead in his coffin. She lied under oath because she was questioned in front of the boy’s mother. She didn’t want to hurt or offend her. Was it wrong? Yes, but it shouldn’t have discredited all of her testimony. Admittedly, she also lied about her age, but she said she did so because, as a minor, she knew she could deflect the media from herself to her mother, meaning there could be no direct contact.

    Where she had me at hello was when she told the Court that Martin called Zimmerman a “creepy ass cracker.” Who would possibly make something like that up to hurt the person she cared so deeply about? Immediately, one would think of anti-racism, like antimatter. Pot? Call the kettle black. Profiler profiling profiler. West jumped on it upon cross-examination.

    “Do people that you live around and with call white people creepy ass crackers?”

    “Not creepy,” replied Jeantel, “but cracker, yeah.”

    “You’re saying that in the culture that you live in — in your community — people there call white people crackers?”

    “Yes, Sir.”

    This was, in my opinion, an attempt to transfer the racial profiling onus from Zimmerman to Martin. Did it work? The answer is two-fold. No and no. The term Florida cracker came from the cowboys that cracked their whips to herd cattle because they didn’t use lassos. That’s one version. There’s another theory for its usage. Slave foremen in the antebellum South may have used bullwhips to discipline slaves. Hence, they cracked the whip and became known as crackers. Is it really a bad word? Get real.

    Without going into fine detail over what Jeantel said on the stand, I believe that the longer West crossed her, the more credible she became. He overdid it. Call it overkill. My father put it best when he later told me, “He made the sale, and then he bought it back.”

    Incidentally, my father is quite conservative, but doesn’t support either side. What’s your opinion of Jeantel? 

    §

    Now, we’re left with several problems. One is that the State has rested. Did it prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt? At this point, I would have to say no, but I do feel that the general consensus among media types is that Zimmerman is guilty of something. The man is, by no means, innocent of everything. The State did cast him in a very negative light, but will it be enough to convict? In my mind, he was a creep the night of February 26.

    However…

    Looking at (1) FLJI 74 MURDER - SECOND DEGREE

    3. There was an unlawful killing of (victim) by an act imminently dangerous to another and demonstrating a depraved mind without regard for human life.

    While some may conclude that Zimmerman was depraved when he followed Martin, it’s not as simple as that.

    An act is “imminently dangerous to another and demonstrating a depraved mind” if it is an act or series of acts that:

    1. a person of ordinary judgment would know is reasonably certain to kill or do serious bodily injury to another, and

    2. is done from ill will, hatred, spite, or an evil intent, and

    3. is of such a nature that the act itself indicates an indifference to human life.

    This was the major contention on Friday after the State rested. This was what O’Mara fought vehemently for in his JOA, a Judgement Of Acquittal, argument. What Zimmerman did had nothing to do with ill will, hatred, spite or an evil intent. The fight was started by Martin, he maintained. The judge disagreed and said the State had presented enough evidence for the trial to continue. The jury will return on Monday morning. The State will now cross-examine and we will see how they do.

    Some people have wondered during court breaks whether this case would have made it to the courtroom had it not been for Civil Rights leaders. Is that true? I don’t know, but were the original powers that be too quick to jump the gun (no pun intended) and take one person’s perspective as the truth; the shooter, of all people? We cannot simply overlook the accounts of every witnesses, and that should have been enough for an arrest then, not 45 days later. Let the legal system sort this out. Ultimately, it’s all the victim’s family wanted out of this — a day in court. For that reason alone, I do not believe there will be riots at the courthouse if Zimmerman is found not guilty.

    In my closing argument today, I will say that the State did not prove its case. With the possibility of a jury in doubt and the Defense lurking about, waiting to pounce, a conviction on second-degree murder is a long shot. This defense team is very strong and smart. I mean the entire team. In my opinion, it is O’Mara’s trial to lose, and I doubt he will, although I will not predict whether the six-member panel will contemplate a felony manslaughter conviction. Something really, really went horribly wrong that night. Just remember, this is not a game, the judge is no one’s teammate, and neither is the jury; not even among themselves, yet the verdict must be unanimous. No timeouts for them.

    Friday
    Jul052013

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    Tuesday
    Jun252013

    Real Lawyerin' Goin' Down

    To say that Don West is less than brilliant would be a mistake. He’s an extremely intelligent defense attorney and is highly regarded in the Central Florida area, but Monday’s opening statement was not one of his best days to plenty of people. I’ll be the first one to admit, Larry the Cable Guy he’s not; so he might be wise to keep his jokes in the office and not bring them into a courtroom setting, but I did understand the message he was sending. No adult with a driver’s license living in Seminole County was ever expected to be free from all knowledge of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. And he was right. No, the joke didn’t work; however, the point of opening statements is to give the jury a synopsis of the trial each side is about to present. Was West’s opening statement a synopsis? Not in the sense that it’s supposed to be a condensed statement. No, not by any means. Altogether, it lasted around two-and-a-half hours. But was it as bad as all that? I don’t think so. His job was to get the Defense message across, and while there may have been minor lags in some of the juror’s attention, I feel he did do that. He accomplished what he set out to do. Whether the jury absorbed it all remains to be seen, because it was a lot of information, but remember the old saying — you heard it here first! And I think that was the idea. You heard it from him first.

    John Guy is a veteran Assistant State Attorney with the Fourth Judicial Circuit. He’s been at it twenty years, and his experience showed up in court during his opening statement just before West’s. He came across like a seasoned professional. Which is exactly what he is. He was clear and concise, and his message got completely across to the ten jurors who sat awestruck over what he had to say. While I did see fidgeting during West’s performance. the jury was glued to Guy. If you saw the jury stare at him once, you saw the jury stare at him the same way twenty minutes later. In other words, they could have been straight from a scene from The Day The Earth Stood Still — totally riveted! The man is in a class by himself.


    §

    I would describe Tuesday’s action in the courtroom as extremely interesting. There was some incredible lawyerin’ goin’ down in there. I have no desire to go on and on about the day, and I won’t, because you could simply read about it in your newspaper or online. Instead, I will offer one part of the day that really stood out to me, and it’s one that I can explain in a manner you should completely understand.

