Monday, September 19, 2005

Louisiana Here I Come

If the Red Cross ever held volunteer fashion awards, I think I might just win. Starting from top, note the khaki rimmed hat, clip-on sunglasses and eyeglass strappy holder.

In hand, Level 18 DEET insect repellant and generic Nalgene-style water bottle.

Around the middle, the back support girdle to help with heavy lifting (and draw attention to the ample bosom).

Matching khaki pants that unzip at the knee to make shorts.

And the real winner, the paisley purple rubber boots, the only knee-high waterproof boots I could find on short notice.

Tomorrow I fly to Baton Rouge, LA to begin 3 weeks of volunteering for the Red Cross. I completed a crash course in disaster relief, mass care and shelter operations in one day last week so I could be ready to go this week.

Don't know what to expect when I get to Baton Rouge. I've been given an 800 number to call when I arrive and the Red Cross officials in Lousiana will direct me from there. I may be staying in a hotel or in a shelter. Which means I've packed just about everything you can imagine to account for every contingency.

"Mass Care" entails everything from registering people staying in shelter, preparing and serving meals, cleaning and anything else to keep a shelter running. More than likely, I will be loading food and other supplies into trucks and driving out into affected areas where Hurricane survivors have stayed or returned to their homes.

Will do my best to stay in touch, but don't know if I'll have internet access or cell phone reception where I'm going. Back October 11th.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Art Snobs

The Coffee Grounds- the heart and soul of the Twin Cities art scene. Sike.

Allegra and two other Fringe performers were invited by a fellow Fringer to read for a storytelling group this past weekend. All three graciously accepted the invitation. I did sense some hesitation on Allegra's part. I never really knew why, but she'd grumbled under her breath about this storytelling group in the past. But she was pleased to have been asked and respected the member who had extended the invitation. The group had picked a theme, "taking risks," and each story was supposed to encompass that theme per each artist's interpretation. As we took our seats, Allegra said with a small wicked grin regarding the woman that had invited her, "she's gonna be in trouble with the group." Turns out that the reason Allegra had been hesitant to perform for the group was because she'd encountered some Spoken Word Snobbery from group members before. According to Spoken Word Snobs, Storytelling is about the oral tradition: it is to be memorized, not read off the page. All three invitees read *gasp* off a manuscript.

Allegra read an old piece she tweaked for this performance and a brand new work in progress. The new piece was hilarious! She had me laughing aloud even though I already knew the details of the story. She described how the seemingly benign task of joining Netflix snowballed into our blind date with another lesbian couple we'd met online, and, ultimately the revelation that she is, god forbid, a Bingo Player. She and the other two writers wowed the audience in my opinion.

At least, most of the audience.

After the performance, Spoken Word Snobbery reared its ugly head. Allegra was approached by a group member that implored Allegra to stay for the open mic by saying, "We had to listen to you, now you have to listen to us!". Surely that wasn't animosity I sensed in the word "had," as if Allegra's performance was something to be endured rather than enjoyed. Then said Spoken Word Snob turned to an acquaintance and said within ear shot, "Storytelling is so much more than dramatic monologue...which is what those three just did."

Beeatch. [I don't care if she comes across this and knows I called her bitch because she'll never be able to confront me. If she did, I'll just expose her for the hypocrite she is. Afterall, she's all about the oral tradition. Blogs, being the written word are trivial drivel.]

We did not stay for the open mic.

Monday, September 12, 2005

What I've been reading

The First Verse by Barry McCrea.
Allegra received this from my parents for her birthday after a recommendation from her college literature prof. But I snagged it and read it first. This book is captivating, but was especially enjoyable having spent time in Dublin. It is about a young gay man starting his studies at Trinity (where Allegra went on study abroad). Things go as expected as first: Much time in pubs, eating in the cafeteria and his first foray into a gay club (The George, where I met "Panti," an Irish drag queen that rewrote "Ring of Fire" to be a song about hemmorroids). But things take a dramatic turn when he finds him on the cusp of (and eventually fully entrenched in) a literary cult. May be one of the only novels to describe gay nightlife in Dublin.

