I Adore Barbara. (But You Faithful, Regular Readers Already Know This)
The version I wanted, but WordPress is stupid.
“Three A.M., it’s me again.”
Three A.M. and I was in the middle of a dream about ‘Shit River’ in Ologapo City, Philippines. (Freud would’ve loved me)
Then I woke up.
Woke up to a very un-dreamy-like smell of real shit. Real potent shit. Horrible smelling shit. Knock a buzzard off a shit wagon smelling shit.
I was living in an old two-story house in Commerce. Just outside my bedroom was the walk-in closet where I kept all the clothes I owned. I have never owned much in the way of clothes, by the way.
I heard something dripping like rain behind the door, but it wasn’t raining outside. I opened the door and sure as shit, shit was raining down from the ceiling. All over my clothes. Spattering on the floor. My Chow Mix doggie, Tizzy, was obviously responsible.
I went around the corner, and there he was in that dog-taking-a-shit posture at the top of the stairway: Obviously with a really bad case of the doggie drizzling shits.
Took me until seven a.m. to clean up the shit and wash all my clothes.
As it was so late in the afternoon (and we really wanted to score just one more pizza the following day), we retired for the afternoon, to return the next morning. Now, of course I thought we could make quick work of this business and not get any more pizza.
I was mistaken.
First of all, we had to sit in that musty courtroom for an hour or so, listening to the prosecutor drone on about how we needed (our civic duty) to throw the book at this kid whom we had unanimously recently convicted (Hardly unanimous, but hey! Who’s counting?)
Then we had to listen to The Defense chastise us roundly for convicting an innocent (innocent?) man.
Well, the Defense pissed me off. (Yes. My failing, but more on that later. Not something I am proud of today)
After a couple of hours of this, we retired to our ‘chambers’.
The air was not quite as contentious (almost) as it was the previous day, yet…
The minimum sentence we could pronounce was fifteen years.
Straight-away I had a more roundish number in my head: ‘Twenty’.
Hell! He would be out in seven, given good behavior and prison overcrowding.
Once again, Blue-Haired Lady was having none of this. And I did respect her emotion. Yet, damnit! That defense attorney done pissed me off (Shades of Peanut). How dare he say these words he said:
“Well, Ladies and Gentlemen of the ‘jury’ (Yes. Sarcasm was dripping, like something out of a drunken sailor’s mouth) since you have already made one ‘mistake’… do not make yet another, and give this man anything more than the minimum.”
With his sarcasm bouncing around in my head, I was bound and determined ‘he’, he being in my mind, the attorney (what an ignorant fool was I to think in any way that this ‘Council’ gave two shits about his ‘Client’) was going up for twenty and I fiercely lobbied for twenty.
Looking back now, I regret this.
Sincerely regret this.
Fifteen would have sufficed, but I stood firm and played upon the emotions and the exasperation of my fellows and got my wish.
As I said, I regret this now.
We gave him twenty.
Sorry Johnson, wherever you may be.
I am so sorry for tacking on five years for my ego, and only my ego, nothing more.
P.S. Writing this has taken much out of me. I had buried it long ago somewhere never to be felt again.
Putting aside our displeasure with the judge over the denied smoke break, we continued our assessment of the veracity of Mr. Rogers’ testimony.
‘Crew Cut’ said, “I believe the boy. He comes across as honest. And actually, I don’t think he’s smart enough to be deceiving.”
This brought a few groans from around the table.
Crew Cut quickly added, “I don’t mean any disrespect Y’all; I’m just sayin’ he doesn’t seem to have any reason to lie.”
“He do seem kinda ‘simple’ that boy”, Gimmie Cap said. (The irony of his statement did not escape me) “But what about the girl? Obviously if you believe him, she must be lying about being asleep on the couch,” the mild-mannered elderly gentleman from the far end of the table said.
“I do think she’s lying about that,” I agreed. “But I really don’t think we should invest too much concern on it. I mean, we can speculate as to whether or not she was stepping out on her fiancé, but I still contend that is irrelevant. Look, she is young and probably terrified about her fiancé finding out about that aspect of this mess. I’m of a mind to believe the bulk of her story.”