    When State witness Selene Bahadoor took the stand, it pitted one veteran against another in a courtroom drama starring Bernie de la Rionda and Mark O’Mara. Bahador used to reside at 2841 Retreat View Circle inside the Retreat at Twin Lakes community. To get a good picture in your head, think about the “T” where George Zimmerman maintains he was sucker punched and beaten to within an inch of his life. Looking at the “T” from overhead, she lived on the right side, three doors down. That’s on the east side. Trayvon’s body was just west of the sidewalk heading south, virtually outside her back door. 

    Why was it so crucial for O’Mara to discredit this witness on his cross examination? Because she told de la Rionda she saw two people flailing their arms and moving from left to right along the sidewalk. On cross examination, O’Mara got her to admit that, in her interviews and depositions, she never mentioned anything about running left to right. All she said was moving. Liar, liar, right?

    She also told O’Mara she had no interest in being a media darling, but he told her about the interview she had with Matt Gutman from ABC News. She countered that it never aired. He pressed on. He asked her if she ever “Liked” the Justice for Trayvon Facebook page. She admitted that she had. He asked her if she ever signed a petition titled Prosecute the Killer of Our Son Trayvon Martin at change.org. Yes, she said, she did.

    While some people may think all of this adds up to a bad witness, guess again. The State has their list of characters and the Defense has one, too. Robert Zimmerman and the entire Zimmerman family are much more slanted, as are Trayvon’s parents, yet they will be allowed to testify. They are family, you might say. Yes, but they are entitled to their own opinions, and that’s what this comes down to. Opinions do not disqualify you from testifying. When you take that oath, you are expected to tell the truth. Does it mean everyone does? Hell no! But it doesn’t mean you cannot have an opinion. If Trayvon had survived, you’d better bet his opinion of the shooting would be worlds apart from Zimmerman’s. Both would tell their stories and you could decide which version you want to believe, but it won’t matter. The jury is all that counts.

    As for running from left to right, why is it so important to O’Mara? Because it would mean that the fighting started farther south; let’s say, closer to Trayvon’s house, and it would mean the fight didn’t start at the “T” intersection after all. Unless the Defendant was running back to his truck from the south side and they caught up there.

    But that’s not one of his stories. And on redirect, de la Rionda asked her if any one of the investigators had asked her which direction the movement came from. She said no. As a matter of fact, none of the transcripts made mention of that question. No one asked her. That includes the Defense deposition of Ms. Bahadoor. Mark O’Mara never asked her the direction. Neither did Don West. What was that old saying? You’ll never know if you never ask. Or something like that.

    Tuesday
    Jun252013

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    Sunday
    Jun232013

    Juries, Fryes and Trials; Oh My!

    George Zimmerman and his wife Shellie arrive in Seminole circuit court in Sanford, Fla., Thursday, June 20, 2013. Zimmerman has been charged with second-degree murder for the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin. (Gary W. Green/Orlando Sentinel/Pool)

    §

    Who are They?

    How many times have we heard the word they when someone makes a statement about an alleged factoid picked up from somewhere — on the nightly news, perhaps? It could be true, it could be false, or it could be a mixed up mess of information that formed at a later date inside the head of the person now telling you about them.

    “That’s what they said!”

    “Who’s they?” I always respond. Invariably, no one ever knows who they are, but they heard it or read it somewhere. This was an everyday occurrence during the Casey Anthony case and it is the exact same thing here. It’s not all that unusual. After all, isn’t this how rumors? So and so said… Thus, they are never clearly identified and, therefore, they do not really exist. Do they? Well, maybe someone said something, but without a name behind the theys of the world, there is no way I would accept any kind of statement without substance.

    In order to not accept the theys of this trial, it means we need to tuck them away in our pockets and leave them alone until the end. We need to try to look at this trial as open and fair minded as humanly possible — just like the jury. While this is a tough one to abide by, it’s something we need to remind ourselves of every day for the next month. We need to keep in mind that many of the legal analysts and reporters working for local, network and cable TV companies are, by their very nature, true-life criminal defense attorneys. That means their opinions could very well be skewed in the direction of the Defense.

    If you are not aware, Mark O’Mara was hired by WKMG to be one of the legal analysts during the Casey Anthony trial. WKMG is the local CBS affiliate. I must say that Mr. O’Mara impressed me tremendously back then. No, not because of his legal analyses. It’s nothing personal, of course; I was simply too busy in the courtroom and writing for the magazine at night. Because of that, I never saw or heard any TV pundits. What struck me in such a positive way was how extremely polite and professional he was. He went out of his way to greet me by name when we were near each other. That was a truly nice gesture, and I never forgot it.

    Individual and Traditional Voir Dire and Jury Selection

    At 3:00 pm on Thursday, June 20, 2013, a jury was seated in case 12-CF-1083-A; the State of Florida v. George Zimmerman. One Hispanic woman and five white women. The four alternates are composed of two women and two men; all white. These jurors, carefully selected by the prosecution and defense teams, are not going to witness anything from TV legal analysts or correspondents working the field. Everything these ten people see and hear will come from within the confines of the courtroom. Bernie de la Rionda and his team and Mark O’Mara and his team will be the only theys they will hear. Certainly, their opinions are polar opposites and they all think they are right.

    I never took the trip to the Pinellas County Criminal Justice Center in Clearwater to sit in on jury selection for the Casey Anthony trial. I wouldn’t have been able to afford a hotel room for the length of time it took, but I did watch the proceedings on live television. It’s just not the same. As this process was getting underway, several journalists and a handful of attorneys asked me if I had ever experienced jury selection. I said no. You are in for a fantastic experience, Dave, they all said, and they were right. To be able to see it all unfold in the flesh is an amazing thing. You can really sense the interaction between the hard working attorneys and the prospective jurors as they are questioned individually and collectively. During voir dire, the expressions on all of their faces were as diverse as the fields of work they are involved in, including being unemployed and retired. Homemakers. Engineers. Teachers. Book readers. Fifty Shades of Grey? A colorful lot, indeed!

