If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that the past three entries have detailed a murder trial in which I recently sat as a juror. This is my fourth entry, and where things start to get weird. If you want to start from the beginning, click here
. Otherwise, we pick up with the second day of the trial after a five day break (mostly due to Memorial Day):
On Tuesday after five days to think about the dead naked woman, we viewed video of the alleged killer parking and exiting what appeared to be his girlfriend’s car. A shadowy figure emerges from the driver’s side door, struggles to put on a jacket and strides down the street with what appears to be a gun in his right hand, along the right side of his body, between his body and the buildings. He disappears around the street corner and three minutes later the camera picks him up walking back toward the car. This time the apparent gun is in his left hand, between the left side of his body and the buildings. He passes out of view of one camera and is picked up by another camera, which records him getting back into the car and driving away.
As luck would have it, the building the killer chose to park near had about 13 video cameras aimed all over the vicinity. The date and time stamps on the videos coincided with the deceased’s time of death, about two days before a co-worker discovered her body. One of the detectives spent weeks going through hours and hours of video recordings looking for something, anything that would provide a clue about what happened to the victim. And now we had this video.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to see. Yes, a person got out of the car and walked down the street, toward the victim’s apartment carrying something. But we couldn’t really see the person’s face or clearly determine what exactly the person was carrying. And who even knew if the person was African American or just dark due to the infrared and pre-dawn lighting? And, the person in the video disappeared around the corner. There wasn’t any record of him or her actually going to the victim’s apartment.
We viewed police recordings from the same cameras, made to assist us in determining the gender and height of the person in the videos. But the videos weren’t made at the same time of day and could only tell us that the person was about 5 foot 10 inches tall and most likely not a female. We did have the jacket, though. On one video clip we could tell the jacket was possibly red, and it had all the same features of the red jacket introduced into evidence: white reflective strips on each sleeve, a vent across the back, and an attached hood, which the person in the video had worn. But the jacket had not tested positive for the defendant’s DNA, only for an unknown male. This jacket, we learned, had been found in the girlfriend’s other vehicle when the police responded to her attempted suicide.
Real life is no CSI or NCIS or Criminal Minds. We had no Abby or McGeek to zoom in and magically clarify our video for us. No forensic experts with definitive amounts of DNA on hair follicles, no shoe prints that matched the suspect’s. No one matching bugs from the scene of the crime to the suspect’s apartment. Instead, we had a fuzzy video and one nanogram of DNA on a piece of a latex glove. One nanogram—that is one one-billionth of a gram. Infinitesimal. Hardly even there.
The local medical examiner was not as erudite or witty or cultured as Ducky, the detectives nowhere as handsome as Dinozzo, and tech whizzes like Abby and Garcia don’t really exist. The medical examiner works part time and is one strange dude—which really, when you think about it makes sense. The tech guy? He’s a regular detective with some additional coursework in video technology, but he has to work with actual technology, not TV technology. The detectives? Meh. Regular Joes without any superpowers whatsoever. No one produced a smoking gun. And after a morning of testimony from these folks, I had plenty of reasonable doubt when we broke for lunch.
Maybe the smoking gun would come in the afternoon, I thought as I dined on a potato burrito, when the star witness (the defendant’s girlfriend at the time of the murder) for the prosecution took the stand. After all, the prosecutor seemed to think her testimony would tie it all together for us.
We held our collective breath as she walked in and took her oath and sat in the witness box. And when she opened her mouth to speak it became very clear, very quickly that she was cuckoo for cocoa puffs. A damaged co-dependent soul who spun a twisted tale of need and abuse and low-self-esteem. She’d only know the defendant for two months when the murder occurred, but by that time she’d given him access to her bank accounts and fallen in love with his child. She lived in a house, a commune really, where all sorts of people came and went freely, taking what they needed. She kept a shotgun in her bathroom, though she claimed she didn’t know how to shoot it, and her Vicodon tablets in a lock box under the bathroom sink as they “tended to disappear.”
The day after the police contacted her about the murder, after she had provided an alibi for the defendant, she called and left a voice mail for a detective, confessing to the murder and threatening to kill herself. Detectives found her on a beach, her wrists slit parallel to her veins, an empty bottle of pain killers in her jacket. We saw a picture of the blood soaked log on which they found her. After they airlifted her to Harborview bandaged her up and pumped her stomach, the police arrested her for murder in the first degree. After all, she’d confessed.
She had a “monster” inside her, she had told the police, and she thought perhaps “Monster” had gotten out and harmed her boyfriend’s wife. Monster protected her, and since she’d discovered her boyfriend had other girlfriends, well, who knew what Monster might do? Monster bought a Trac Phone and sent text messages to the other girlfriends as well as to her own daughter. Monster lied and said her husband had done it (she was still married to a guy who now lived across the country and had given her permission to date other men).
But now, here in the courtroom, she was recanting her original confession and, instead, confessing that she had lied about the defendant’s alibi. He wasn’t with her the night his wife was murdered. Rather, in the middle of the night, he had taken her car and killed his wife. Then he came back, cleaned the car, burnt some evidence, washed the red jacket, raped her, and then celebrated the 4thof July with her family and his son. It was, she told the detectives who arrested her, “a perfect day.”
But now she insisted she’d been so heartbroken for the defendant’s son that she confessed to the murder so he wouldn’t lose both his mother and his father. She confessed to save the boy. Now she had traded her Murder 1 charge for her testimony against her boyfriend, the defendant. In throwing him under the bus, she would face only the relatively minor charge of rendering criminal assistance.
By the time this woman completed her testimony, I had more than reasonable doubt. I didn’t know what to think. All I knew was that I still couldn’t talk about any of this, not with my fellow jurors, not even with the little woman. I resisted the strong urge to Google the effects of infra-red light on dark skin. I did not succumb to the temptation to research just how much DNA is enough DNA.
Lesson Four: TV has made crime all too neat and tidy. Real life is messy.