Kathy (the wife of my old Honey Grove friend from the Seventies) said, “Lance, do you honestly believe she wouldn’t lie about everything to keep from getting caught cheating on her boyfriend? I mean, I’m a woman and you’re not. (Some giggles from the rest). Oh! I didn’t mean it like that. (Kathy was always extremely polite as I did recall). What I mean to say is that yes, she is probably in a panic and probably didn’t want this to go to court and that Rogers may have pushed her into this because he wants his gun back and he has issues with Johnson. That’s all I’m saying.”
Blue Haired Lady (seated next to Kathy) spoke up, “I agree. Not sure I trust Miss Shelton. She tries to come across as a completely innocent victim, but when I look at the young boy, I’m just not sure he is that bad.”
Crew Cut said, “Well, he ain’t THAT young, and his attorney cleaned him up for this trial. Do you suppose he had short hair and wore a suit in his ‘real’ life? What about those tattoos?”
“We’re supposed to forget we saw the tattoos Sir,” I reminded.
“Well, we saw ‘em. And I ain’t forgetting ‘em, and what about his drug abuse?” he shot back.
Blue Haired Lady said, “I just don’t know about that. He may have made some mistakes. He is young. I don’t think drugs have anything to do with this.”
Gimme-Cap says rather agitated, “I think drugs got ever’thang to do with this. Why he needin’ a shotgun in the mid’el of th’ night, huh? Maybe he gonna go rob som’un else? Ever think ah that?”
Another Juror, let’s call him ‘Business Man’, since he was the only one wearing a suit said, “I think we should discuss Johnson’s testimony and get off Mr. Rogers and Miss Shelton for a while.”
“Thank you Sir,” I said. “I agree. Any objections Y’all?” None were forthcoming. “Ok then. Johnson claims he had permission to take the gun, but I’m still bothered by the fact that he did not wait until Rogers was home to come for it. This really bothers me.”
Business Man said, “Yes. That makes no sense. Why would he show up late at night to borrow a gun? Doubtful he was going bird hunting at ten o’clock at night.”
“Maybe he was goin’ coon huntin’,” a forty-something man to my right said.
(Some laughter over that)
“We need to stick to the testimony here folks,” I replied, slightly exasperated. “We will be here for weeks if we start speculating on what his motives were other than what he said they were. So please, let’s just review what we know we heard.”
There was continuing, often heated discussion on Johnson’s testimony when there was a knock on the door. I got up, opened it, and in strode the bailiff carrying an armload of Domino’s Pizza boxes. This was a pleasant surprise.
“Y’all ready for some lunch?” He more announced than asked.
“Hell yeah!” Gimmie Cap exclaimed.
So we dove into the pizza (There was way too much for twelve people—later I found out that the bailiff lived for long jury sessions that required lunch for the jurors, as he loved pizza, and always ordered too much for the jury, and then took what was left home with him.)
As we were eating our pizza and drinking the sodas which were also provided, the talk stayed away from the trial. Folks were just making small talk with some occasional laughter, thus lightening the mood somewhat. I was grateful for this, as there had been a building tension in the air until the pizza showed up.
Pizza dispatched now.
“I really could use a smoke,” Gimme Cap said.
“Me too,” several others agreed in unison.
“Lance,” Kathy said, “Could you send out another message-in-a-bottle to ‘His Honor’?” Her sarcasm made me laugh.
“Yes. I certainly can.”
So I wrote up another note: ‘Smoke Break Respectfully REQUESTED’.
“We’ll see how this flies,” I said after summoning the Bailiff and handing our request to him.
Five minutes later, he appeared at our door directing us to follow him outside, “But don’t talk to nobody ‘long the way,” he instructed with what I can only describe as a ‘Barney Fife Authority-Voice’.
After our return, and with everyone pretty much sated with pizza, coke a cola, and nicotine, we were back to work and pretty certain we all wanted to wrap this up and not spend yet another day. It was about one o’clock in the afternoon.
“Let’s take another poll,” I suggested.
