The Interview.

Posted in Romero Trial on April 8th, 2014 by Diva

It’s been just over a year since that murder case on which I was a juror and I’ve realized something very important:

I never finished the story. D’oh!

That is the ultimate in procrastination, ain’t it? Anyway, here, now, the next chapter. I think there’s probably at least one more section and then the thrilling (?) conclusion will follow soon.

If you wish to catch up/read from the beginning of the saga, just go to the right of the main screen on the home page and click on the topic “Romero Case,” but be forewarned: It is a graphic, awful, morbid, terrible subject.

Um … enjoy?

*****

If you’re on the right side of the law, it’s a pleasure to view how detectives work. I watch a lot of Discovery ID – it’s usually on in the background at my desk all day – and it tickles me to see murderers, rapists, and other criminals fall into semantic traps. The old adage “give ‘em enough rope to hang themselves” certainly applies in most of the cases.

A common technique I’ve noticed on those reality crime shows is tag-teaming, where a person is questioned, one at a time and one after another, by two or more detectives. What most suspects don’t seem to understand is each investigator is still tuned in and listening to the entire conversation while they’re outside the room. Oh, they don’t say things like, “But you just told Detective A something different;” they’re much smarter than that. They wait patiently for you to say something stupid, fall over your lies, or basically hoist yourself up on the scaffold with all the rope they’ve given you.

The detectives interviewing Tim downtown were no exception, but he still somehow managed to stick to his story and the timeline he’d built up in his head. He was visibly anxious and physically agitated when left alone in the interrogation room, though, and after the trial I figured he was he was worked up because he’d used his cell phone on a smoke break to call Frankie, who informed him about the other set of detectives searching his grandmother’s house across town.

At one point, a detective engaged Tim in a conversation about his t-shirt, which depicted a super hero character. I recognized this as another tactic regularly seen on those shows I watch, i.e. ingratiating oneself with a suspect to a) be seen as a friend and/or b) keep them a little off guard. It worked, because Tim immediately brightened up and spent a few minutes talking about a specific story arc in the set of comic books associated with the character. I only mention it here because the moment was later characterized by the prosecution as evidence of Tim’s arrested development. I’m paraphrasing here, but the sentiment was “What 30 year old knows that much about comic books?” In my head, I thought of at least three of my friends, all in their 30s, who could have kept up with that very conversation. (Note to those friends: If you do anything illegal, don’t do it in a super-geeky t-shirt. No respect from cops or attorneys just yet on that front. I give it another 10-15 years for fellow comic book fans to move up into positions of power in police departments.)

I should note this was the only misstep I encountered with the prosecution in the case. Their arguments, from beginning to end, were direct, to the point, and clear, quite unlike the defense … but I’m getting ahead of myself.

*****

The investigators at Tim’s grandmother’s house suspected something had gone down in the garage. It was too clean, neatly organized, and it reeked of bleach.

It didn’t take them long to find a large trash can in the corner. Inside was the parquet flooring that used to be under the stripper pole and a black trash bag with a knife in it, among other items. Everything had blood evidence on it, including the flooring tiles, but what convinced investigators to search the main house was when they separated two couches which had been stacked on top of each other against a wall.

On the end of one of them was a large blood stain which had soaked completely through the cushion into the base fabric.

At the other end of the same couch was a Hello Kitty purse.

Both the blood and the purse were later confirmed to be Alicia’s.

*****

Detectives at both locations were updating each other constantly, so downtown, one of them asked Tim why his garage was so clean. He responded his aunt had been hassling him to clean it up for months, so he and Frankie had finally done it.

No one was buying it anymore.

*****

Investigators removed Tim’s grandmother, Frankie, and the kids to a secure area on the property but outside the house while they continued their search inside. They focused on the basement, where Tim and Frankie lived, and eventually found the blue container, full of black trash bags.

Each bag contained a bit of what was left of Alicia.

*****

Downtown, a detective entered the room and informed Tim he was under arrest.

Tim whined, yelled, insisted he didn’t do anything, cried out, and eventually got so shrill it was hard to listen to the soundtrack of the video. I can’t imagine what it was like to be in the room with him at the time.

And Frankie? She had not said a word to incriminate herself or Tim.

Yet.

To be continued

Hunt and Gather.

Posted in Romero Trial, SoForth on March 22nd, 2013 by Diva

This is a continuation of an ongoing story. Please click category Romero Trial on the main page, located to the right of the screen, to read any/all previous posts on the topic.

The police officers outside explained they’d gotten a call they had to investigate and asked if they could come inside and look around. The front door was secured with a keyed double-lock and it took some time for Tim’s grandmother to get it unlocked for them, but she opened the door and let them in. She had nothing to hide, after all.

Several officers secured the house – meaning they moved all the inhabitants including the children to one space so they could look around without interference or interruption – and while some uniformed officers watched the family, others poked around.

Not one of them went out to check the garage. They did, however, indicate to Tim and Frankie that the basement needed to be cleaned up or they’d have to call social services. The mess down there was apparently not considered an acceptable environment for kids to live in.

They didn’t find a single firearm on their search. Tim was on probation, so that made some sense, but what they didn’t know is Tim’s mother – the drug addict – had come by sometime Saturday and taken his gun with her “for safekeeping.”

She testified she found it in the house. Others testified she was called upon to take it.

*****

October 24, 2010.

Tim went across town to Alicia’s mother’s house first thing in the morning. His reason, as stated in one of his video interviews, was to discuss how he could help her find her missing daughter. While he was there, police arrived and asked him to come to the station to have his official statement taken.

During this first interview, the detective asked Tim a lot of questions about who was at the party and how to get in touch with them. Eventually, he asked Tim to show him exactly where M. lived in Westminster. I know they did this to build a timeline of events, i.e., to answer the question of how long it takes to drive between Tim’s house and M.’s., but Tim didn’t seem to understand that. He agreed and off they went.