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie.
Watching Finding Neverland made me want to read this again. The last time I read Peter Pan was in a Fantasy and Children's Literature course I took while on study abroad. I'd forgotten I had underlined sections of the book when I was reading it for class. Funny to see a children's book with key passages highlighted in such an academic manner. I guess I thought I was deep and insightful when I recognized the crocodile's ticking clock for the metaphor that it is.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer.
Safran Foer is an ambitious young writer who tackled the subject of the Holocaust in his first book, Everything is Illuminated (motion picture version starring Frodo to be released later this month) and September 11th in this book. As soon as you flip through this book for the first time, you know you are in for a special reading experience. The author includes cryptic photographs of doorknobs, exteriors of buildings and other images amongst his tale of boy's search for the lock that matches a key he finds in his dad's closet after his father was killed in the WTC. I read it in 2 days and promptly flipped to the beginning and read it again.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by JK Rowling.
Sniffle. I'm still in mourning. Went to the midnight release party and finished it 27 hours later.

The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas by Davy Rothbart
I picked this up during jury duty to kill time during our long waits in the hallway outside the courtroom. I chose because it is by fellow Ann Arbor native and founder of Found Magazine, Davy Rothbart. Overall the stories held my attention, but I was occasionally jolted away from the story by the insertion of some metaphor or phrase that seemed straight out of Creative Writing 101. It was almost as if the author was like, "Hmm, haven't written anything real 'artsy' in a couple pages, better get on that." For example: "We loaded him gingerly but hastily into the backseat as if he were a rare piano stool we'd smuggled from the warehouse at an estate auction" (italics mine).

The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell. This book is actually more typical of what I read. The previous selections would indicate otherwise, but you usually find me in the nonfiction section of the library or bookstore. I'm a "This American Life" fanatic. I've seen Sarah Vowell, David Sedaris and Ira Glass speak. I smile every time I remember getting my book signed by David Sedaris. Anyways, creative nonfiction rules, including this collection of essays by Vowell. Only she can have a reader laughing out loud in the Jury assembly room by describing her tour of presidential libraries. And no, the irony of the notion of a "partly cloudy patriot" in the jury assembly room was not lost on me.


Is it just me, or does Angel look a bit Neanderthal when he's in vampire mode? He looks strikingly like Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer.

A few of my favorite cyber-things...

Rob Cockerham is a genius!

Drew Curtis's Fark

Michael Moore
. Especially the "Must Read" section

Television Without Pity
Where else are you going to get a blow by blow recap of a show that was cancelled in 1996?

Margaret Cho

For all things Harry Potter

For all things Harry and the Potters (Favorite Lyric of all time: Of Harry's disasterous date with Cho Chang: "I'd rather not talk about your dead ex-boyfriends over coffee")

Netflix. It changed my life. Sure, my girlfriend and I bicker over the queue order [ "Three Irish Films back to back?" (Me to her)] and film ratings ["Only one star to Gosford Park? Are you Crazy?" (Her to me, Godforsaken Park I say)]. But with no late fees, unlimited viewing for a flat rate, and only having to walk as far as the mailbox in my pjs to pick up a new film, we get over the squabbles quite easily. Which is why our queque has ballooned to 383 discs. Perhaps we'll get to "Nip/Tuck" Season one by 2011.

For those of you that notice things like Jeanne Tripplehorn's character turning the wrong way onto a one-way street in Sliding Doors, there is




Rik Reppe

Amazing Race Pool



Friday, September 09, 2005

Funny Lady

Friendster is a funny place. It is a great way to stay in touch with friends and spy on exes. But I have close friends who are not my "friendsters" because they aren't computer people and people who I only vaguely know as that-girl-I-went-to-college-with-but-had-never-spoken-to-until-she-was-a-bridesmaid-in-that-one-girl's-wedding who have asked me to be Friendsters. Which is cool because there is also this unspoken competition to have the most friends on friendster and I'll take em where I can get em. And sometimes Friendster brings about cool little encounters that wouldn't have happened otherwise.

Case in point: my girlfriend was tracked down on Friendster by someone she had been in a youth choir with back in 3rd grade and hadn't seen since. But my girlfriend's name in Allegra and the woman was doing a Friendster search of people from their hometown and how many Allegras are from Minnetonka, MN really? Turns out this woman, Amy Anderson, is an accomplished stand-up comic who has been featured on Comedy Central and VHI. So Allegra took to checking Amy's site periodically and low-and-behold, Amy had a comedy gig over the weekend right here in Minneapolis. So we decided to check it out. And not only was the show free (I'm a sucker for a bargain), Amy was hilarious and totally into the fact that some random chick from her childhood and random chick's girlfriend showed up.