Everyone scratched their votes on little post-it notes and passed them up to me. I read them off as Crew Cut marked down the tally.
The vote had slid toward ‘Guilty’: Ten Guilty, Two Not Guilty.
I suppose that was some progress, but if we were going to wrap this up, obviously there was more work to do.
“I say we take another poll, this time verbal, so we can direct our discussion on the points of disagreement,” Crew Cut announced.
This seemed reasonable to me, so I said to the group, “Does anyone have a problem with this?” I noticed that Blue Haired Lady and Elderly Mild-Mannered Gentleman looked down at their notes, hiding their eyes, but said nothing. “Okay then, since there are not objections, we will go around the table and Y’all can state your vote.”
As I already knew, Blue Haired Lady and Elderly Gentleman had voted ‘Not Guilty’.
Blue Haired Lady’s voice cracked when she verbalized her not guilty vote, so I began with Elderly Gent:
“Sir, please tell us your concerns,” I said.
“Well,” he began. “I had a son. He got involved with drugs while in high school. I tried to help him. Did everything I could. He wasn’t a bad boy, ya know? He was a good kid, but those damn drugs… those damn drugs. Well-Sir, they got into him, into his mind, into his soul. We got him into rehab. He was fine for a spell, then, few weeks after he done with that, he got into some trouble. Not big trouble… he was a good boy, but those drugs… you see…” (At this point he had started to cry). We all listened in respectful silence as he struggled to regain his voice. “You see,” he continued. “Drugs killed my son. I look at that kid out there and I ask myself, if we send him to prison, how will he get any help?”
He broke down after that. Kathy put her arm around him. I just looked over at Crew Cut; our eyes met, and we both shrugged our eyes at each other.
“Let’s take five,” I said. “Have some coffee; stretch our legs.”
So, some got some coffee; a few suggested we request another smoke break (which I vetoed) some just got up and looked out the window.
After we settled back into our seats, I directed my attention to Blue Haired Lady. “Ma’am, would you kindly share your concerns with us?”
“I have a grandson. That boy out there reminds me of him. He is also a good boy. Young, headstrong, but a good boy. I look at Johnson, and wonder if I can take away his prime years. You know prisons in Texas will ruin an otherwise good boy. I think, even if he did this, he deserves a second chance. I mean… he did not harm the girl, did he?”
Gimme Cap, in a sudden burst of philosophy said, “He tortured her in her mental.”
“He has a point,” I said. “That girl is guiltless in this. She has suffered too. She deserves to feel safe. Who is to say, that if we do not punish this young man… Who is to say, how that will affect her? She doesn’t strike me of leaving this area. If we let him slide, she is going to be tormented by the memory of this and trust me: she will suffer anxiety. Does she deserve that? This Johnson, yes he is young, but he has done evil before. We all know this. Do you want to read about him going further at some future date, possible killing someone?”
There were similar sentiments expressed by the other jurors for the next thirty minutes or so. Once everyone had said their piece, I called for another vote. This time all were in agreement except Blue Haired Lady.
We took another short break. I watched as Kathy took her aside in the corner. The others backed away to allow them some privacy. Kathy put her arm around her and was speaking into her eyes. The woman said something and then fell into Kathy’s arms, weeping.
We all looked away respectfully and pretended to be fascinated by something outside the window.
Presently Kathy spoke to the room, “Let’s take another vote Y’all. This time secret ballot.”
Quietly we all sat down and without a word, we wrote our votes on the sticky notes. Once collected, I read them off as Crew Cut recorded the tally: Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty….times twelve. As I read the last vote I looked up at Blue Haired Lady: she had put her head down on the table and was weeping. Kathy was stoking her hair and speaking softly into her ear.
“I am going to summon the Bailiff,” I announced.
The Bailiff came in and handed me a form. I filled it out and returned it to him. Ten minutes later we were summoned into the court room. Taking our seats the Judge asked,
“Mister Foreman, have you reached a verdict?”
“Yes we have, your Honor.”
“Please hand it to the bailiff.”
The bailiff delivered our verdict to the judge. “Will the Defendant please stand.” And he read it off after listing the charges: “Guilty.”