About a block away from M.’s house, Tim asked them to pull the car over because he felt sick. He then stepped out of the vehicle and vomited. Once he seemed able to continue, they carried on their task, and Tim pointed out the house as they passed. They didn’t stop, nor did they engage M. or anyone else who lived there during the foray.

Tim asked if they could drop him off at a convenience store near his house and the officers obliged. When he got out of the car, however, he started acting all kinds of weird; he started yelling, making noises, flailing his arms, and generally acting like a Tourette sufferer.

The officers eventually calmed him down and talked him into a ride directly to his house.

*****

In the late afternoon/early evening of that very same day, police once again asked Tim to come downtown and talk to them, so off he went. Unbeknownst to him, officers were also once again headed to his grandmother’s house to have a look around. This time it was Frankie who gave them permission to come in.

More importantly, though, this time they checked the garage.

One of the first officers on the scene described opening the garage door and getting blasted in the face with the smell of bleach. That’s all police needed, because when there is suspicion a crime has occurred, a full search warrant is easy to get.

Officers secured the entire property, front to back and side to side, and waited for investigators – the pros with the gloves and evidence-gathering knowledge – to arrive.

*****

Tim was once again in a small room downtown being interviewed by yet another detective. This time, however, police had an inkling he knew more than he was letting on.

The entire 90+ minute interview was screened in court, and I have to say it was disturbing, but not just because Tim was guilty and he knew it. What bothered me is the way he wavered back and forth between saying he felt guilty about letting Alicia walk away and outright blaming J. for leaving the girl behind, all the while knowing exactly where the poor girl was.

Then again, Tim isn’t exactly the brightest crayon in the box … at one point he was allowed a brief smoke break and was overheard on his phone outside saying, very agitatedly: “Tell them it’s MY blood on the couch!”

The interviewing detective wasn’t supposed to allow Tim to use his phone at all, but that’s how he found out police were busy searching his house while he was indisposed.

And the person who overheard him? None other than Alicia’s mother.

She immediately reported it to detectives inside.

To be continued.

Skin and Bones.

Posted in Romero Trial, SoForth on March 20th, 2013 by Diva

This is a continuation of an ongoing story. Please click category Romero Trial on the main page, located to the right of the screen, to read any/all previous posts on the topic.

October 23, 2010.

Tim and Frankie got up 8:00am. Tim told her she needed to help him clean up the garage, so the two of them set to work with basic housekeeping implements and as much bleach as they could stand to use in an enclosed space.

Tim had dismembered Alicia on the parquet floor with the stripper pole in the center, so he dismantled the entire setup and trashed it. They piled all the furniture up into a small corner and mopped the floor thoroughly.

At one point during their effort, Frankie stepped on a bullet casing. Tim told her he was glad she did, because he’d been looking for “the second one.”

When she saw the body the night before, she was pretty sure Tim had shot the girl. Now she was sure.

*****

J. woke up at her grandparent’s house to her cell phone ringing. Alicia’s mother hadn’t been able to reach her daughter by cell and, realizing she didn’t have J.’s cell phone number, she went next door have one of J.’s kids to call their mother directly.

Do you know anyone who lets their teenager, boy or girl, take off with an adult and NOT get the adult’s contact information? Yeah, neither do I.

J. told Alicia’s mom not to worry, she’d have Alicia call her mother right away. With that she got up and headed over to Tim and Frankie’s. Tim told her Alicia left not long after she did; the girl had walked away in the direction of J.’s grandparent’s house.

J. called the police, but was informed she couldn’t file a report because she wasn’t a relative of the missing person. J. was then forced to call Alicia’s mom back and pass on the information she’d been given.

I can’t imagine what that phone conversation was like, but I’m positive it wasn’t pretty.

Alicia’s mom called police to file the report.

*****

Sometime that day, a genuine cousin of Tim’s stopped by to say hello and check if Tim was coming over to his place later to watch the UFC fight. Their mutual grandmother pointed him – let’s call him F. – out to the garage.

He’d been to the party space before and knew how it was set up, but this time when he twisted the knob and pushed on the door, it wouldn’t open as easily. There was something on the pavement behind it, like a piece of furniture or some other heavy object preventing the door from opening fully. Even through the small gap he’d managed to make he smelled the unmistakable odor of bleach.

Tim met him on the other side, using his foot and the door itself to push the several big, black trash bags on the floor behind it out of the way. When the opening was wide enough, Frankie exited in front of them both and went to the house, looking shocked and anxious as she left.

F. had been in prison before, once for a relatively long time. What he had seen and smelled thus far at the garage door didn’t look good … not at all. He asked Tim what was going on and Tim pointed to the bags on the floor behind the door and said, “Bitch got out of control so I had to kill her.”

Out on parole, F. knew this was BIG trouble for him if anyone discovered he knew about it. I don’t know if he lied to Tim and said the night’s fight festivities were canceled, but he did tell him NOT to come over later to watch it.

That was fine with Tim. He had more work to do.

*****

I’ve thought long and hard about what Tim said to F. at the door. F. was probably a mentor to Tim in some way. He was an older cousin who had done some time, perhaps involved with gangs or with drugs. Tim, in all likelihood, probably said what he did to seem big and macho in front of a person he looked up to.

Bear in mind I never once questioned whether he’d said it at all. F. didn’t strike me as a liar while he was on the stand; visibly uncomfortable, yes, but I think that’s because he’s unused to being on that side of a courtroom. And while he did strike a deal for his testimony – he got probation instead of going back to jail in exchange – it still doesn’t fit that he would have any good reason to lie.

I say this because even though he went home and didn’t call police right away, the entire experience ate away at him. He had people over to watch the fight, but was distracted all night; he tried to drink himself stupid, or at least to sleep, to no avail. Finally, at 4:00am Sunday morning, so drunk the operator could barely make out what he was saying, he called in an anonymous tip to police.

Yes, tips are anonymous, but police detectives are good – really good – at what they do.

*****

I don’t recall if F.’s visit was before or after Alicia’s mom got to the neighborhood, but she did make her way there. Problem was she didn’t have a house number, nor did she have any idea where J.’s grandparents lived – she only had a cross street for reference.