    Some of the 100 were dismissed early because of bias or other reasons, including hardships. I was very fastidious in my note taking as they filed in one-by-one for questioning. During the meager one hour lunch break Judge Nelson gave us each day, a couple of us discussed who we expected to make the cut and who wouldn’t. One in particular was E-6. We thought, for sure, that she wouldn’t make the grade, but in the end, she did, despite a vigorous campaign against her by de la Rionda.

    While I paid close attention to each person interviewed, something about E-6 intrigued me. To be honest, she reminded me of Angelina Jolie a little. First of all, let me set the record straight by telling you that Jolie has never been my kind of woman and, to be honest, I am happily in love with someone I find to be much more beautiful, so please delete that element from the equation. This is just a descriptor. E-6 sat in the front row, in plain view.

    She stated that she hadn’t formulated an opinion when questioned singly during the pre-trial publicity phase. OK, fine. During the general voir dire phase, she was very much involved in the process. That’s what caught my attention; her involvement, animation and posturing. It was during this phase that Judge Nelson made the announcement the jury would be sequestered. I watched this woman suddenly and dramatically change her demeanor. She became somewhat distraught looking, although not depressed. She certainly looked dazed. She stared into nothingness and rocked back and forth slightly. Slowly, she came out of it and eventually, I detected a slight smile. Eventually, she snapped out of it completely and became herself again. This was not an unusual reaction from anyone who’s told they would be locked up for a month. But, while I cannot say for certain, what I gathered from her was this, only in slow motion:

    Oh no. Sequestration? No way. I don’t want to be a juror… Away from my two children. Away from my husband. No family life. No friends. No cooking. No fun. No sex. What will I do? This is a real problem. Hmm… What to do… No it’s not. I can see this working. This could turn out fine. I can take advantage of this. It could be my ticket. I can write a book!

    While I have no idea what she was really thinking, it’s what it appeared like to me. Here we have an attractive young woman who will look good in the limelight of cameras after the trial. She will definitely have an intriguing story to tell. Yup, that could be it. To be fair, she has every right to do so, and she wouldn’t be the first one to tell a story. I am not criticizing her objectivity, so don’t even go there.

    While I studied other possible jurors, I use E-6 to illustrate what really goes on in a courtroom during jury selection. There’s a lot going on, but what about the process itself? How do the jurors get selected in the end? I’m not talking about the Thursday afternoon arguments in front of the judge — meaning the peremptory challenges and challenges for cause. We all heard and watched it on TV. We absorbed it. If not, see it here.

    What you couldn’t see were the three rows of forty people.They were seated in each chair for a reason. Similar to a draft lottery, this is the easiest way to explain it. As every summoned person enters the courthouse and sent to the jury room, they are given a new name, like L-01 or S-69. As voir dire progresses and some are eliminated, others move on to the next level. That’s where the forty people come in. They are randomly given seat numbers 1 through 40 and that’s where they sit in the courtroom. Seat number 1 is in the front row and seat number 40 is way in the back. Odds of that person, or anyone in the back row, being chosen are next to nothing because the numbers are called in order, starting with number 1.

    Personally, I feel that both sides are content with the jury of women, although de la Rionda tried several times to strike E-6. In the end, the jury will be made up of women because the jury pool happened to turn out that way. The ratio was 2-1 women. I am sure they will be fair and just. 

    §

    During the traditional phase of voir dire, when those forty people were addressed as a group by Mark O’Mara, I noticed something peculiar. At an earlier hearing, on April 30, something O’Mara may have said must have sparked an idea in my head. I had to search extensively though my notes and comments before I found something I wrote on an article comment posted at the Daily Kos site. What made me think of it, I don’t recall, but this is what I wrote, in part, in that comment dated May 4:

    I believe the Defense may argue that Zimmerman felt Trayvon’s cell phone was a weapon; that Zimmerman had no idea what the kid had in his hand. Was it a gun? Of course, that would change the whole scenario and the State could reasonably contend that it shows the gun was drawn earlier, which I feel is a good possibility. Trayvon fought for his life over that gun.

    What happened in the courtroom this past Thursday, seven weeks later, set off all sorts of bells and whistles in my mind. I had an Aha! moment, whether it is something that will pan out or not. Watch this part of the video replay starting here. In it, O’Mara brings out a cell phone to illustrate a gun; something he could not bring into the courtroom. Was it a subliminal way of hinting at a dialog that may take place some time into the trial? To me, a cell phone has now been introduced as subtly as possible as a potential firearm. Could Trayvon’s cell phone have been perceived as a handgun? Just a thought, but George Zimmerman’s stories have changed over the course of time. 

    Excuse me while I NIST the Skype

    To be honest, I was never sold on the State’s expert witnesses. I was rather skeptical because they were originally hired by newspapers. I had a real problem with both experts. In her order, Judge Nelson wrote:

    The State’s witness, Mr. Thomas Owen, has been involved in forensic audio work since 1981, He was retained after the shooting by a newspaper to attempt to identify the person(s) screaming in the 911 call.

    For the software-reliant analysis, Mr. Owen used software called “Easy Voice,” a software program he markets and in which he has a small financial interest. Easy Voice recommends a sample length of 16 seconds to conduct its analysis. Mr. Owen only isolated seven seconds of screams from the 911 call. The seven second sample was rejected by the Easy Voice software program. To correct this problem, he ran the seven second sample twice (sometimes referred to as “looping”). Based upon conversations with sales representatives for the software manufacturer, he believed looping was an appropriate solution. As part of his technique, he adjusted the pitch of the known spoken voice sample of the Defendant to raise it up to the same pitch as the screams in the 911 tape.

    The issues here are very central to the decision made by the judge in rejecting him. Mr. Owen markets the software. He has an express interest in the company. He looped the samples in order for the software to work, and changed the pitch of one of them. The judge further stated:

    According to Mr. Owen, he also “cleaned up” the audio of the Defendant’s nonemergency call in an effort to identify a previously unintelligible word. Using audio editing software, he made a determination that the unintelligible word used by the Defendant was “punks.”

    No other entity; governmental or from the private sector, was able to ascertain what Zimmerman said. And speaking of what was said, the second expert for the State, Dr. Reich, was full of mondegreens. What’s a mondegreen? Let me put it this way. At the end of the Beatles song, Strawberry Fields Forever, you may think you hear something that ultimately started a huge rumor back in the late 1960s — that Paul McCartney was dead:

    “I buried Paul” was actually “cranberry sauce” spoken by John Lennon. It was very faint, but even at a higher volume, it was still easy to mistake what was actually said. 