Johnson’s shoulders slumped briefly, then he stood erect and glared coldly and directly at me. I looked directly back into his eyes. He did not blink, and I knew we had reached the right verdict.
So now we had to get down to figuring out who was lying and who was telling the truth. Straightaway we decided that both sides were lying to some certain extent. For one thing, Miss Shelton had testified that she was asleep on the couch when Johnson burst in. Her testimony occurred before Mr. Rogers had been called in to testify and he had not heard it. He was asked by the defense,
“Mr. Rogers, where was Miss Shelton when you left on your trip to the liquor store?”
“In the bed,” he said without any hesitation whatsoever, as if everyone should have known this.
“Mr. Rogers, How many beds do you have in your trailer?”
“Just one,” he answered.
“So Mr. Rogers, Miss Shelton was in your bed when you left?”
“No further questions at this time, Your Honor. But I reserve the right to recall the witness.”
He continued, “Now I would like to call Miss Shelton back to the stand Your Honor.”
Rogers stepped down and Shelton took the stand, admonished that she was still under oath.
“Miss Shelton,” he began, “Was it not your sworn testimony that you were sleeping on the couch when the defendant allegedly ‘broke in’ to the trailer?”
“Yessir,” she responded, almost inaudibly, while studying the floor.
“Then how do you explain the testimony of Mr. Rogers, stating you were in his bed?”
“Uh…” she spoke rapidly now, “I was in his bed for just a little while, but only because I was a little drunk and he said I should lie down… in his bed while he went to the store… He said I would sleep better there…”
“So you were in his bed when the defendant arrived?”
“Oh no! I had done woke up and moved to the couch to watch some TV and then I fell back asleep.”
“By your own admission, you were in a drunken stupor, yet you decided to get up and watch… some TV?”
“And what, Miss Shelton, were you watching on TV?”
“I don’t remember.”
“Is it conceivable, Miss Shelton, that you were having a sexual relationship with Mr. Rogers, and having been discovered by the defendant, you and Mr. Rogers decided to implicate him in a robbery to cover up your illicit affair?”
“Objection!” Yelled the prosecutor. “This has no relevance to the complaint.”
“Sustained,” said the judge.
So we kicked that bit about for a while. I suggested that I agreed it was irrelevant and nobody’s business if she were ‘cheating’ on her fiancé. Roughly one third of the jury disagreed with me. And they had some good points vis-à-vis her credibility. If she had perjured herself on that, how much of her story could we believe?
My argument was that it was perfectly understandable that a young woman would try to cover that up, given the fact that she was, in fact engaged. Furthermore, I went on, she is not on trial here for her ‘alleged’ infidelity. Does not change the facts regarding assault and robbery. I got some harsh push back on that.
‘Crew Cut’ (who was initially against the defendant) began to waiver:
“You know,” he said. “If she is lying about that, good chance she is lying about everything else.”
(‘Oh please!’ I remember thinking, ‘Please do not tell us she needs to ‘Find Jesus’ too.’)
I argued that I could forgive her that one perjury, given her circumstance.
“Okay,” I said. “Let’s shelve that one for the time being and move on. We can come back to it later.”
One of the jurors, a thirty-ish guy, who wore a John Deer gimme-cap with dirty blond hair poking out from either side piped up and said,
“Why d’y’all suppose Johnson waited until Rogers was not home to fetch the gun he was supposed to have permission to borrow? He had to had know’d Rogers weren’t home. I mean, his truck was gone, Right? Would you just go ta sumbody’s house late at nite, and git a gun without them a-bein’ there? Did he say he had a key? Doan think so. I thank he done was watchin’ to see when Rogers left, then went in ta steal that gun an’ whut-ever else he wanted.”
This, we all agreed, was a valid point.
We turned our attention back to the photos of the door, but really still could not come to any consensus as to whether or not the door appeared to have been kicked in or just a victim of ‘Trailer-Trash’ living. So we threw the photo evidence out of our deliberations.