The sheer number of parenting and caretaking failures here boggles the mind, doesn’t it? No cell phone number for J., no idea at what street address where her daughter was supposed to be … when I was a kid, there were NO CELL PHONES and my parents managed to know where I was every minute of every damned day. But I digress …

Not having a house number doesn’t stop a parent who is missing a child. Alicia’s mom approached people out working in their yards or on their cars and asked if there had been a loud-ish party nearby the intersection the night before. She was pointed in the direction of Tim’s grandmother’s house.

I also don’t recall exactly how she ended up talking to Tim and Frankie – I’m sure she testified she knocked at the front door to the house or met them in the driveway or something, but I’ve forgotten exactly how they ended up face-to-face.

What I remember perfectly, however, is Tim gave her the same story J. had forwarded to her by phone, then offered to help her find Alicia. He said he felt bad, because it was kind of his fault after letting her just walk away into the night like that.

*****

The police got busy, but as with all missing persons cases involving teens, they had to ensure Alicia wasn’t a runaway before questioning anyone directly about her disappearance. It was only a matter of time until the cops came around to talk to Tim, so time was of the essence, and he thought he knew how to deal with it.

This is once again where the feint of heart and/or those with weak constitutions should tune out.

Seriously.

I can’t be held responsible for your well-being after this point.

I MEAN IT.

*****

Sometime after full darkness, Tim brought the large, black trash bags, now heavy with Alicia’s body, into the house. He took them downstairs, into the basement bathroom shower stall, where he removed Alicia’s torso and set to work taking out her organs, one by one. Frankie held the trash bag open for him in the doorway so he could place the newly-removed bits back into it.

She testified she did this while looking the other direction, but at one point, Tim held up one of Alicia’s lungs and told her to look. She did as she was instructed and he told her she should quit smoking, because “that’s what a smoker’s lung look like.”

After Alicia’s torso was emptied of its softer contents, Tim proceeded to remove the skin from her ribs, pelvis, and other bones. As he scraped skin and muscle tissue into small pieces, he would flush them down the toilet, little by little. Eventually he understood just how long the entire process was going to take, so he sent Frankie upstairs for something that might help.

She returned with the blender she’d been told to retrieve.

Tim put some of Alicia’s softer leftovers into it and hit the power button.

*****

Like with F., I didn’t question Frankie’s veracity. Her own trial, as an accessory to murder among other charges, had taken place about 18 months before Tim’s, and she had received a 10 year sentence. She is now in prison for taking part and may or may not have her sentence reduced as a result of her testimony, but what made her believable is she was wicked smart – and I mean wicked smart – up there on the stand. She saw through the ways attorneys twist and spin responses into something not meant, or try to get a witness to say something incriminating or simply untrue. She understood the game and refused to play along.

Maybe her own trial taught her a few things; I don’t know. What I do know is I was sad for her. Someone of such obvious intelligence and quick thinking had wasted her life under the control of a sick, sad little man.

Smart people can be incredibly stupid sometimes.

*****

Tim removed most of the skin from Alicia’s body, including taking her face off her skull, but left her hands and feet intact. He had broken the blender by putting too much of her in it, or perhaps had miscalculated and tried to run it with solid bone inside. Regardless, after hours and hours of work, he tired of how long it was taking to tear Alicia down into small enough pieces to flush.

He and Frankie put all that was left of Alicia back into the trash bags. They then put the bags into a large, blue plastic bin, and placed the container under some other boxes and storage in a corner of the basement. It was after 4:00am when Frankie and Tim showered together to clean themselves up.

As they stepped out of the water, while Tim was in nothing but a towel, there was a loud knock at the front door.

It was the police. They had received an anonymous tip by phone.

To be continued.

Speak No Evil.

Posted in Romero Trial, SoForth on March 19th, 2013 by Diva

This is a continuation of an ongoing story. Please click category Romero Trial on the main page, located to the right of the screen, to read any/all previous posts on the topic.

When they first left the garage, J. and M. stayed nearby in the back yard. Both of them admitted to being quite drunk at the time and anyone who has imbibed thusly knows it’s hard to pinpoint the exact passage of minutes in that particular state of mind. Still, it was generally agreed-upon they talked, made out, and parted ways in about 15-20 minutes. They also both testified the reason they stopped going any further physically was that M. had a girlfriend he really liked and he didn’t want to mess up that relationship.

Neither J. nor M. heard any untoward noise from the garage while they were outside. No scream, no struggle, nothing loud enough to warrant attention. That said, it’s unclear if either of them would have noticed, if they were both as drunk and distracted as I imagine. Or maybe I’m just projecting my own experiences with alcohol and raging hormones on the situation.

Yet for all the failures J. had chosen that day, none could remotely compare to what she did next: She said goodnight to M. there in the yard, then drunkenly stumbled back to her grandparent’s house for the night.

Alone.

Without Alicia.

You read that correctly.

While under oath, J. called it trust. She trusted Tim and she knew Frankie would be home soon. She assumed the two of them would give Alicia a place to stay for the night, so she’d worry about the girl in the morning, after sleeping off all the smoke and drink.

She walked home, made herself a bacon sandwich, and went to bed.

I’ve mentioned it takes a village to raise a child, but J. … J. was the absolute master at leaving the task completely to the auspices of the village.

*****

You may be asking yourself: Did J. know about Tim’s legal trouble and probation? Was she aware of his anger issues? She had allowed Frankie to live under her own roof for awhile; did Frankie once mention anything about Tim’s propensity for violence in the sack? These particular questions were not asked during the trial and I am kicking myself now for not thinking to ask them (juries in Colorado are allowed to ask questions of people giving testimony, which is pretty nifty, if the queries occur to a juror at the time).

Regardless, after J. headed off into the night, M. went back into the main house and chatted with Tim’s grandmother, who cooked him some food to eat. He wasn’t worried about Alicia, but I cut him just a hair more slack than I do J. He was young and probably trusted his older friend (or “cousin” or whatever) as much, if not more, than J. did, but the sad truth is Alicia was ultimately NOT his responsibility. J. had brought her. J. was supposed to ensure her safety.