    Back to Reich. According to him, he heard words spoken by the defendant and the victim; disparaging words. No other expert concurred. It was virtually impossible to determine who was saying what on any of the 911 recordings, let alone make out anything else. According to Judge Nelson:

    With regard to the identity of the person(s) making the screams, Dr. Reich reached the “tentative” conclusion that almost all of the screams heard in the 911 tape were made by Martin. In reaching his conclusion, Dr. Reich assumed the following: the screams could only have been made by one of two people, either Martin or the Defendant; the screams ended upon the gunshot being fired, leading to an inference that the person screaming had been shot; and the frequency of the screams indicated that the speaker’s vocal tract had not completely developed, leading to a conclusion that the person had not reached adulthood.

    In addition to his opinion about the identity of the person screaming, Dr. Reich testified that he was able to hear words on both calls that have not been heard by any other witness. He identified an unusual speech pattern in the Defendant’s nonemergency call and, upon further analysis, claimed to identify several distinct previously unheard words. Similarly, he was able to hear several previously unheard words and statements in the 911 call. Mr. Owen testified that he was able to detect these words by commonly-used digital enhancement and transcription software.

    While the judge could have allowed the testimony, I believe she made the right decision regarding State experts. The Defense experts were extremely credible and they debunked the junk. Was this a major blow to the State as some legal analysts contend? Remember, legal analysts are generally criminal defense attorneys and this is the side they will invariably take. Most importantly, keep in mind that the second-degree murder charge was filed long before any newspapers hired these guys and, in the end, the defense won’t be able to prove the screams came from their client, either. While it seems like a Defense victory, no one is the winner. Well… except for the jury that won’t have to put up with testimony that can only be understood by people in the field of spectrographs, human voice identification and biometrics, not to mention the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Oh, these glorious times of emerging nanoelectronics industries and applications in forensic testimony!

    The Trial

    Assistant state attorney Bernie de la Rionda, left, and lead defense attorney Mark O’Mara leave the courtroom after addresses a series of pre-trial issues with Judge Debra Nelson during George Zimmerman’s trial in Seminole circuit court in Sanford, Fla., Friday, June 21, 2013. Zimmerman has been charged with second-degree murder for the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin. (Gary W. Green/Orlando Sentinel/Pool)

    I expect the trial to be most gripping. While certain aspects of jury selection seemed boring to some, I never quite saw it that way. Sitting in the courtroom offers many advantages. We can see the quirks in every player. We pay attention to everything that surrounds us; the people we sit with on the media side, the public sitting on our right, the families of the Victim and the Defendant, and everyone on the other side of the gallery. There’s no way to feel the atmosphere of the room unless you are present. That’s not to say there’s nothing you can pick up by watching it on TV or on a live Internet feed. No, quite the contrary, but tension is not something that can be conveyed over an electronic conduit. Hopefully, I can do that in my writing — here, on the Daily Kos, and on my Facebook page, where you are more than welcome to friend me. I will update when I can, in my own inibitable way. 

    During traditional voir dire, Bernie de la Rionda came across as a preacher — a teacher and a lecturer of sorts; like you’d find at a pulpit or lectern — in front of a congregation or large body of students. While I found him to be quite good, the following day, Mark O’Mara took center stage and he was more like a Sunday School teacher; a country lawyer with a more relaxed style. He changed the entire mood of the courtroom, including the potential jurors, and created a lot more banter between them. In my opinion, O’Mara could influence the jury by his very style, and de la Rionda should take that into great consideration. One fires up the crowd and the other settles them. 

    De la Rionda is a man of great conviction. He is deeply religious and can quote scriptures from the Bible like there’s no tomorrow, regarding everything you throw his way. He is one of the best prosecutors in the state of Florida and has a solid team behind him. O’Mara? I don’t know anything about his religious beliefs, but I have known all along that he’s an excellent attorney and as sharp as they come. So is Don West. They are extremely crafty and cunning.

    I would make the case that de la Rionda and O’Mara have very little knowledge of each other except for what they’ve learned since their first courtroom battle, soon after Zimmerman was charged. I believe this will be one of those all-time courtroom dramas that will be read about for years to come. I can’t wait until tomorrow. Please join me.

    Please see Daily Kos

    Saturday
    Jun152013

    Voir Dire Straits

    George Zimmerman enters the court room on the fifth day of jury selection for his trial in Seminole circuit court in Sanford, Fla., Friday June 14, 2013. Zimmerman has been charged with second-degree murder for the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin. (Gary W. Green/Orlando Sentinel, Pool)

    A lot could be said about the first week of jury selection in the George Zimmerman trial, but I will spare you most of the somewhat boring and quite tedious details. I must tell you that it’s an intense study into the human psyche. Some of those interviewed seemed to beg for the chance to sit on the jury; as if to say (quietly) OUT LOUD that there could be a book deal down the road. At least, that’s the perception made by some of my media peers.

    There’s also the matter over knowledge of the case. No one in Sanford, let alone all of Central Florida, is expected to be mentally blind to the tragic shooting death of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman. To deny knowing anything about it is to be so out of tune with current events, it’s close to incompetency. Or it’s a giant lie — obviously knowing more than one would admit to. Either way, this is the type of pre-trial publicity questioning that should qualify or disqualify a prospective juror. It’s like sifting through the weeds of a garden to get to the root vegetables; like carrots hidden under a lush layer of rich soil, waiting to be plucked and added to the recipe now simmering inside the Seminole County Courthouse.

    When making a good stew, one must be very careful about the ingredients added. Too much salt is not good. Neither is too much pepper…. which leads me to a working segue — one of the potential jury prospects — E-7, a white male in his 50s with salt & pepper hair and a goatee. Soon after questioning began, I turned to the person to my left, a woman from ABC network news, and whispered that I recognized him from somewhere; like we had met or something. I couldn’t place him then and still can’t.