Putting aside the testimony of Johnson and Miss Shelton for a while, we discussed in some length the testimony (and more importantly) the persona and character of Mr. Rogers. Most did agree that out of the three, he came across as the most genuine, most affable, and most believable.
Fully half of the jury members were smokers and they begged me to send a note to the judge via the bailiff, asking permission for a smoke break. I scribbled out a note:
“Your Honor, we respectfully request to be allowed a cigarette break.” I opened the door, motioned to the bailiff and handed him the note.
Five minutes later, he returned my note to me, with the judge’s hand-written response Sharpie written in the bottom:
OK, now we were pissed; We were really pissed at his curt response; even the non-smokers were pissed, as we had all begun to bond by this point, and we were stressed.
After we had all settled in with our coffees and doughnuts graciously provided by Hunt County we began our deliberation by comparing notes from the previous day’s testimony. It didn’t take me long to figure out that not everyone had the same impressions of what had transpired. Therefore the first order of business was to pull everyone closer together on the ‘facts’ we could agree upon:
The defendant, ‘Mr. Johnson’ was definitely at the scene at the time in question, approximately ten p.m.
He gained entry into the trailer
The girl, ‘Miss Shelton’ was in the trailer
The defendant did take the shotgun
The defendant was intoxicated when he was arrested
All three of the principals knew each other
Miss Shelton’s testimony was that she had been asleep on the couch when Mr. Johnson kicked in the door and upon discovering her in the house grew violent, found the gun and proceeded to yell while pointing it at her and threatening to “Blow her f*#king head off!” if she didn’t stop screaming. She further testified that he began searching the living room looking for drugs all the while keeping the gun on her.
She said Johnson kept screaming, “Where’s the f*#king dope! Where’s the f*#king dope?” Then she said after a few minutes the owner of the trailer, ‘Mr. Rogers’ came in, shouted at Johnson and ran over to her, yelling at him to “get the f*#k out of my house!” The defendant grabbed the bottle of whiskey from his hand and ran out with the gun, got in his truck and sped away, slinging mud and gravel. Rogers called the police and approximately ten minutes later they arrived.
Johnson claimed that Rogers had given him permission to borrow the gun and to come by his house that night to pick it up. He said there was no altercation.
This was flatly denied by Rodgers. It had come out during testimony that the defendant had a record of violence, which we were supposed to ignore, as the objection from the defense was sustained. It had also come out that the defendant had a back full of tattoos which displayed things like ‘cop killer’ and other unsavory images. The objection to this from the defense was also sustained, but not before Johnson had turned his back to the jury and pulled up his shirt. We were also supposed to ‘un-see’ the tattoos. Of course, I don’t think we were able to fully comply with either of these admonitions.
It had also been revealed that both the defendant and Rogers had been involved with drugs in the past.
It quickly became apparent that this was a simple case of ‘He said, She said, and He (Rogers) said’. So that is how we were to approach our deliberations. Who did we believe?
Rodgers had testified that he had been home with Miss Shelton up until approximately one hour before the alleged break in, but had gone out to purchase some whiskey before the stores closed (at nine p.m.) He ran into some buddies and stayed gone much longer than he had intended. He testified that when he finally did return sometime around ten p.m. he walked in on the defendant pointing the gun at Miss Shelton. He described her as visibly shaking and crying hysterically.
The defendant testified that when Rogers arrived he was walking out of the house with the gun he had been given permission to borrow crooked under his arm and that he had not threatened Miss Shelton or had even harsh words with her.
After the police questioned Miss Shelton and Rogers they went off in pursuit of the defendant and arrested him at eleven thirty-five. He had the shotgun in his possession and the bottle of Wild Turkey, which was about three-quarters full. He was taken to the Commerce City jail and booked on DUI.
The next day he was transferred to the Hunt County Jail and charged with the additional charges of assault and robbery.
We were shown photos of the trailer door, which did appear to have some damage, but we were also shown (by the defense) other photos of the general disrepair of the entire trailer. It was difficult to discern with certainty if the damage to the door was from someone kicking it in or just from general wear and tear and neglect.
These are the basics of the testimony.
Tomorrow I will get into the finer details and the heated deliberation.