Tim could have lived up to the trust ideal M. and J. had of him, too. Unfortunately, he chose a different path.

*****

About 45 minutes after J. and M. first exited the garage – that’s 20 minutes of necking/talking with J. and 25 minutes of chatting/eating with Tim’s grandmother – Tim came back to the house. M. testified Tim had a wide-eyed look, like he was shocked and/or scared.

I did not keep copious notes during the trial. It’s bad form to ponder and ruminate on a topic a judge admonishes one to not discuss or share until all testimony has been heard. Hence, I don’t recall exactly what Tim said to M., so I can’t quote it directly. What I can recall is Tim told M. he’d done a bad thing. A very bad thing.

Then he told M. he had killed Alicia.

M. testified that as soon as Tim uttered those words, he said he wanted a ride home. Immediately, if not sooner.

*****

Frankie called Tim a few times that night to check in and let him know her whereabouts. This makes sense if you know anything about abusive relationships; ten minutes late can make the difference between a quiet evening at home or a beating. So she called to say she was going to dinner with her parents when they were done shopping, she called when she was picking up the kids, and she called when she was headed home. She arrived and put the children into their own beds while Tim was running M. home for the night.

Tim drove the 15 minute distance between his grandmother’s and M.’s house pretty erratically, mostly due to inebriation, but distraction probably played a role as well. They didn’t talk about Alicia, if they talked at all; Tim did ask M., however, to say to anyone who asked that Alicia had walked back to J.’s grandparent’s house alone.

Tim needed an alibi, so he asked M. to give him one. That’s what friends and family do for each other, right?

Once he was dropped at home, M. didn’t call the police. In fact, he didn’t call or tell anyone at all. His excuse? He was afraid of Tim and didn’t want to be seen as a snitch.

This reasoning didn’t make any sense at all to me until after the trial, when we learned Tim was a drug dealer. Snitching, in certain circles, is considered worthy of capital punishment, and Tim had just informed M. he’d killed someone.

Personally, I’d have been quite frightened, too.

*****

Tim made the return trip alone and met Frankie in the basement, where he informed her, just as he had M., that he’d done something bad. Yet with Frankie, he wouldn’t elaborate. He just said he wanted to show her something out back.

As far as the timeline goes, at or around 11pm, Tim led Frankie out to the garage. He told her in no uncertain terms she could NOT scream and she couldn’t tell anyone, either. Then he opened the door to reveal Alicia’s naked, bloody body on the couch.

Frankie did not scream. Perhaps she went cold, or shut down, or was so terrified she didn’t know how to react. I can’t begin to imagine what it would have been like to be in her shoes in that moment, but with all the unbelievable things that had happened by that time, let’s just add another one, shall we?

Frankie returned to the house, went to their shared room in the basement, and, according to her own testimony, read magazines.

She did not call the police. And a few hours later, Tim made sure she had the same alibi story he had given M., that is that Alicia had walked away into the night, never to be seen again.

*****

The Colorado statute for a defense of insanity is as follows.

16-8-101.5. Insanity defined – offenses committed on and after July 1, 1995. (1) The applicable test of insanity shall be:

(a) A person who is so diseased or defective in mind at the time of the commission of the act as to be incapable of distinguishing right from wrong with respect to that act [emphasis mine] is not accountable; except that care should be taken not to confuse such mental disease or defect with moral obliquity, mental depravity, or passion growing out of anger, revenge, hatred, or other motives and kindred evil conditions, for, when the act is induced by any of these causes, the person is accountable to the law; or

(b) A person who suffered from a condition of mind caused by mental disease or defect that prevented the person from forming a culpable mental state that is an essential element of a crime charged, but care should be taken not to confuse such mental disease [again, emphasis mine] or defect with moral obliquity, mental depravity, or passion growing out of anger, revenge, hatred, or other motives and kindred evil conditions because, when the act is induced by any of these causes, the person is accountable to the law.

Tim asked his friend M. to lie for him. He asked his girlfriend to lie for him.

Insane people, by definition and by law, aren’t cognizant of the consequences of their actions. And oh, OH, the proof Tim knew exactly what he was doing gets SO much worse from here.

Those with weak constitutions and feint hearts should stop reading right.

About.

Now.

*****

Tim didn’t return to the house for awhile, but when he did, it was only to ask for big trash bags. Frankie dutifully told him where to find them in the kitchen and he returned to the garage, alone, with the entire roll of the large, black trash bags he sought.

Frankie still hadn’t called the police, but after some time, her curiosity must have gotten the best of her, because she returned to the garage. When she opened the door, she was met with a horrifying scene: Tim was in the process of cutting Alicia’s body up to fit into those plastic bags he’d asked for. The girl had been decapitated, most of her limbs had been hacked off, and there was blood everywhere on the garage floor.

Frankie still didn’t scream.

Frankie still didn’t call the police.

Frankie went back to the house and tried to sleep.

At 4:00am the next morning, Tim returned to the house, showered, and joined her in bed.

To be continued.

Life Without Parole.

Posted in Romero Trial, WhatNot on March 19th, 2013 by Diva

Judge sentences Edward Romero to life plus 4.5 years in murder, dismemberment case

“We’ll go back to our own world of love.”

A Parade of Failure.

Posted in Romero Trial, WhatNot on March 18th, 2013 by Diva

I wrote a version of the following for my scene ‘zine, Monkey Wrench, back in March of 2002:

One evening in a local, 24-hour coffee house, a teen girl’s mother came in looking for her daughter in the wee hours of the morning. She found me and asked if I’d seen her. I told her no, that I hadn’t seen her progeny yet that night.

Mom proceeded to huff about the place, looked around a bit, and eventually made her way back to where I sat. She seemed ruffled and expectant, so I looked up from my book.