Amy was funny regardless, but I think my experience of her performance was heightened by the location of the show. Amy was performing in the chapel of Augsburg College as part of their freshman orientation. I think she was invited because some of her material deals with her Asian heritage, racism and stereotypes. I got the feeling she was told shortly before her performance that "the freshman learned about discrimination today and we are hoping you can help further their understanding of stereotypes with your comedy." So there she was, in the chapel of "a college of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America," with an audience of mostly young white kids who probably just left their small Midwestern town for the first time and she's been charged with making racial sensitivity more palatable. She did a very good job. She had the crowd rolling (except one girl in the front row wearing a pink and purple striped shirt who looked shell shocked). But I have a feeling whatever admissions counselor or orientator hired Amy hadn't heard all her material as she scandalized the rooms with jokes about her divorce, live in boyfriend and a hilarious bit about the sexual names of fast food joints (in and out, hot and now, etc).

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Brushes with mortality

A recap of some personal life events in which, if only for a moment, I realized that I would one day stop breathing and die:

The near drowning in the neighborhood pool at my sister's birthday party. Note to parents: as tempting as it may be to say yes, when your youngest daughter asks if she too can participate in the relay races in which the swimmers don oversized clothing from the dress-up trunk, leave it to your eldest daughter and her friends. Otherwise you too will have to jump in the pool wearing clothes. At least I had my swimsuit on underneath.

The diving meet in which I had to do my first back dive in competition. I think I was maybe 7 or 8. My pool's diving board was like 3 feet above the surface of the water, but this was an away meet at a pool that had a high dive. I leaned back and felt myself fall...and fall...and then SMACK! Hit the water flat on my back like in those old Crystal Light commercials. For the rest of the summer, I was an exhibition diver, meaning my dives didn't count for the team because I refused to do another back dive.

The near drowning in the high school pool when I had an asthma attack during a synchronized swimming meet (anyone else wondering why I'm still going anywhere near a pool at this point?). Hard to hold one's breath when there is no breath to be held. Also difficult to remain graceful, despite the sequined bathing suit.

Attending the funeral of my 19-year old cousin.

Working in an abortion clinic during the post 9/11 anthrax scares. Nothing like your own personal FBI agent sending faxed instructions on how to open mail with rubber gloves to make you feel safe at work.

Working in an abortion clinic when an armed robbery occurred there. "So, like, was the gun loaded?" Isn't an abortion clinic the LAST place you want a loaded gun?

Let's face it, working in an abortion clinic, period.

Attending a Las Vegas wedding that featured both Enya and Kenny G music selections.

Jury Duty: The End

I'm growing weary of recounting my jury duty experience, but feel like I should conclude it in some way. So here goes.

We switched courtrooms on Day Three. Our judge had been using another judge's courtroom while (I think) some high-tech equipment was installed in hers. Usually each juror left his/her notepad on the chair when dismissed from court and the notebook would be waiting for us on our chair when we returned. But because we switched courtrooms that day, the court clerk accidentally mixed up our notebooks. So we passed the notebooks down the row and picked ours out. A few people had already shuffled through the stack when it was handed to me. It was only then that I remembered the top item on the top page clearly stated "Catholic Faggot" in my handwriting (see previous jury duty entry for explanation). Nice.

We got to see the new high tech equipment 1st hand. Usually, if the judge asked or allowed counsel to approach the bench, they would converse in whispers. The court reporter had a set of headphones that connected to a mic on the judge's bench so she could take everything down, but the jury clearly wasn't supposed to hear what was discussed. On previous days, this had worked for the most part, but I'd be lying if I said I couldn't make out anything that was said. But, with the new hi tech courtroom, the judge could not only control the volume of all microphones in the courtroom (prosecution/defense tables, witness stand, etc), but activated a speaker above the jury box that played white noise while she was in discussions at the bench.