    Initially, I thought he was quite smart and open. He seemed pretty square and strong in his tenets. I noticed he was a bit adversarial while facing Bernie de la Rionda, but he said he liked playing the role of devil’s advocate. OK, fine, but when Don West questioned him, I began to feel a bit leery and said so in my notations. I wrote that he was a bit cocky and sure of himself. Something about his earnest sincerity began to unravel. Here’s a guy who stated that he watches both FOX and MSNBC. Open minded? At first glance, yes, it appeared that way, yet he paid no attention to either side. That didn’t compute in my head. He was someone, I wrote, who says he knows nothing, but he “knows too much, perhaps. Or a know it all.”

    The final thing I wrote was “I don’t think so,” meaning, he will not sit on the jury. 

    When he left the courtroom after questioning, I was surprised when the judge called him back to ask about a comment made on Facebook. Did he write it? No need to explain why. Just say yes or no. He admitted to it and I knew right then and there he was doomed. This man, Jerry Patrick Counelis, is a pathetic human being. Sick. Everyone from both sides wants this to be a fair trial. Counelis tried to infiltrate the jury; to force his pro-Martin agenda on everyone else. Had he been selected, it would have been a terrible blow to justice.

    Two days later, Counelis returned to the courthouse to express his concern over the lack of anonymity and privacy during the selection process. Huh? He was only happy to be questioned publicly Wednesday after leaving the courthouse. He gladly appeared on local and national television later that day and night and he has concern over WHAT? When I stopped for coffee at my local 7-Eleven on Thursday morning, an employee told me he was interviewed right in the parking only the day before. Because he protested loudly at the courthouse on Friday, kicking and screaming and attempting to get back to the jury room, he was trespassed until the end of the trial. In my opinion, a trespass was not enough. Instead, the man should have been arrested on the spot and held without bond until the end of the trial; then tried in criminal court. On what charges? Whatever could legally be thrown at him. He is the epitome of social immorality. Thankfully, he was caught by someone from the defense side and was stopped dead in his tracks. Imagine the dire consequences…

    On Thursday, E-81 took center stage. She was an attractive woman who told de la Rionda that she thought Zimmerman was innocent. One of the first things that caught my mind was a simple statement that came out of her mouth. Trayvon Martin wasn’t beat up like George Zimmerman. He was dressed like a street fighter. Duh… he only had a bullet in his heart.

    She made up things as she went along. Zimmerman had blood on his clothing. Down his collar and on shirt. Trayvon was a pot smoker. Guns. Street fighting. Parents weren’t aware he was going down the wrong path. George was just doing his job at neighborhood watch. Drugs made Trayvon aggressive. George was protecting his neighborhood.

    She told de la Rionda she wouldn’t be able to erase it from her mind, which was pretty well made up. She told him she was quite educated. I laughed under my breath. Every American has a right to protect themselves. The more armed people; the better. She admitted she wanted to donate money to the Zimmerman defense, but didn’t.

    When O’Mara took over the questioning, she mellowed to a good extent. Where she had been more adversarial to de la Rionda, she was amenable to the cordial defense attorney. When prompted, she said she could follow evidence and court instructions. If Martin’s alleged street fighting is “not presented at trial, she would not consider it,” she added. She said she had “no real concerns about leaving opinions out of the equation,” I didn’t believe her one bit and made note of it. 

    Baloney! She sways in the breeze, but is fervent in her beliefs. I am convinced of it.

    She was summarily dismissed later on.

    This leads me to a very interesting and important part of jury selection. How many strikes does each side get? When we broke for lunch that day, someone sitting on the public side addressed the possibility that the defense was forcing the state to use one of their strikes on E-81. After all, she seemed to be more neutral by the time O’Mara was finished questioning her, but was she, and did it really matter? A local legal analyst said that the Defense had the State on the run, but was it true? Or was it merely another opinion formed by a criminal defense attorney turned temporary legal analyst?

    In the state of Florida, one of the frequent questions concerns challenges from each side. This is directly from an e-mail sent out from the Court Services Administrator/PIO to all credentialed journalists:

    Q. How many challenges does each side have in jury selection?
    A. Because this charge is punishable by life in prison, each side will have 10 peremptory challenges and unlimited challenges for cause. Challenges are also commonly referred to as strikes.

    Law.com describes peremptory as:

    [T]he right of the plaintiff and the defendant in a jury trial to have a juror dismissed before trial without stating a reason. This challenge is distinguished from a “challenge for cause” (reason) based on the potential juror admitting bias, acquaintanceship with one of the parties or their attorney, personal knowledge about the facts, or some other basis for believing he/she might not be impartial. The number of peremptory challenges for each side will differ based on state law, the number of parties to a case, and whether it is a civil or criminal trial. The usual phrasing used by lawyers exercising the challenge is “Juror number seven may be excused.”

    §

    While I’m on a legal roll, let me continue by explaining why there are six jurors on this case:

    Florida Statute 913.10
    Number of jurors. — Twelve persons shall constitute a jury to try all capital cases, and six persons shall constitute a jury to try all other criminal cases. History.—s. 191, ch. 19554, 1939; CGL 1940 Supp. 8663(198); s. 87, ch. 70-339. 

    The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states:

    In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

    In an 1898 ruling, the Court wrote, “a jury comprised of 12 persons, neither more or less” was a requirement. If that’s the law of the land, then what happened? Why six? In Williams v. Florida, 399 U.S. 78 (1970), the Court reconsidered the size of a jury and affirmed the criminal robbery conviction made by six people. The Court ruled that the Sixth Amendment says nothing about jury size. From hence on, it rejected the earlier decision and held that six was sufficient to satisfy the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments, which, in part, states that:

    […] No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

    In 1979, the Court again visited the issue of jury size and unanimity. In Burch v. Louisiana, 441 U.S. 130 (1979), they found that Louisiana law which allowed criminal convictions on 5-1 votes by a six-person jury had violated the Sixth Amendment (along with the Fourteenth Amendment) right of defendants to a trial by jury. In a state criminal trial:

    We thus have held that the Constitution permits juries of less than 12 members, but that it requires at least 6.  And we have approved the use of certain nonunanimous verdicts in cases involving 12-person juries… This case lies at the intersection of our decisions concerning jury size and unanimity… But having already departed from the strictly historical requirements of jury trial, it is inevitable that lines must be drawn somewhere if the substance of the jury trial right is to be preserved.

