October 2, 2006 – 4th day of the trial
This is the eighth 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.
8:45 am – We actually got started close to our official starting time this morning. Woot! Our first witness today is a police lt. who I believe was the Sargent that assigned detectives to homicide cases at the time of this murder. My notes are a little messy on that fact but the important thing that this witness brought was that he was involved in the autopsies and also that he testified that they found a gas can under a headboard where the defendant had stayed after the murders. I don’t know about you but I generally don’t keep a gas can under my headboard so that doesn’t look so good to me.
The witness was also involved in the capture of Mr. Wright in Vallejo about 9-10 months after the crimes took place. Apparently they had gotten a tip that he was in a house in Vallejo and so the SWAT team cordoned off the block and after about a day they pulled him out of an attic of a house there. This was a pretty short testimony session since it only lasted about 20 minutes.
9:05 am – The next witness was the homicide detective assigned to the case. He was also the man that interviewed Mr. Wright after his capture. The detective was on this case from the beginning and was the lead on the execution of the search warrant at the Livorne Way house in Concord. He testified to the fact that they learned of the address for the house from the map that JP had left at his girlfriend’s house and then from there, based on what was found, he had a detective go and get Leron Morris. It was interesting how quickly they moved from finding the bodies to executing the search warrant on the house. It was just a matter of a day or two.
During interviews with Leron Morris the name Dominique Wright had come up so he became a person of interest/suspect as well but he could not be located. Shortly after this they had a warrant issued for Mr. Wright. That was in December of 2002. The next moment in the time line came on September 23, 2003 when he was captured in Vallejo. This was the first date that the detective had contact with Mr. Wright. You could tell that part of the foundation here was to establish that it was obvious police were looking for Mr. Wright and that he was actively running from capture.
At about 9:25 am there was a side bar that occurred because the defense did not want us to know how the defendant was found. I’m not sure why this is really that important but based on the fact that the defense attorney has been trying to paint a picture of his client being a relatively well mannered kid this would be consistent. I only really care what he did or didn’t do, not if he was a good kid or not. Another thing I noticed was that all witnesses/defendants in custody have to walk with their hands behind their backs with their wrists touching and a deputy is behind them at all times. I’m guessing they don’t put them in chains unless their behavior in court warrants it so as to not taint our view of them. That’s just a guess, though.
The next step in testimony was hearing about the interview done with Karen Novak. He testified her story changed often and only when confronted with evidence to the contrary. The answers they felt were truthful confirmed time lines for the day. They also never found the 3lbs. of meth but that really wasn’t overall that critical in my point of view.
Okay, on to the testimony about the interview. The defendant cooperated pretty well in testimony and never once lawyered up. I was pretty surprised by this. You figure that by now someone would have told him that if he’s captured to just lawyer up and not say anything. His answers did change as he was confronted with inconsistencies or things that contradicted what they had learned from other interviews. He did admit that he had knowledge of the scams that led to the drugs but that he had learned them from Leron. His story over time went from helping out Leron to holding the guns to actually using the guns and doing some of the shooting. He told of where he had gotten the guns as well (from his father). At this point the detective said he told Mr. Wright that at this point (after admitting to the killings) some defendants like to write a letter to the family of the victims to explain what he did and to apologize if they would like to. Mr. Wright chose to do this and wrote a letter. I was really hoping we’d get to see the letter and later the detective read it out loud to us. I’ll get to that in a moment, though. So far in this testimony, what the detective has told us doesn’t quite match up with the evidence. The ballistics report had show that some of the shots were very close together and the trajectories were almost identical so it’s most likely that they were fired in sequence. Especially the shots to the girl. She had been shot twice and at this point the defendant is only telling the detective he shot the girl once. I suspect there is more to this that we’ll get to, though. The initial testimony by the detective ended by saying that the next day he took the defendant to be interviewed by the prosecutor’s inspector.
The defense was definitely going to cross-examine this witness. He started out asking how old the defendant was at the time of the murders. He had just turned 18. He also focused on the amount of time that they interviewed Mr. Wright. He told him it was 7 hours. The defense attorney also wanted to focus on how quickly the stories changed. He seemed to get the detective to say that they changed relatively quickly. In other words, he didn’t cling to any real statements of innocence for very long. I was trying to figure out what among this was really relevant at the time.
The prosecutor redirected after this and had the detective clarify how the 7 hours was broken down. Basically, he sat in the room by himself for a couple of hours while they processed things and then later he was left alone for about 90 minutes to 2 hours to write the letter. The total interview time was like about 3-4 hours. They also established that the defendant was still not fully cooperative or forthcoming after all of this and that it took over an hour before he admitted to taking part in any of the shootings. The most dramatic part of all this was the letter, though. The detective tried to read the letter that Mr. Wright had written. It was difficult for the detective to read. It was handwritten and so it looked like he had a hard time making out certain parts but the jist of it all was the fact that he was very sorry about what had happened and that he took responsibility. He didn’t explain any of the “why” but I felt the remorse was honest. The kid wasn’t aware enough to ask for a lawyer so I don’t really think he was aware enough at that point to try and fake remorse. Plus, the damage had been done in confessing to the crime.