Witnesses on Day 3 were the victim and her mother. Victim testified as to where she and the defendant went that night (2 bar/restaurants, 1 one which I sometimes frequent) and detailed the events leading up to the assault. She also gave us some background info on how they met and came to date and some of his previous controlling/aggressive behavior. This included smashing her cell phone when she took a call from someone else and not allowing her to touch anything in his apartment. That night, she and the Defendant returned to his apartment, listening to music on the couch until she became tired and went to sleep. When she was unable to sleep because the music was too loud, she returned to the living room and turned off the stereo. So this is where the stereo comes in. He became enraged that she touched something without her permission. Might seem strange to some, but it is classic batterer behavior. Details of the assault aren't necessary here, but he attacked her. She was unable to get free until she bit him, but he caught and attacked again; she was unconscious when the police got there. She was upset at times on the stand, particularly when she had to look at photos of her injuries. She was noticeably irritated at times when the Defendant was cross examining her, and really, who could blame her. I couldn't help but wonder at one point if he had acted as his own counsel partly because she would have to talk to him one more time. I also think he was exceedingly arrogant in representing himself. I think he still felt justified in hitting her and thought a jury would have the same skewed outlook. The victim did have a court appointed victim advocate with her.

The victim's mother testified as to her daughter's appearance the day after the attack, after bruises had formed. The mother was the only witness that the Defendant did not cross-examine. The prosecution rested.

The defendant took the stand as a witness for the defense. He would be the only witness for the defense. Not only did he not have any character witnesses on his behalf, but I couldn't help but notice he never had a single observer sitting on his side of the courtroom to offer moral support. Including his mother, who we knew lives in town because it came up in previous testimony. Was the defendant going to ask himself questions, alternating between the witness box and the floor? He sat in the witness box and offered his testimony so that his version of events would be considered as evidence.

This is where I finally get to tell you about what I began calling in my head "the B.J.-Self
Defense" defense. He claimed that the victim was performing oral sex when he said the name of another girl. The victim became so upset that she bite him on his inner thigh and clamped on so hard and for so long that he had to hit her repeatedly to get her off him. Therefore, any injuries he inflicted were in self defense. But there were a lot of things he had to explain that we'd heard in court. The second attack that took place after she bit him and got away? Never happened. What about the slapping noises heard by the police? Could've been the cordless phone falling on the kitchen floor when it fell off the cradle after he called 911 (whatever). Why was he screaming about his stereo? After he was able to fight her off, he left her alone to calm down. He heard water running and discovered she had poured a glass of water into his stereo. The victim never turned off any music because there was no music because the neighbor testified under cross she hadn't heard any.

100 bucks says that stereo is still in his living room in perfect working condition.

The prosecutor cross examined the Defendant and was very merciful in my opinion. I think he realized that the jury would be more appreciative of a short cross examination than meticulously going through all of the inconsistencies of the Defendant's version of events (it would have been very easy for the prosecutor to do). The prosecutor did go through some of them: How was she able to scream and cry for help if her jaws her locked onto his leg? Why didn't he mention being attacked when he called 911? Why was he asking for help for her and not himself?

I have one I'd like to add: If there was no second attack and she was able to walk around pouring water onto stereos, how did she end up unconscious on the floor when the police arrived?

At some point during the defendant's testimony on Day Three, we ran out of time for the day and were given a time to return the on Day Four.

Day Four the jury showed up for service, but the Judge informed us that "there was an unexpected delay in the case" and we would resume the following day. We found out after the case was concluded that the delay was because the Defendant called in sick. But of course the judge couldn't tell us that at the time because it would've potentially biased the jury, some of whom were already very weary of how long the trial was taking.

Day Five we actually finished the rest of the Defendant's testimony and cross and rebuttal. Finally we got to closing arguments. Again, the prosecution was smart and kept things fairly short. And again, the defendant struggled to keep a concise train of thought and closing arguments carried over into Day Six. Day 5 was a Friday. The called the prosecutor and defendant to the bench where I think she may have given them the option of sequestering us. But, with the static coming out of the speaker, I can't be sure. All I know is that when she was done consulting with them, she told us "Not to worry. It's not like TV, you won't be sequestered over the weekend."

In his closing arguments, the Defendant tried to bring up some inconsistencies as grounds for reasonable doubt.

The red herrings that he tried to throw at us didn't really matter anyways.
He wanted us to accept the testimony of the neighbor having heard no music through the wall as valid, but at the same time dismiss her testimony that she heard a slap through the wall because that noise could've been "100s of things" and what can you really hear through the wall anyways?