“Why do you hang out here, anyway?” she inquired and extinguished her cigarette indignantly in the ashtray directly next to my seat [back when one could smoke in coffee shops, remember that?]. Her tone was accusatory and her subtext was more than clear: You are an adult who hangs out with children.

I sat up straight and brushed my legs to rid my skirt of the ashes which had wafted into my lap. I looked her square in her big brown eyes and said:

“Why are you looking for your 17 year old daughter in a coffee house at 2:30 in the morning, anyway?”

She gasped audibly and physically took a step back, speechless, but I wasn’t done. “When you start raising her, I promise, the rest of us will stop doing it for you.”

I turned back to my book and my coffee and finished my evening rather uneventfully.

While I appreciate a mom looking for her kid any time of day, the question isn’t why do I go the places I go, but why any parent would allow their 17 year old daughter to hang out until all hours on a school night in a place 35 year old women frequent. It is not MY job to check where someone’s child is, what they’re doing, who they’re doing it with and how. That is the job of a parent or guardian.

Bars require a person be 21+ and show ID; some clubs are 18+, but still check to ensure all patrons are of age; fetish events require every attendee be an adult as the law clearly defines it; yet it never ceases to amaze me that even with these requirements, there are always teenagers in those places. I haven’t even begun to rant about the kids under 10 that have started hanging out at the smoke-filled coffee houses (hack-cough-hack) at all hours of the day and night.

I don’t have a problem with teens or any other kids in general. Some of my closest friends are jailbait … er … younger than I. However, it should not – and must not – be incumbent upon me or any other adult human beings to babysit YOUR kids because YOU’RE too busy trying to live THEIR lifestyle to keep adequate reins on them.

Or it could just be I can’t handle the truth of being called a chickenhawk. In either case, blow me, Mom, or your little girl may one day do it for you.

October 22, 2010.

Alicia Martinez’s father had finally relented and allowed his daughter to stay at her mother’s house for the weekend. He had never permitted it in the past – his ex had several other children and a history of trouble with the law, having been convicted at different times of impersonation, floating bad checks, and other frauds – but Alicia was 16 now. She’d had her Quinceañera a year before, but more so, as anyone with a teenager can tell you, they can be pretty persuasive about getting their way when they really want something bad enough.

On occasional visits to her mother’s house, Alicia had befriended an older neighbor, a woman pushing 30 with kids of her own. I will call her J. here for the purposes of not implicating her directly. I will say, however, that J. had some “issues,” not the least of which is befriending and hanging out with a 16 year old girl.

As my story above indicates, I don’t engage anyone under the age of 18. I will even card someone I think is underage so as to avoid it. Why? Because they are not adults in the eyes of the law, so anything I do with them, no matter how innocuous, could land me in jail. There are two things no one in this world is worth: Jail and death. Unfortunately for Alicia, J. didn’t have such scruples.

Alicia must have been one persuasive young girl, too, because she not only talked her father into the weekend foray, but mere minutes after her arrival, she proceeded to talk her mother into allowing her to spend time with J. And not just next door at J.’s apartment, either, but miles away at J.’s grandparent’s house, where J. said she needed to go to do some laundry.

Add this to the list of questionable parenting: J. left her own kids behind at home, ostensibly to fend for themselves. Or maybe Alicia’s mom and other neighbors regularly stepped in to help out with each other’s parental duties. I don’t know. What I do know is it may indeed take a village to raise a child, but some people clearly take advantage and leave child-rearing entirely up to the village.

Alicia’s mother testified she required her daughter to call her every 20-30 minutes when she was away from the house. I found this hard to believe, because a) her mother was not her primary caregiver, and b) teens don’t talk on cell phones, they text. Regardless, her mother said she stopped getting calls sometime that evening, but didn’t worry much about it. She said she knew and trusted J., yet for some reason, she didn’t have J.’s cell phone number … but more on that later.

J. didn’t have a car, so she called her grandfather for a ride, and she and Alicia made their way to north Denver in the late afternoon. When they arrived, a single load of laundry was put in to wash, then J. nearly immediately asked Alicia if she’d like to go visit some friends just up the street.

The lines of defense for Alicia Martinez that Friday were a veritable parade of failure. Her father let her go visit her mother; her mother let her take off with a much older woman to an unknown destination across town; and J. … well, I’d say J. is the most epic failure in the entire story, except that Alicia was about to meet the single, biggest failure of a human being I’ve ever had the distaste to see in person.

His name was Edward Timothy Romero, but his friends called him Tim.

*****

J. had known Tim since they were teenagers. He and his girlfriend, Frankie Pagliasotti, lived in the basement at Tim’s grandmother’s house, where Tim had resided his entire sad life. His mother was a drug addict who made it clear she didn’t want him; she had another child, a daughter and Tim’s half-sister, whom she kept with her, while Tim was sloughed off on his grandmother like baggage. This same little sister was tragically killed in a vehicle accident Tim witnessed when he was about 5 years old. His mother did briefly retrieve him to live with her once, but it was an exceedingly brief time before he was back in his grandmother’s care.

Tim’s aunt said in court that his grandmother – her own mother – was abusive. She testified that his grandmother berated him, told him he’d amount to nothing, and beat him. We’ll never know how much of this part of the story is true, however, since his grandmother passed away in 2010 and therefore wasn’t called to trial.

*****

By October of 2010, Tim had been with Frankie for close to 10 years. They had two small children together who lived there in the basement with them. We (the jury) got a lot of information on Tim, but we were not informed that Tim was dealing drugs from the house. It’s good we didn’t hear that part, because the court is correct in assuming it would have had a negative impact from the outset. I mean, who sells drugs out of a house with small children in it?

Losers, that’s who. And Tim was practically the King of the Losers. Back in 2007, Frankie’s parents had called the police and pressed charges against him for pulling a gun and shooting it into the air in their back yard. He did this during an argument with Frankie and it resulted in a conviction, probation, and Frankie’s parents filing a restraining order against him.

