Tuesday, July 19, 2005

July 14th Court Watch Update (Chris Daly)

Illnesses among some attorneys in the case slowed the trial down a bit. Since Connie’s last entry, illnesses have put the trial behind about one week.

However, when court has been in session, ADA Lamiero has been able to move the people’s case forward. In addition to eliciting testimony from Emanuel Merel, the ADA brought forth a great deal of physical evidence. As you can imagine, seeing this evidence presented was very difficult for Gwen’s family, friends, and the handful of community members who have been in attendance.

A detective from the Newark Police Department testified late last week about the investigation that was done in the Merel house. What became clear throughout his questioning is the lack of thoroughness of the investigation. A couple of the attorneys got frustrated trying to nail him down on whether particular areas of the house (including particular pieces of furniture) had been investigated for clues.

Not being at all familiar with police procedure, it’s possible that this kind of lack of attention to detail is a common occurrence. It is also important to simply note that police departments around the country have poor overall records in vigorously investigating the deaths of transgender people. However, it is also possible that the police doing the investigation considered this case to be an easy one to close and therefore only gathered the obvious evidence. After all, at this point they had a confession from one of the participants, they had recovered Gwen, and they had the other suspects in custody. I know I thought that convictions would be quickly forthcoming from what I was reading in the newspapers at the time. Now, nearly three years later, I know differently.

The Detective’s testimony also made apparent the continuing cracks in the cohesion among the defendants and their attorneys. In the 2004 trial, it was difficult to see which attorney was representing which client. In fact, Magidson’s and Merel’s attorneys seemed to be mostly Tony Serra’s assistance throughout most of the trial. Not so, this year. While Serra and Magidson’s attorney (Michael Thorman) still seem to be playing on more or less the same team, Merel’s new attorney, DuBois, is definitely not wearing their colors. In fact, at one point on the 14th DuBois blocked Thorman from introducing an FBI report as evidence. This block led to some words being exchanged between the two. And while I couldn’t hear what was being said and it may have been nothing, both attorneys seemed unhappy with the other.

It is worth noting that this split is one that is commonly seen in a trial with multiple defendants. What was abnormal was last year’s cohesion among the defense attorneys. The reason that each defendant is separately represented is to insure that an attorney is looking out for the individual interests of their client. Instead, last year, we saw the three defendants and their attorneys sticking close together by hoping that the jury would buy their arguments that Gwen was responsible for her own murder. So far, this year, we’ve seen that cohesion fall apart and that argument used by only one defendant and his attorney. The result is that this year we are seeing a more straight-forward murder trial rather then the circus that the defense tried to put on last year.

One of the pieces of evidence that the ADA presented to the Detective was a square piece of wall that the County cut-out of the living room of the Merel house. The cut-out contained a hole of the type that Jaron Neighbors suggested was made during the beating of Gwen. This evidence was not submitted in the first trial and its use here demonstrates the ADA’s beefed up case this year. In fact, Jose Merel’s father testified that the cut-out came from the living room wall and that he had not seen it prior to the night Gwen was killed (although, he was not living at the house for some time prior to the murder).

The ADA also had his chief inspector testify about the cut-out and the cell phone records she had obtained as a part of her investigation. She is likely to be on the stand on July 18th as well. Once her testimony is completed, the ADA is expected to rest his case (sometime this week, surely). At which time, Jason Cazares’s attorney, Tony Serra, will begin to make his case. Since all three defendants are expected to testify this year, it is unclear how long the defense teams will take before resting their respective cases.

Chris Daley
Transgender Law Center

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