    In other words, if a jury is to be as small as six, the verdict must be unanimous. Therefore, in Zimmerman’s case, a guilty verdict can only be rendered unanimously or not a all.

    §

    I will have more to write about this case as the trial progresses. This coming week should prove to be much more exciting than the first one, although I do find the whole thing to be quite fascinating and educational.

    There are questions I am asked during this tedious process I sometimes have trouble answering. One, for example, is about George Zimmerman. What does he look like in court? What are his expressions? I can tell you this. I sit behind the Defense. All journalists do. I cannot see George’s face unless he turns sideways. I occasionally put the live feed on one of my iPads, but it’s a battery drainer; however, I do have my spy, code name Pea Pod, who keeps me informed while I stare at the back of Zimmerman’s head. For those of you who cannot watch the trial, he is more animated now than he was during the hearings. He must be! Potential jurors are watching. He is taking notes and smiling. He is paying close attention to details. This is very normal. Jodi Arias was transformed into a librarian by her attorneys. During the Casey Anthony trial, her seat was adjusted to its lowest elevation so she would appear to be too tiny to have murdered her child. Poor, poor, Casey; sitting next to Cheney Mason, who was much, much larger. He put his arms around her to comfort her; squeezing her shoulder. He patted her hands as they rested on the table. Pity, pity, pity party.

    In Zimmerman’s case, he pretty much has to fend for himself, whether you like him or not. He weighs over 100 lbs more than the day he shot Trayvon. The jury must be made aware of that. While he most certainly will never be a demure librarian, he will never be a cop or judge, either — something he aspired to be — no matter what the verdict.

    And Trayvon? Whatever some of you may think, he was not a 6’3” monster weighing over 180 lbs, and the jury isn’t going to hear that he was.

    See also: Daily Kos

     

     

    Monday
    Jun102013

    Zimmerman Jury Selection Begins

    George Zimmerman’s wife, Shellie, with the family’s security guard, watches the proceedings in Seminole circuit court on the first day of her husband’s trial, in Sanford, Fla., Monday, June 10, 2013. Zimmerman is accused in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel)

    The last time I was called for jury duty, it was a criminal case. I had a terrible flu virus at the time, but I still had to wait until eventually being sent home. There was no way any person in that courtroom could have been unaware of my illness. We were all brought into the courtroom together. I don’t remember how many of us there were, but it seems to me it was well over a dozen. Each one of us was asked a handful of questions by each side and that’s as far as I got. When we took our first break, I was sent packing.

    I think the Court is given leeway in jury selection, especially in non-capital cases such as this one. It’s second-degree murder George Zimmerman is facing and that’s why it will be a panel of six jurors. Generally, two alternates suffice, but this case is very unusual and high-profile, so Judge Nelson was wise to opt for two more than the norm. There will be 6+4.

    From what we saw in the courtroom today, it’s a very tedious process. Aside from early motions, most of the morning and a good chunk of the afternoon — except for lunch, of course — dealt with explaining the process to the 100 jurors brought in for the day; asking them to fill out preliminary questionnaires and to introduce the defendant to them. The judge then went through important legal details with the attorneys while they tried to decipher what some of the people wrote, before finally sitting them down one by one to ask more detailed questions that are intended to go beyond the scope of the questionnaire. Four were interviewed today, and I expect a lot more tomorrow; perhaps a dozen or so — maybe more. I hope. 

    The people interviewed today will not be picked for the jury, in my opinion. B-12, up first, was a female. She seemed to want to be on the panel. She also said she had heard that Zimmerman was following the victim. B-29 moved to Seminole County from Chicago four months ago. She’s a Certified Nursing Assistant. She sounded compassionate enough; too much, I’d say, because she said any child’s death would affect her as a mother. She also said it would be a burden to leave her children without their mother if sequestered. She did say it wouldn’t be impossible. She has a 19 year old, a 10 year old, and 3 year old twins. B-30 will be remembered for saying he’d rather be called thirty than be sixty-five. He was asked questions by a local TV reporter several months ago while dining with family in a Sanford restaurant. He would be perfect for the defense because he seems to fit the type of mold they are seeking as an older, more conservative male. He could be a gun owner, although nothing like that was made clear. It’s interesting to note that the prosecution went easy on him and it was actually the defense that elicited more information about his news and TV watching habits, which may have hurt his chance to be selected. Sadly, he also lost his wife about the same time Trayvon was shot and killed. Finally, we have B-76. She seemed to be very open-minded. She and her husband do not watch cable television. As a matter of fact, they have an old-fashioned antenna in their attic. She was aware of some of the court hearings. She had heard of the case prior to and leading up to Zimmerman’s arrest. She saw Mark O’Mara on the news. She saw Trayvon’s parents on the news. When asked, she said she recognized the boy’s mother sitting in the gallery, but not one of the family attorneys, Natalie Jackson. Ben Crump was not present at the time. She and her children had discussed the case, but she did say they are very open-minded and hadn’t formulated an opinion. Remember, the law says you don’t have to be stupid about the news; you just have to keep an open mind.

    From now on, I will probably not pay this much attention (in my writing) to the details of each interviewee unless something important stands out. We’ve got, potentially, 500 people to go through, folks, and I’ve got a feeling it might take two weeks before we see the last person seated. After today, that’s the general consensus in the courtroom. What’s of utmost importance is that attorneys from both sides are allowed plenty of free space in their line of questioning. Not only is this about the death of a 17-year-old boy, it’s also about someone who could spend a minimum of 25 years in prison. It’s extremely important the jury that’s seated is as fair as they come, no matter what you or I personally think.

    I think it’s also important to keep in mind that there’s a Frye hearing to conclude. We’re in it for the long haul. I know I am.

    Sunday
    Jun092013

    Freeze-Fryed in Florida

    © All rights reserved by Orlando Sentinel photography

    Looking at three days of court proceedings, point and counterpoint arguments could be interpolated in terms of physics, introducing similarities and differences between matter and antimatter, in particular, matter/antimatter asymmetry, where matter particles share the same mass as their antimatter counterparts; although the electric charges are opposite, and matter dominates antimatter by the billions, thus, creating a lack of harmonious balance and arrangement.