Even on probation, Tim had a gun or two around, which is flat-out prohibited for anyone who has to report to a probation officer. It’s also a no-no to drink alcohol or use drugs, both of which Tim, by his own admission, did relatively regularly.

Frankie had tried to leave Tim once, just the previous summer. She took the kids and stayed with J. for a few weeks, next door to Alicia’s mother. Frankie testified she had tried to leave because Tim was jealous and violent. So much so, in fact, that one day he saw her chatting with a guy she knew and he lost his shit … actually, “lost his shit” is a bit of an understatement. What he did was shove her into his car, drive her home, and take her to their bed in the basement, where he proceeded to pistol whip, choke, and rape her. As if that wasn’t enough, sometime during the act Tim took a gun from his pocket and fired five times through the bedding and into the floor around Frankie’s head.

A real charmer, right?

Frankie also testified that after the incident, Tim liked to choke her out during sex. I have no idea why she went back to him – I’ve never understood the abused returning to their abuser – but go back she did, their kids in tow.

J. called Tim and Frankie friends. She knew them and she trusted them, just like Alicia’s mom knew and trusted J.

Alicia agreed to go. Why not? If you trust someone, any friend of theirs is alright by you, right?

*****

Tim’s friend M. – he called him “cousin,” but they’re not actually related – didn’t have a car, so Tim had driven to Westminster to pick him up around 11:00am that day. According to Tim’s police interview, that’s when they first cracked open beers, so the two of them had already spent the better part of the day drinking before the girls arrived.

Alicia and J. stopped at a liquor store on the way over, bringing along a case of beer with them. J. testified she brought pot with her as well, but Tim, in a police interview, testified he’d also provided pot. Where it actually came from is anyone’s guess. The important part is that it was there.

The girls visited with Tim and M. in the basement for a little while, then everyone moved out to the detached garage on the property. Tim’s grandmother didn’t like smoking and drinking in the house, so he had arranged the garage into more or less a party space. There were a couple of old couches, some tables, a large dresser for storage, and various music equipment for “making beats” (as witnesses and Tim himself called it). There was also a small, parquet floor with a stripper pole installed in the middle of it. The entire place was set up so Romero and friends could party without bothering Ms. Romero back in the main house.

The party expanded and contracted throughout the evening, but everyone agrees the main participants were Tim, J., Alicia, M., and another close friend/”cousin,” L. There were two other people as well, a couple who were friends of L.’s, but not once during the trial were they named or called as witnesses. They could be figments of the imagination for all I know, but it doesn’t matter, since they weren’t there for any of the events that followed.

Frankie wasn’t there, though. She had dropped the children off at her sister’s and gone with her parents to celebrate her birthday. Since the back yard shooting incident, Tim had been persona non grata with Frankie’s family and was therefore not invited to any such family events.

All the testimony in the trial agreed on two things: At least one more liquor run was made during the night and Alicia didn’t drink any alcohol. She did smoke some pot, but for the most part she sat on one end of a couch and texted on her phone all night while the adults partied around her.

The festivities eventually wound down to just Tim, J., Alicia, and M. It’s unclear which story is true, because one person testified Tim asked J. and M. to give he and Alicia some space, because he wanted to “get with her,” while another testified it was J.’s idea to leave the garage because she was into M.

(Side note: M. was 18-19 years old at the time, making J. about 10 years older than he was. In his police interview video, Tim said M. and J. wanted to hook up because they used to do that “back in the day.” This statement led me [and probably some fellow jurors] to ask ourselves: “Back in the day? When he was what, 15?”)

Regardless of whether Tim asked them to leave or they decided on their own, both M. and J. left Alicia in the garage alone with Tim.

That was Alicia’s final line of defense. No one knows exactly what happened in the garage after that. Tim has always said he doesn’t remember, because he blacked out.

His story is that when he came to, Alicia was on the couch, naked, bloody, and dead.

To be continued.

The Stupid Test, Part Deux.

Posted in Romero Trial, SoForth on February 17th, 2013 by Diva

This is part three of a series. Part one is here, and part two is here.

Monday was a holiday, so I was informed we would all report back to the courthouse on Tuesday morning at 10:00am. I arrived at the parking garage closest to the justice center and was met by a “lot full” sign, so I had to park several blocks away.

Luckily, I had arrived with 35 minutes to spare. I am nearly always prepared for such outcomes; it’s a habit I picked up back when I was a temporary office worker in the Los Angeles area. I never knew where I’d get to park, so I learned it’s best to show up early just in case. This Boy Scout “be prepared” mindset of mine had also prompted me to pack some snacks and a bottled water, both of which I was thankful for later in the day.

I easily passed through security and arrived on the 5th floor with a few minutes to spare, where I joined about 75 other jury pool members in the hall outside the courtroom. There was a note on the door that said for us to wait, so wait we did. What surprised me is how quiet and reverent we all were. No conversation rose above more than a deep whisper.

One older woman looked a bit panic-stricken, so I eavesdropped on her conversation with another potential juror. Turns out her house had been hit by a car over the weekend. I don’t recall if she was let go immediately, but I know I didn’t see her again in the courtroom.

A young woman sitting nearby accidentally spilled her full cup of coffee on the floor. I’ve already stated I don’t like people much, but that doesn’t preclude helping when it’s needed, so off I went to the restroom to get paper towels to help clean the mess. It struck me as odd that more people didn’t; there were 75 of us in that hall and only two or three of us bothered.

At 10:45am, the natives (including me) were getting a bit restless. Several of us started changing position, pacing, or just moving away from the sunlit windows, an area which had grown much warmer since our arrival. I grabbed my things for a run to the restroom because I have The Smallest Bladder in the World(™) and knew I wouldn’t last once we were inside.

I knew as soon as I was in a stall they’d call us in while I was so indisposed. My intuition is rarely wrong, so I hurried and found that yep, that is exactly what was happening. I got back down the long hall just in time to hear my own name.

The court clerks and interns guided about half of us to seats in front. The first 14 went in the jury box and the rest in neatly organized chairs right in front of it. All doubt about whether I’d end up serving on the case was summarily erased from my mind when I found myself once again sitting in a proper jury seat.

