September 27, 2003 – Second Day of Trial
This is the sixth entry in a series of entries on my role in the jury in a double murder case in the county of Contra Costa, California. You can see a more detailed view of the case including links to these posts and other items at this page.
8:30 am – The court never starts on time. All of the other jurors and I are just sitting around waiting for the bailiff to call us in for the 2nd day of testimony to begin. We’re expecting Karen Novak to testify today. She owns the house that the murders allegedly took place at. Yesterday we had heard a comment that indicated she was going to be here today.
8:45 am – The prosecution calls a woman that is the sister of a woman having the victim’s (JP) child. She’s very emotional as to be expected. Her sister’s child will never know her father because of what happened. This witness is here to testify that she saw the victim a few days before he was killed when he was first taking the drugs to the house in Concord. She knew that he was transporting drugs because he had told her.
The most interesting part of this was the fact that the victim had left a map at the house with the address of the house in Concord written on the side of it. He had called to get the address after he left because he hadn’t meant to leave it there.
The defense cross-examined her and wanted to know if the victim liked guns. She said no. He asked again because of what was written in the interview notes when the police interviewed her after they had found the bodies. In the notes there was a statement that she had said the victim (JP) had a .357 black and chrome revolver. She re-iterated that it must be wrong because she doesn’t know enough about guns to even know how to describe a gun or what caliber it is. She seemed believable about the fact that she doesn’t know enough about guns to have made that specific of a comment. Also, they had interviewed her and her sister together so it’s possible that her sister had described the gun if it was in the notes that way. I figure after about 4 years it’s hard to recall everything that was said.
This witness was here to establish that the victim had contact with the drugs and had delivered them initially to the house in Concord. I also think that this was probably critical that the victim had left the map there. This was what led the police to the house in Concord in the first place. Would they have ever found other connections to the house in Concord if not for this map? Maybe, maybe not. It’s hard to say.
8:55 am – The next witness is the sister of the previous witness and the woman that had victim’s (JP) child. She confirmed the timeline for the previous witness and that she did not remember him carrying a gun. She was also pretty emotional as to be expected. The prosecution did not ask a lot of questions.
The defense cross-examined this witness as well. He wanted to go over the gun in the notes again. She denied that he had a gun again. He asked if the police notes were wrong and she re-iterated that she did not remember him having a gun that day. I’m kind of wondering how the police take notes if she’s telling the truth. Were the notes the detective’s thoughts? They obviously aren’t going to take notes verbatim so they can’t be sure of all context. Just a curiosity.
The victim’s body language was interesting to me. She was sad and lackadasical. Sad I can understand but the latter emotion was curious to me.
My guess, watching the defense attorney, is that he was trying to establish the courier like guns and if he could do so he could paint a picture of why guns would be needed when they came back to the get the drugs. But that’s just a guess.
Things are going pretty quickly today. We’re going on to our third witness and it’s only 9:15 am.
9:15 am – The next witness is the first witness that connect’s the 2nd victim, Crystal Langston, to JP. The witness had known the victim for about a year and was with her at a trailer the morning of the day she was killed. The witness and victim had not known JP previously. They were both meth users and were at the trailer getting high that morning when JP and another guy had stopped by. JP knew the people whose trailer they were in. On a side note, how weird it is that someone named Crystal was also addicted to crystal meth. The guy that JP had come with left with the guy that owned the trailer. JP had said he needed to run an errand asked if the witness wanted to go with him. She said he just seemed like he didn’t want to go alone, that he really wanted company. The witness would have gone with him but she couldn’t because the car didn’t have plates. Interestingly enough, someone it came up in conversation that the car didn’t have plates because she said she never actually saw the car. The real reason the witness cared about the car not having plates is because at the time there was a warrant for her arrest. The witness was very sure that they had left at 1:20 pm that afternoon. She also said that she never saw or heard about JP having a gun.
The witness testified that she started to get worried and had attempted to call JP many times that evening to find out where Crystal was but never got a response and that the victim’s voicemail was full. She said she got the number for JP from the people at the trailer.
The defense cross-examined her and tried again to establish that JP had a gun. Nothing successful from the cross.
This witness was really critical because she really established the initial timeline for the day of the murder. Based on when they left she helped determine how long the scene at the Concord house probably lasted. From my own observations it had to be really strange to relive this, not just because her friend had been killed but because she would have been the one in the car had she not had a warrant out for her.
10:05 am – They call Karen Novak. This is the witness I was really interested to hear about. Her house is the one in Concord where the murders occurred. She had to be compelled to testify to avoid jail time. She did not testify willingly.
Karen testified that her husband at the time(who I assume we’ll hear from her later) had lost $30-40K in the stock market by getting into her online brokerage account without her permission. Her then husband was in jail when all this started and had contacted her to express his desire to “make it up” to her. The scheme was a bogus check scheme. Her description was that she would get a check, deposit it, and then give a portion of it to some other people while she would keep most of it. She was asked if this seemed a bit strange? She said no (I’ll get to my commentary on this later).