He kept harping on the fact that the victim didn't initially testify in court that they had been kissing that night. Even though she did admit it under cross. She's a liar, she denied it. Um, no, she simply didn't mention it at first. Who wants to talk about kissing her attacker? Besides, what bearing does a kiss have on any of the charges?

He also harped on the fact that there were things she testified as not remembering. There were no glaring major gaps in her testimony, but details she did not remember. I think he wanted us to think she was drunk when it happened and not credible, but her testimony was very credible. Besides, any gaps in memory could be explained away by the fact she was unconscious at times. Not to mention she was having to recall a trauma 7 months after it happened and being questioned on the stand by the man who did it.

"I called 911 on her behalf! I was worried about her well-being. I said 'A friend' not 'Fred'". We did talk about this a during jury deliberations. Why did he call 911? The prosecution offered a theory in closing arguments: that he probably knew the neighbors could hear and thought he better try to get a different perception of events out there by calling 911 himself, yet be vague enough on the call so he could try to fill in the gaps later once he'd thought about it. I'm not sure the jury bought that, but thought he briefly scared himself enough that he was worried about what he was capable of doing if he didn't call. But why could police hear him hit her when they arrived? Was he really so stupid as to keep hitting her when he knew police would be coming? Apparently. I don't think the prosecutor ever tried to explain it. But when we talked about it during deliberations, the consensus was that he just couldn't control himself.

But I think what decided the case for me was this: Even if you were willing to accept his cock and bull story that she bit him unproked, the injuries she sustained far exceeded what would of been necessary for him to get her off of him. He is larger and stronger than her. And the law says that a person can defend him/herself until the threat of immediate danger are gone. If you continue to assault someone after that, it is no longer self defense. The only Self Defense that occurred that night was when she bit him to get him off of her.

We were finally given the case for deliberations the afternoon of Day five. The Judge gave us detailed instructions on our responsibilities and defined each element of all three charges. We would have to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of all elements of a charge to find him guilty of that charge. We, of course, had the option of finding him not guilty of all three, guilty of all three, or a mix. We were eventually dismissed into a deliberation room. We were provided with copies of the written instructions and definitions that the judge had given verbally, all state's and defense evidence exhibits if we chose to review them, and six verdict forms to be signed by the elected foreperson (guilty and not guilty version each of the three charges, only to sign the one that matched our decisions).

In the deliberation room, I was once again baffled as to why and how the Defendant chose this jury. The jury was 4 women and 2 men. Majority women on a domestic assault case? And I immediately felt relief when 2 other jurors admitted that too felt they wouldn't have been on this jury had the Defendant not represented himself. One of them is a psychologist who has testified repeatedly in Family court regarding family violence. And unlike my previous affiliation with the battered women's shelter, the Defendant knew that info about her during jury selection.

It may have been one of the shortest deliberations in history. And it would've been even shorter if they hadn't nominated me as foreperson. There was one juror in particular that made no attempt to conceal her desire to find him guilty of all charges and get out of there as soon as possible. Which made me a little nervous. Hey, I thought he was guilty too but felt we owed it to him to take our time and to the other jurors to each have their say. But when we went around the room, we all pretty much agreed immediately he was guilty. No one believed he acted in self-defense. Because the case was essentially he said/she said, there was a lot of conflicting testimony. Some believed certain elements more than others, but those details were insignificant when it came to an actual verdict. Regardless still caused fear and bodily harm to the victim. And no one contested the disorderly conduct. I figured he was guilty of that charge based on the neighbor's testimony alone, but the rest of jurors focused on his behavior towards the police.

At some point, I asked the room if they were really all comfortable having me as foreperson and were they okay with guilty verdicts on all three charges. They agreed and I signed the guilty papers. We informed the deputy outside the deliberation room and I guess she informed the court. It took awhile to be called into the courtroom. We took our same seats as usual in the jury box. The judge asked if we had selected a foreperson and reached a unanimous verdict. Lucikly, I didn't have to read the verdicts aloud myself. I presented the verdict sheets to the deputy and the Judge read them. But I messed up. I had only brought the signed forms with me and left the not guilty forms in the deliberation room. I had to go back to the room, walking right by the defendant, to retrieve them. The Judge read the verdicts, including my full name as the signature on the forms. I glanced over at the Defendant. He was pretty stonefaced. Judge said something about setting a time for sentencing and asked that the jury remain behind in the courtroom and everyone else was dismissed.