The judge had us take an oath to tell the truth and asked a bunch of questions that needed to go into the record. Yes, we are all citizens of the U.S., yes, we all live in the city and county of Denver, etc. He then explained the jury would have 14 people on it – that’s 12 on a jury and two alternates. The alternates were there in case of illness or other reasons one of the 12 could not continue. They would also be excused at the end of the trial and before jury deliberations begin.

My immediate thought was it would suck to be an alternate. You have to sit through an entire case, from beginning to end, and then NOT be a part of the decision? I’d be pissed. That’s a lot of wasted time and energy.

I also wondered how the hell we were going to get from 75 people in this room to 14 in the jury box? Well, turns out the voir dire process is pretty thorough, if time-consuming. Voir dire is the vetting of jurors by the attorneys on both sides of a case to ferret out people who aren’t a good fit.

We were summarily grilled on our values, beliefs, trust of experts, views on insanity, whether we could handle crime scene photos, any topic that was considered pertinent to the case. Under any other circumstances, I don’t mind admitting I would lie. I’ve told colleagues I had a doctor appointment to get out of a meeting; I’ve told friends I was going out of town when all I did was hole up at home and spend my weekend alone. But I’ve had previous experience with the court system and when professional, experienced attorneys are present and directly involved, it’s best to keep things honest. They are absolute masters at the Stupid Test and jury vetting is one of the biggest ones there is. It is part of their job to be really (really!) good at hunting for bigots, idiots, and liars.

You can’t beat them. Trust me. It’s best just to be 100% honest.

Some folks clearly didn’t understand how good lawyers get to be at this game. One of the first questions was “Do you believe that someone in jail garb has done something wrong?” I knew this was a roundabout way of saying “Is this defendant sitting here guilty of something before this trial proceeds?” Any potential juror – hell, any citizen – who answers in the affirmative doesn’t clearly understand our court system. Everyone, even those who have been arrested and spent time in jail, is innocent until proven guilty at trial. I didn’t know who the defendant was, merely that he’d been accused and had plead insanity.

Innocent until proven guilty isn’t just a catch phrase; it’s a belief upon which our entire justice system is based. I was surprised then at how many people answered yes, they did indeed make the assumption that anyone in jail clothing must be guilty of something. It’s scary really. Consider it: You find yourself in the defendant’s chair one day. You certainly don’t want anyone on a jury thinking you’re guilty before your trial even begins, do you?

The good news is neither do attorneys, so the people who made the assumption were all eventually excused.

Some folks were let go early on because they were in college and classes had started for the Spring term that very day. One was excused because he was of legal of age to serve, but was actually still in high school. A couple more were let go because their English skills were lacking. One gent made it clear from the beginning he had an old head injury that made him a bit slow, but he made it nearly to the end anyway.

Several people had really lame excuses for not being able to serve. Six kids at home, family vacations, and missing work aren’t valid justifications to me, nor to the system. The court provides free child care, a family vacation can be postponed, and jurors are paid $50 a day after the third day of service. Plus, all employers are required by law to allow time for their employees to serve in this capacity, so you can’t legally lose your job due to serving on a jury.

Still, the whiners were mostly let go. I don’t understand their excuses, but I do understand attorneys who don’t want people on a jury who are more worried about their own lives than the case in front of them.

Each time a potential juror was excused, another was called up from the rear of the courtroom to fill the vacant seat. It was all neatly organized so the attorneys could keep track and vet people by name.

I was called on specifically for two questions, neither of which I recall in any detail, but I know I was honest and direct. That’s just who I am. I volunteered to answer one query on expert witnesses, though. I’ve been an expert witness in a trial before (a tale for another day) and it was important to me to express my opinion on the topic.

About two hours into the process, one of the potential jurors was answering a question and said, “I Googled the case over the weekend … ”

Uh-oh.

The judge stopped everything, stifled a heavy sigh, and asked how many other people had researched the case online. About 10 hands went up. I sighed heavily myself, knowing the 10 hadn’t listened at all to the video the previous Friday morning. It had specifically stated NOT to do exactly what they had done. The judge had neglected to warn us himself before we were let go Friday afternoon, but that is a mere excuse for not paying attention during the rest of the process.

He sat for a moment, in thought, then excused everyone for lunch except the 10 who had raised their hands. As we made our way out, I knew those 10 wouldn’t be there when we got back. Our system relies on juries who are not tainted by any stories, rumors, news, or hearsay about a case. This is why some cases with a lot of news coverage change venue – the case is tried in a different city – because they can’t find 12 local people who haven’t heard about it.

I was also slightly berating myself for not thinking faster on my feet. I mean, if I’d thought about it for even just a microsecond, I could have raised my own hand and been done with it, but noooooo

Stupid integrity. Stupid honesty. Stupid brain, always passing the Stupid Test.

***

I had packed snacks, but not lunch, so I headed off to the Subway just a block or so away. I was joined by the young woman who had told me the previous Friday she wouldn’t get to serve because she was an attorney. We ended up together because she had been placed in the seat right next to me for the voir dire process.

Just to make the point abundantly clear, the judge had admonished us not to discuss the case at all prior to breaking, so we made the usual small talk. I learned more about her in 30 minutes than I cared to, but it’s always nicer to spend a meal with another person than alone. I ate my chicken salad and allowed her to do most of the talking. I noticed the young woman who had spilled the coffee earlier in the day was nearby and we invited her to sit with us. I don’t know my companion’s reasons, but mine had to do with giving her someone else with which to chat for awhile. She was nice enough, really, but I bore easily and I had actual work to do.

I have to mention here: I love this day and age, when so much work can be accomplished with just a smart phone. It would be impossible to run a business and serve on a jury – or take vacations – otherwise.

The other young woman did not join us, saying she had phone calls to make. I also mentioned I had e-mails to answer and we spent the remainder of our lunch on our phones and in silence.