    Did you understand that? I didn’t think so, and I’m not going to go in that direction or off on any sort of tangent. Nope, no circumlocution. Well, I could, but let’s stick to the matter at hand and discuss the law instead of the testimony we heard from State and Defense “expert” witnesses. We could discuss them until our brains are fried, or we might just wait until the Frye hearing continues…

    A Frye Hearing

    A Frye hearing, also called the Frye standard, is a special type of motion in limine filed prior to or during a trial. Defense or State experts from fields of forensics explain their findings in court and the opposing side issues counterpoints from their own experts, stating that the reasoning behind the testing and rationale is pure junk. In other words, it’s not commonly accepted in the scientific community; therefore, it shouldn’t be admitted into evidence. The testimony should be disallowed because the testing information isn’t really based on true scientific principles. Indeed, it can be controversial at times, but is the junk pure bunk? In this particular case, will any of the State’s testimony be allowed at trial? That’s the problem facing Judge Debra Nelson. Unfortunately, testimony from one of the Defense experts was delayed and the Frye hearing was left in the lurk for the time being. The judge had to freeze proceedings because the expert was stuck on a tarmac somewhere. There was no way to continue.

    Is that legal? Of course it is. While jury selection begins Monday morning at 9:00 am, questions the Defense and State plan to ask prospective jurors were turned in weeks ago. The Court has discretion over what line of query will be allowed and she will let both sides know on that morning. The line of questions will have nothing specifically to do with Frye or anything related to the issue. In other words, George Zimmerman’s defense team won’t ask about matters directly concerning what is and what isn’t acceptable scientific testimony, and what should or shouldn’t be admissible during trial. Meanwhile, the Frye hearing will continue at the discretion of the judge; after voir dire has been suspended for the day — or days. Hmm… for some strange reason, I expect to spend long days and lonely nights contemplating this trial.

    The Daubert Standard May Be Coming…

    We should now understand that a Frye hearing is an attempt to exclude scientific evidence. This is the standard in Florida at the moment. Come July 1, it may change if the governor signs the Daubert bill recently enacted by the state legislature. Ha! Right in the middle of this trial! Wouldn’t you know it!

    So what’s the Daubert and how does it differ from Frye? In Frye:

    The burden is on the proponent of the evidence to prove the general acceptance of both the underlying scientific principle of the test and procedures used to apply that principle to the facts of the case at hand. The trial judge has the sole discretion to determine this question and general acceptance must be established by a preponderance of the evidence. (See: The Frye hearing in Florida: an attempt to exclude scientific evidence.)

    In Daubert, there are relevant factors involved in establishing the validity of scientific testimony. Daubert was amended on April 17, 2000, to include:

    Rule 702. Testimony by Experts

    If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise, if (1) the testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data, (2) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods, and (3) the witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case.

    A 1993 court ruling, Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, held that Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence did not rely on the Frye general acceptance test as a basis for assessing the admissibility of scientific expert testimony. Instead, it incorporated a flexible reliability standard.

    Rule 702 was amended again, on Apr. 26, 2011, and took effect that December 1:

    Rule 702. Testimony by Expert Witnesses

    A witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise if:

    (A) The expert’s scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue;

    (B) The testimony is based on sufficient facts or data;

    (C) The testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and

    (D) The expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case.

    In Daubert, the court held that the subject of any expert’s testimony must establish a standard of evidentiary reliability based on scientific knowledge. There are five criteria articulated by Daubert:

    (1) Whether the methods on which the testimony is based have been tested;

    (2) The known or potential rate of error associated with the testing;

    (3) Whether the method has been subject to peer review;

    (4) Whether the method is generally accepted in the scientific community;

    (5) Whether standards exist for the use of the method and whether the expert has followed these standards. (See: Daubert Expert)

    OK! OK! Enough of the legal jargon, Dave! What’s the bottom line? In essence, Frye has to do with the admissibility of scientific evidence and Daubert deals with the admissibility of an expert witness’s testimony. Under Frye, if either side wants to introduce evidence, it must demonstrate to the court that the scientific community has reached a general acceptance of the basic methods and principles used to come to a conclusion. Except for one little detail…

    [The Frye motion] is usually used to preclude or exclude scientific evidence that is not the result of a theory that has “general acceptance” in the scientific community.

    [T]he conclusions reached by the expert witnesses need not be generally accepted. Thus, a court’s inquiry into whether a particular scientific process is generally accepted is an effort to ensure that the result of the scientific process, i.e., the proffered evidence, stems from scientific research which has been conducted in a fashion that is generally recognized as being sound, and is not the fanciful creations of a renegade researcher. (See: Frye Motion Law & Legal Definition)

    Sound confusing? It is! Whether you like Frye or Daubert, and whether or not Daubert is signed into law by the governor, the judge will have the final say on expert testimony. Period. I have no idea how this court will rule — not at this time — nor will I try to second-guess Judge Nelson from a criminal defense or prosecution perspective. I do expect that she has taken every bit of this into consideration, though, and will rule accordingly.

    Until there’s more on the matter, jury selection is coming, and that’s what I’ll focus my efforts on. Believe me, if something comes up, you will be the first to know because I will be reporting from inside the courtroom.

    Cross posted at: Daily Kos

     

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    Friday
    May242013

    Do I Deserve To Die Too?