We were invited into the Judge's chambers. She thanked us for our service and said we could ask her any questions we might have. One juror asked what kind of sentence the defendant might receive. Turns out that the charges were 5th degree assault charges, a misdemeanor. The max is 90 days, but the Judge said she would give him less than that. If she gave him the max, then there is no option for additional probation and she said she "wanted to keep an eye on him for as long as we can." Someone else asked what had happened on Day Four and that is when we found out the Defendant had called in sick. One of the jurors seemed to scoff, but the Judge said she thinks he was mentally and physically exhausted from representing himself. I asked the Judge what she thought of our verdicts and she said she thought the evidence was certainly sufficient to find him guilty. Thankfully, someone else brought up the fact that he was uncomfortable with the Defendant knowing our names and cities we live in. Even though no contact info is put on the jury list, it would take all of ten seconds to find us on the internet. The Judge said she would ask for the jury list to be returned and include it in his probation to not contact any of us.

That thought had certainly crossed my mind and made me nervous and a woman who lives in a ground level apartment with another woman. It must have still been on my mind that night when I was home alone in bed and someone knocked on my window. It was the kind of thing where it is dark outside and I had lights on inside, so wouldn't be able to see anyone even if I did pull up the blinds, which I didn't want to do. I called out "Who's there?" while frantically looking around the room for potential weapons. No one answered my calls and then I remember that Allegra had just called to say she was on her way home. So I'm frantically trying to call her to tell her someone's outside the apartment and don't come home because he might be there when she opens the door to the apartment. Our neighbors upstairs were locked out so they had knocked on my window. But they didn't respond because then they saw Allegra pull up and she let them in. Sigh.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Jury Duty: Day Two, Part Two

The next witness was Cop#2. Cop#2 and 3 arrived on the scene together in response to the neighbor's 911 call. The neighbor showed them to the door. Cop#2 stood closest to the door while Cop#3 stood behind and to the side as back up. Through the door, Cop #2 heard a man yelling about his stereo, something to the effect of "Why did you touch my stereo?". He then testified he heard a flesh on flesh slap through the door. They knocked on the door and the Defendant opened it. The victim was lying on the floor, going in and out of consciousness. The Defendant said "She bit me for no reason." Concerned for the safety of everyone involved, Cop#3 handcuffed the Defendant while Cop# 2 tended to the victim. Cop#2 was able to wake up the victim and she was eventually taken by ambulance to a hospital to check her injuries. At the hospital, Cop#2 took a statement from the victim and also took photos of her injuries. The statement and the photos were presented in court and entered as evidence. In her statement, the victim relayed the events of the evening. She and the defendant had gone out, both had drinks. Eventually returned to the apartment where he became enraged over something and had beaten her. Cop#2 testified that she had been drinking, but was coherent and not intoxicated.

Cop#2 eventually went back to the precinct where the Defendant was being held. They had not been able to book him yet because he wasn't cooperating. He was put into a holding cell until he was calm enough for booking. However, in the cell, the defendant became "out of control," screaming profanities and punching and kicking the walls. Because he may of hurt himself, the cops called paramedics to come and sedate him.

Cop#3 also testified as to what he heard outside the apartment. He couldn't make out what the man yelled, but did hear the slap. He handcuffed the defendant who began hurling insults at the cops including "Catholic faggot," "F*cking pig," and "bush lover." I could never quite determine if it was "Bush lover" with a capital B, as in Dubya Bush, or lower case b, as in female anatomy. Certainly faggot and lower case bush lover seem to be contradictory insults. This kinda of talk from the defendant continued until he was later sedated. When asked what happened, all the defendant would really say what that the victim bit him and that she had been drinking. The details of his side of the story were heard for the first time from him in court.

Cop #3 was the final witness for Day Two, we were dismissed for the day.


I came across my student I.D. from when I was on study abroad at the University of Wollongong. Of course, I never told anyone that my time spent there was actually in a Petri dish. While the definition of "Specimen" does include an individual member of a group, us Yankees are more accustomed to the scientific use of the term. I therefore find it humorous to see "Specimen Signature" printed above my name on the back. Kinda brings a whole new meaning to the idea of foreign study's objective to expose us to a new culture. Get it? "Culture"?