Next, she described that she received a $14,000 check in a greeting card. I don’t recall the exact writing in the card but it was strange. She apparently did not think that it was strange that she had received this check. She goes to deposit it because some people came by to get their portion of the check. She deposits it at Bank of America and gives them their $5,000. She found at later the check was bogus. So, now she’s out an additional $5,000. Apparently, she’s just upset at her husband, and not furious (her words if I remember them correctly).
Joshua, her husband at the time, had another checked dropped off. This one was for $17,000. When she went to deposit it it turned out this one was fake as well. She says the reason she was able to cash these checks was because she had overdraft protected linked to her credit card. The prosecutor again questioned her about how she could not have realized or be suspicious of these checks. She played dumb on these questions.
The next part of the scheme was that she was to receive a large amount of drugs, crystal methamphetamine, and then sell it to make up the money that she was now out. At first she claimed she had said yes but then later changed her mind. She tried to get the delivery stopped but appeared unsuccessful in this attempt since later on some 3 pounds of crystal meth was dropped off at her house by two men. She never opened the door to greet them. They just left a duffel bag on her front porch, made a statement and then left. The bag was dropped off on a Friday.
At this point, her daughter’s boyfriend Leron (otherwise known by his nickname, Puff), is brought into the story. He was the one that brought the drugs in the house and put them in the dresser in his room. Later on, somehow she had gotten JP’s number and contacted him about getting the drugs picked up. Some of her statements seem to contradict each other at this point in her testimony. She had also been in touch with her husband about getting the drugs out of the house as well. She kept re-iterating that she just wanted the drugs out of her house.
The prosecution asks if she was a meth user. She admits she uses the drug.
We stop for our mid-morning break at 10:55 am
11:10 am – The prosecution continues with the witness again. We’re starting to hear about the “plan” which is supposed to just encompess them making “those people”, the druge dealers, know that they just can’t come to her house like they did before. This part really doesn’t make a lot of sense to me because I don’t know why they would want to come back to her house after picking up the drugs. She didn’t want to say anything about scaring people which seems somewhat strange as well. My guess is it’s signficant for some reason or another. She was very emphatic that she knew nothing about a plan to kill the courier.
Fast forward to the day of the murders. She was at home in the morning but then had to leave to go to work where she was taking care of an elderly person. At some point she had called and found out that the courier had arrived at the house. She tried to call back later to find out what was happening and couldn’t get an answer. At this point she became “frantic” (her words). She left her job, which she was not supposed to, and raced home. When she got to her street she saw a car in the driveway but did not go to the house and continued to call. This was also strange to me. She just continued to call the house. She finally got an answer and that everything was okay. Rather than going in the house she said she just turned around and went back to her job. The phone records the DA seem to confirm that she was in communication with the house multiple times and correlate with when she was sitting in her car down the street from the house.
Karen said that she never talked to Dominique again after the search warrants were served and her house was searched.
There were times where she also said the drugs that were dropped off were “bunk” or not worth anything. She admitted to taking some of the drugs and using it.
There was also a lot of talk about whether or not Karen actually saw a gun and whose it was. She just said that she knew there was a gun on the china cabinet I believe.
The prosecution is done with the witness and it’s time for lunch. After lunch the defense will cross-examine the witness.
1:30 pm – The cross examination by the defense begins. The defense tries to paint a picture of Karen testifying in exchange for immunity. After that he starts by trying to use Karen to point Puff as the bad guy in all of this. In addition he tries to attack her credibility about her previous involvements in an armed car robbery and prescription fraud. In addition, he attempted to establish that Dominique was not involved by Karen directly, but that Puff was the point man for Dominique’s involvement. She generally confirmed that although I’m not sure how that is significant.
The prosecution redirects and asks whether or not she smoked the meth from the 3 pound brick before or after the night of the murder. She kept saying she didn’t remember when she used it.
The defense and prosecution went back and forth a few times on the gun and whether or not she saw it and so forth but it doesn’t really seem that material to me.
That is pretty much it for this witness. I’m not really sure what to believe from this witness. First, it’s obvious that she was much more involved in the plot than she let on. I’ll be curious to find out after the trial what we weren’t allowed to hear. Second, the woman is high if she thinks anyone will believe that she didn’t know that all those checks were fake. I’m sure she did but of course she’s not going to say anything on the stand. In addition, does anyone really believe she doesn’t remember when she used the meth from the 3 pound brick? I think not. Basically, she just places Dominique at the scene more than anything and her phone calls establish additional evidence to the timing of the crime and so forth. It also helps confirm how the drugs came into her possession and so forth.
2:50 pm – The last witness of the day is one of the criminalists that worked the scene after the bodies were discovered. Basically he provides information about the fact that the bullets in the trunk lined up with the positions of the heads. This shows that the victims were shot in the trunk of the car. The defense asks some questions about where the car was between the time it was towed and when it was finally examined by the witness. They were interesting questions but ultimately not damaging or of much material value.
That’s it for today. This has by far been the most interesting day due to the third witness which took up most of the day. She also provided the most drama so far.
Tomorrow – The seventh day of jury duty and the third day of the trial