    When I was 23-years-old, I was arrested and charged with possession of a CDS and for being drunk and disorderly. I was with a good friend, who was also charged. CDS stands for Controlled Dangerous Substance, and in the mid-70s, that included… shake and shudder… marijuana. Holy catnip! The charges were way more than trumped up, and the arresting officer, Jack Demeo, was later fired from the Delaware Township Police Department in New Jersey and banished from ever being a cop again. Anywhere. He was bad news and a disgrace to all fine, upstanding law enforcement officers the world over. His downfall? He flashed his badge at an Atlantic City casino and asked for gambling favors and free drinks. He said he was from the NJ Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

    The charges against me were dismissed before the trial began, but during a Motion to Suppress Evidence hearing, Demeo testified that he was professionally trained by the military to sniff out marijuana. Really? All that was found was one stubby, little roach — 2/10 of a gram — at the bottom of my friend’s ashtray. Had we known it was there, we probably would have smoked it that night and gone out for M&Ms. Skittles weren’t around in those days. As Demeo and his fellow officer traipsed us into the station, right across from where I lived in the blinking light town of Sergeantsville, I asked him what we were being charged with…

    “Being drunk and disorderly,” he screamed back. Of course, we weren’t drunk and disorderly. My friend was dropping me off at home. We were minding our own business — sound familiar? As a matter of fact, the illegal substance — the killer weed — wasn’t found until we were inside the station and Demeo had a chance to run out to retrieve the vehicle’s ashtray, return, and dump it on his desk. “AHA!” he exclaimed as he sifted through the cigarette butts and held up the overwhelming piece of evidence. “I got you now.” 

    Today, the whole experience is a joke, and I’ll be the first person to admit I smoked pot back in the day. But so did several of our presidents. Did they decide to start a war because they were high on ganja? Hmm… according to George Zimmerman’s defense logic, that could be the case. Think about it. George W. Bush. Barack Obama. Former pot smokers and warmongers. Bear in mind, there were no wars under Bill Clinton; not technically, and, in Zimmerman’s favor, Clinton never inhaled the stuff. Perfect evidence! Mark O’Mara and Don West may be onto something but, to be fair, impartial and to add a legal disclaimer, there’s no evidence that any president smoked marijuana while in office.

    I haven’t smoked pot in 20 years, but 20 years ago, I was 40. I first smoked it when I was 16. By 17, the age Trayvon Martin was when he was shot and killed, I was a seasoned smoker, sometimes toking before, during, and after high school. I never missed a day of work because of it. 24 years later, I knew a lot about the stuff, although my interest had really waned by then. Mostly, I was a recreational user throughout the years. I was never addicted to it and it led to no other drugs. Today, it’s not considered a “Controlled Dangerous Substance” in most states, and some have even legalized its use. In my opinion, it was never dangerous unless you consider driving under the influence, but it’s nothing like booze. When I smoked pot, it was usually done with my friends, we were too lazy to drive anywhere, and we sat around listening to Moody Blues and Pink Floyd albums eating whatever food we had; like Cheez Doodles and 2-day-old pizza. The munchies. We chilled out. Never, ever, ever did we think about fighting among ourselves or with anyone else. All we cared about was was getting high and not allowing anyone to Bogart that joint.

    §

    Now, to the matter at hand. In the DEFENDANT’S REPLY TO STATE’S MOTION FOR PROTECTIVE ORDER/MOTION IN LIMINE REGARDING TOXICOLOGY, Donald West argues:

    As part of the autopsy protocol, the Medical Examiner submitted Trayvon Martin’s blood for laboratory analysis. Among the findings includes a positive level for THC and its metabolite. The active THC was measured at 1.5 ng/mL whereas the metabolite was measured at 7.3 ng/mL. This level is sufficient to cause some impairment (although it is considered to be less than that required for a DUI arrest) according to the State’s toxicologist, Dr. Bruce Goldberger. […] Dr. Goldberger opined that Trayvon Martin may have used marijuana within a couple of hours of his death or that it could have been longer than that depending on whether Trayvon was a chronic user or an occasional user.

    Was I a chronic or occasional marijuana user? You can only have an opinion — depending on how you think. Are you really qualified? If I smoked it last week, would I be too impaired to write this post? Bullshit. Here’s where the reply from West gets stupid, ludicrous and just plain idiotic. Remember, my disgraced arresting officer said he was trained to sniff out marijuana. In his defense, at least he graduated from the police academy and didn’t draw his weapon on me. Zimmerman, on the other hand, never graduated anything beyond high school. (See: Records show George Zimmerman got D’s in criminal justice classes.) The Defense reply continues:

    In George Zimmerman’s non-emergency call to the police, he describes the person, later identified as Trayvon Martin, as appearing as though he was “on drugs.” Additionally, on close inspection of Trayvon Martin’s physical appearance at the 7-Eleven, where he was recorded on video within an hour of his death, he “sways” at the counter as if he’s under the influence of some substance. Taken all together, it is likely that Trayvon Martin was under the influence of marijuana at the time of his death and that his thinking and judgment were impaired at least to some degree. This is relevant evidence for the jury to consider when it evaluates Trayvon Martin’s actions that night, and the jury should be allowed to give it whatever weight it believes it should.

    What makes Zimmerman and West authorities on drugs? It’s a complete joke! I’m trying to be fair and impartial, but I find this to be totally disgusting and disrespectful. 

    Attempting to turn pot into a viable part of Zimmerman’s defense does make me wonder about something. Have O’Mara and West ever smoked the stuff? I mean, both are around my age. A few years younger, actually, but they most certainly grew up during the Hippie pot smoking era of the 60s and early 70s. They were young once, like me. I went to college. To say pot wasn’t on any college or university campus (including theirs) is a huge lie. Did Mark O’Mara and Don West smoke pot? Did it make them feel violent? I want answers. I want the truth. At the same time, West’s reply to the State’s motion is a paradox. If he never smoked pot, he might be inclined to believe it brings on violence. Smoke that war pipe. Yet, on the flip side — and in my opinion — West could have been as high as a kite when he wrote his reply. You can act pretty silly if you smoke too much weed, you know.

    Some of you may argue that O’Mara and West are not on trial here. I have no right to ask a question like that. You’re right. But Trayvon Martin is not on trial, either. Obviously, Zimmerman’s defense disagrees and I understand the tact it is taking. They have every legal right to try it, too. I thoroughly disagree, though, and I think any jury would see right through this ploy if it’s allowed to be introduced at trial.

    According to the defense team’s “disjointed” argument, I could, quite possibly, deserve to die, just like Trayvon. Zimmerman and West are self-trained to sniff out evil pot users and both have built in “high” detectors. The reply document says so. Yup, and pot smokers are violent offenders, but only in Trayvon’s case. 

    More to come…

    Also posted on the Daily Kos. Please feel free to comment there. 

     

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