Monday, September 05, 2005

Jury Duty: Day Two, Part One

Crazy J texted me mid-day with requests for more jury duty info.

Day Two brought the conclusion of the Defendant's opening remarks and the beginning of the State's witnesses and the exhibits that came with them. The first witness is someone I referred to in my notes as the "911 guy." He's a retired police officer who was working as the temporary manager of the 911 dispatch center on the night of the alleged assault. Two 911 calls came in that night and both were heard in court. The 911 guy was there to play the tapes, help the prosecution introduce the tapes and corresponding transcripts into evidence and essentially explain how the whole 911 thing works.

The first 911 call came from the Defendant's next door neighbor. Their apartments share a wall. In the tape she stated she was calling to report "domestic violence," that she could hear a man yelling "I'm going to hit you, I'm going to f*cking hit you again," a woman crying and screaming and as the phone call was being made, she told the dispatcher she just heard him hit her.

The 2nd 911 call came from within the apartment where the assault took place. A man called to say there was a woman there in need of help. She had too much to drink, but was not forthcoming when asked if she needed an ambulance. When asked what his name was, he said "Fred." Both recordings were entered into evidence as State's exhibits 1 & 2.

While the interview of the 911 guy by the prosecutor was pretty straight forward, the cross examination by the defendant was where the jury began to see his attempts to rewrite what happened that night. Up until this point, we don't technically know who the man that called 911 was, just that it was a man from that apartment. The defendant wanted us to know it was him. This proved tricky because counsel can't testify during questioning. He tried to say, "it was me that called," but that immediately brought objections from the prosecution. And since the 911 guy doesn't know him and was never at the scene, he just had to keep repeating himself over and over saying "It sounds like a man and the call came from this address. That is all I know." Now, Fred is not the defendant's name. He asked the 911 guy, "Is it possible that the man on the phone said 'A friend' when asked his name?". The 911 guy said, "No it sounds like Fred." The Defendant tried over and over to get the witness to testify that the transcription may not be inaccurate, but the witness didn't take the bait, simply saying "If I wasn't certain what was said, I would have put 'inaudible' on the transcript. I'm not going to guess at what is being said." And indeed, there were portions of the recordings where static drowns out the voices and the transcripts did say [inaudible] in those places. I think the Defendant wanted us to know that it was him that called 911 because he thought it would show concern for her well-being. But whether he answered "Fred" or "A Friend" he was evading the question, which is suspect behavior from a supposedly innocent man. I'll get into more detail later about his version of events, but suffice to say for now that his 911 calls mention nothing of the events he later described in court.

The next witness was Cop #1. Cop #1 was actually last on the scene that night, but testified first because she interviewed the neighbor that called 911. She saw very little of the scene in the Defendant's apartment aside from him in handcuffs talking to Cop #3 and the victim being attended to by Cop#2. She presented State's exhibit 3, a transcript of the recorded statement she took from the neighbor. In the statement the neighbor repeats what she heard through the wall that prompted her to call 911. The Defendant also cross examined Cop#1, but the only close to meaningful thing he got her to say was that she was not an eye witness to what happened between him and the victim. This would be a recurring theme from him: That only 2 people really know what happened that night and that the victim (in his opinion) can't remember clearly.

The next witness of Day Two was the neighbor herself. Lucky her, she still lives next door to the defendant. Having called 911 0n him, testified against him and been cross examined by him, I think I'd want to move if I was her. And here I was just uncomfortable being a juror. She corroborated the state's exhibits and described how she met the police in the apartment lobby and led them to the Defendant's apartment. The defendant also questioned her and got her to admit she only heard things through a wall and did not see what happened. He also asked her if she ever heard music coming from his apartment. She had. He asked her if she remembered hearing music from his apartment that night. She did not. This would be important to his defense later when the whole issue of the stereo came up. Turns out his stereo played an integral role in everything that happened that night...

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Jury Duty: Day One, Part Two

So once the 16 potential jurors were unloaded from the freight elevator, we spent some time waiting in the hallway outside the courtroom. I came to know this hallway very well over the next 5 days. The weirdest part about the hallway is that everyone involved in the trail waited in the hallway together throughout the trial. All the jurors, attorneys and witnesses gathered there together. I'm not sure if I expected each party to have their own locker room or what, but only the Judge had her own hideout in her chambers behind the courtroom.