That was pretty much it for this witness. I’m assumed the next witness is where everything would get wrapped up with the tape. This witness was about establishing the foundation of the initial interview and admitting to the crimes.
The prosecutor tends to look very annoyed when he feels the defense is asking relatively meaningless questions. You can see it in his body language and facial expressions. I don’t know how much of this is acting and how much is just him being him. It’d be interesting to find out how much of it is a show, though. Another comment was that it was interesting how witnesses all would ask before they consult their notes. Rather than just saying, “I’m going to check my notes” they ask, “Do you mind if I check my notes first?” They’re never told no but I’m assuming this is something that they are trained to do as part of court testimony. It probably helps or is mandatory for court transcripts too. That way you can read that they testified some of their words from notes and other from memory.
11:20 am – The prosecution calls its next witness now. I half expected that we’d be sent to lunch early but they go ahead and start with the prosecution office’s inspector. Basically, he’s a detective that is assigned to the prosecutor’s office to conduct interviews mostly and to research more into the crime once the police feel they have their perpetrator. They start to go through his credentials and the type of training he has had for interviewing suspects. He’s had training for things like profiling the person and then determining what type of tactics to use to get them to talk and so forth. Basically, he knows things to get people to fess up and encourage them to keep talking.
The prosecutor asks about the defendant and the inspector says that he was pleasant and cooperative for the most part. The witness said they had talked for a number of hours and felt that they got to the truth by the end of the interview. The prosecutor asked if the interview was taped. The inspector replied that all interviews are taped. That’s when the prosecutor introduces the tape. I just kind of assumed that this was something that the defense would want to object to and he did. Now that it’s 11:30 the judge decides to just let us go for lunch so that they can have an evidence hearing. We’re told to come back at 1:30.
1:30 pm – When we come back in at 1:30 the television is setup for the tape. We are given transcripts from the interview tape. We’re given some instructions by the judge that basically said that we should use the transcript to follow along but that what we hear on the tape is evidence and not the transcript. We’re told the tape is about 90 minutes or so in length and has been edited to insure that only things that are admissible as evidence are displayed to us. I’d really like to know what those items are but it’s neither her nor there really.
1:30 pm – For the next 90 minutes we watch the tape of the interview. It is an extremely interesting tape to watch and see how the inspector gets information out of the defendant and to keep him cooperating. It really didn’t feel like 90 minutes went by when the tape had finished. I felt that the defendant was definitely nervous. He had this tendency to laugh or giggle a lot in tense situations during the interview. Even when he admitted to killing them it was like “well, ya know, I shot them…heh heh heh” but the hehs were more of a giggle than an evil laugh or anything like that. His story changed slightly throughout the tape but the main area of focus was around the shots. They also had the part where he said they had to have Leron’s girlfriend move the victim’s car in the garage because the defendant couldn’t drive a stick shift. The inspector had a little fun with that one I think. By the end of the tape he had admitted that he shot the victims 3 times if I remember right. At that point, anything more is kind of moot because he shot them both and all shots would have been fatal on their own, he was part of the crime so it really doesn’t matter who shot the victims. It helps from a closure standpoint since what he said this time matches up much better with ballistics testimony we had heard earlier.
That was it for the testimony really. The tape pretty much said it all. This man killed these two people and then proceeded to dump the bodies in a remote area of Contra Costa county.
At this point we’re sent out of the courtroom for some more evidence hearings. This is probably the most boring and frustrating part of the process. For the next 30 minutes some of us just work on crossword puzzles as a group. We’ve gotten quite good at solving the puzzles from the Contra Costa Times in about 15-20 minutes. The New York Times crosswords take us a lot longer to finish, if we are even able to.
3:30 pm – We’re sent home for the day and the prosecution will probably rest now barring any changes from further evidence hearings that we aren’t privy to.
WOW is all I have to say. We were definitely not expecting to be done with prosecution witnesses after just four days of testimony. I guess we’ll find out more tomorrow. Today, of course, was the worst day for the defendant. When you admit to killing two people on tape multiple times and have watch yourself tell how you did it, it can’t be a good day. I know that I am wondering why this even came to court. I’m sure once I’m able to talk about it that the other jurors are having the same though. Based on what we heard at the beginning of trial, though, I’m sure it’s all about the little things. When you’re probably looking at a life sentence you probably take every possibility, no matter how slim it is, to try and mitigate the effect somewhat.