Eventually, the court clerk led us in and we took a seat in the observer section, behind the low barrier dividing observers from those involved in the case (you know, where Mr. Brady was sitting when he dropped his briefcase to get the con artist to turn his neck in the neck brace to prove he was trying to scam Mrs. Brady in traffic court). On the other side of the barrier are the prosecution & defense tables, court clerk desk, court reporter box, witness stand, jury box and Judge's bench. A lot like TV except it wasn't all polished dark wood and dramatic lighting. I mean, there was some polished wood, but I didn't get the same feeling of formality and grandiose importance as one would in the "A Few Good Men" courtroom.

We were told the case was a criminal case: State Vs. [Defendant's last name]*. Three Charges: 1) Domestic Assault causing bodily harm 2) Domestic Assault causing fear 3) Disorderly Conduct. As soon as I heard the charges, I thought there was no way I'd end up on the jury. I'm a woman. I minored in women's studies in college. I went through volunteer training at a battered women's shelter. My bookshelves contain autographed copies of Andrea Dworkin and Susan Brownmiller books.

Then we were introduced to the prosecutor and the defense team. The defense team consisted of the Defendant and... that's it. The Defendant acted as his own council. That means he not only interviewed potential jurors for the defense, but did opening and closing arguments, all cross-examinations of the prosecution's witnesses (including the victim), and attempted to make objections. And no, he is not a lawyer.

And that is how someone with my background not only ended up on the jury, but was eventually elected foreperson during deliberations. This is why I am not using the defendant's name in the blog. Because he interviewed the jurors, he was given our names and cities we live in. My full name was also read aloud during the verdict as the juror foreperson.

Let me just state for the record, I went into this trial with an open mind. I believe in every individual's right to a fair trial and that the defendant is innocent until proven guilty. However, all jurors are going to be influenced by their life experience. That is why 16 potential jurors were interviewed for a 6 person jury. It is up to the defense and prosecution to weed out any jurors that have life experiences that would bias them in the favor of the other side. I answered all questions posed to me by both the prosecutor and the defendant with complete honesty. The Defendant did not ask if any jurors had ever worked with victims of domestic violence, nor if there was any reason we might be biased. All he asked us about was where we live, what we do, our education level, and our hobbies. Then the prosecutor had his turn, but of course, he didn't ask questions that would help the defense. We did not fill out any written forms, we were only asked questions verbally. Before I knew it, we were once again dismissed into the hallway while the jury was chosen.

I felt a little guilty while sitting in the hallway. Should I have just raised my hand and said, "Dude, I'm a feminist."? I figured even though this information hadn't come out, I'd still have a small chance of being chosen. I was about the same age as the victim, surely that was enough for the Defendant to strike me from the list. We were eventually called back in. The Judge read the names of those jurors not chosen. When the judge was finished, I was still in the Jury box. I really had no time to think about it because as soon as the 6 of us consolidated our seats in the front of the jury box, the trial began. The prosecutor began his opening statement. He basically told us what to expect in the way of witnesses and the evidence each of his witnesses would bring up. As times his remarks were dramatic, as he mimicked the slapping noises heard by witnesses during the alleged assault.

Then the Defendant got started. Right away I knew that the estimated trial length of a day and a half was drastically low. Even though we had been informed that opening statements are NOT evidence and therefore have no real bearing on jury deliberations, the defendant immediately launched into his version of events. He also tried to define the law for us, which immediately solicited multiple objections from the prosecutor. Only the judge can define the law for the jury and it comes after all evidence and closing arguments. The Defendant's lack of understanding of the law would continue to be evident throughout the trial. It got to the point where the judge would simple intervene herself without an objection from the prosecutor. The Defendant repeated himself often and made long pauses. Some of the jurors were more patients than others. Even though inexperience and length of time shouldn't influence the jury's verdict, the defendant never seemed to get it through his head that getting to the point would be better for him in the long run. As such, one of the first notes I made on the legal pad provided was "Just because he is an idiot does not mean he is guilty." Despite starting opening statements relatively early in the afternoon, the defendant still had not finished his testimony, er, opening remarks by the end of the first day.

*I leave out the Defendant's name not to protect him, but so I don't have to enter the witness protection program.

MN Conservation Plate

Is it just me, or is the boy deer about to mount the girl deer?