I didn’t have the heart to tell my companion that her recusal from jury duty wouldn’t come because she had a law degree; it was going to come because she spent her time chit-chatting with those of us on either side of her and jumping to answer just about any question the attorneys asked. The death knell was when she said she had always wanted to serve on a jury. Exuberance is normally a good thing in a job applicant, but did you know that if you specifically say you want to serve on a jury, you are usually excused?

Neither did she.

***

We got back from lunch and I had called it: The 10 who Googled the case were gone. Their empty chairs were filled with more people from the pool and on we went.

The afternoon was much more interesting because as the pool got smaller, the questions got tougher. A few more people were excused because they expressed they wouldn’t be able to view autopsy photos, but not until after they had been asked, again and again, why. Some welled up with tears at the mere prospect; me, I am fascinated with death and its related ephemera – hell, I collect funerary items – but that’s not the kind of interest one shares in polite company. I mean, I know I’m a freak, but there’s no sense in letting everyone else know that, too.

One of the people who had filled an empty seat came back from lunch really freakin’ high. That’s the only explanation I have for it, because the attorney asked him a direct question – one which required no more than a “yes” or “no” or just a few short words – but he started his answer with, “I believe adults are fully-formed, spiritual beings … ” and rambled off into sounding … well, really high.

A murmur of suppressed laughter went up among the rest of us as he spoke. I think the consensus was Really, dude? Do you believe this or is this your way of getting out of jury duty? I mean, I’ve started conversations that way, but only when I was high myself, never in public, certainly not in a courtroom, and only in the company of other people who are high. When you’re surrounded by people who are sober and you say those things, you sound like an idiot.

Around 4:00pm, more jurors were excused because they lacked the English skills to serve properly. Why they were still there so late in the day, I have no idea, but I did notice one of the sheriff’s deputies look at the ceiling in disbelief when the third one spoke in such a thick accent no one in the room could understand her.

More excusals, more seats filled. Each time a new, potential juror was seated up front, the judge had to ask the same barrage of questions he’d asked the rest of us several times over, because the answers to these questions don’t count unless you’re sitting up front. Then the attorneys had to ask them the same questions they’d been asking all day, too.

There is a lot of formality to the jury selection process. This is good, because when a procedure is followed to the letter, no one can then say the process was unfair. But for those who don’t understand why it is the way it is, it can become irritating. The same questions, over and over again, of every new juror who gets seated makes for one long, boring day.

We got down to the last of the original 75 people at close to 5:00pm. The judge greeted one of them with “Good afternoon, Mr. ______.”

“Good evening,” came the reply. Laughter erupted from everyone, including the attorneys, and the judge himself turned his chair around to laugh out loud. It was a nice break from all the decorum, if only for a moment.

We had all been questioned ad nauseum and vetted to the extent the attorneys could manage. The judge then explained each side, the prosecution and the defense, can choose up to 20 people they do not want on the jury. One of the first to go was the gentleman with the old-yet-persistent head injury. Out went the dude who was high, people who suggested they couldn’t be fair because they had daughters who were the same age as the female victim in the case, anyone with a background in psychology or psychiatry, and a host of others the lawyers found lacking in some way or another.

We were all told not to take it personally and I don’t think anyone did. I think those who were let go were ultimately relieved.

The young woman who had spilled the coffee, the very one we’d tried to have join us at lunch, ended up in the seat next to me when the lady lawyer – just as I had expected – was let go. The gent who had said “Good evening” to the judge was seated. The attorneys whittled the crowd down, one-by-one, until there were just 14 of us left.

Two jurors had not moved from the jury box from the beginning.

I was one of them.

I sighed lightly, listened carefully to the judge’s instructions, and made plans to arrive for the beginning of the actual trial the next morning at 8:30am.

I had prepared myself to serve, knowing early on that I would be chosen to do so. I’d even gotten most of my bookkeeping work done over the weekend, just in case.

I was not, however, prepared for what this trial would bring.

I don’t think any of us were.

How could we?

Shower the People You Love.

Posted in Romero Trial, WhatNot on February 9th, 2013 by Diva

It’s taking me a tad longer to put together the trial story than I anticipated, but it’s getting there. Meanwhile, hug your loved ones today. Call them to catch up, or just to say you love them.

Today would have been Alicia Martinez’s 19th birthday.

Show them the way that you feel.

The Mandatory Mundane.

Posted in Romero Trial, SoForth on February 7th, 2013 by Diva

After the video, the court representative didn’t return to the prospective juror room for close to 90 minutes. Many people just sat, twiddling their thumbs. Others played with their cell phones or struck up conversations with their neighbors.

I overheard what one hears in such situations: trite conversations on superficial topics. I now know how many kids and grandkids that lady has, where that man works, how she arrived at the court house, and his favorite meals to cook. There was discussion of the weather, when school would be back in session, and previous jury duty.

As per the usual, I wasn’t interested in any of it, and this was one of those human moments in which I was not required to take part. It was not the mandatory mundane, like when I’m forced to be sociable at networking events or conventions. This was just plain old mundane, so I buried my nose in my Kindle and tuned it out.

Eventually, 100 juror numbers were called – mine was in the first group – and we were taken to a large elevator where we went to the 5th floor. It took awhile, but eventually all 100 of us gathered in front of courtroom 5H and waited for further instructions.

We were told nearly immediately we were there for a criminal case. “Crap,” I said under my breath. A bespectacled girl next to me said perkily, “I’ll be let go. I’m a lawyer.”

Here we go. This, THIS is the mandatory mundane, where one mustn’t be rude when another is obviously trying to strike up a conversation.

If you know me at all, you know I didn’t really care to pursue a conversation, but I am aware of what is expected of me in every social situation. It’s normal to want to chit-chat about yourself and your life. What some people fail to grasp is not everyone else is the least bit interested. I don’t care about your kids, your pets, your job, your spouse and, since I don’t, I prefer not to tell you about mine. It’s a Golden Rule thing when you get right down to it: I do unto others as I would have done unto me.

Please note that just because I don’t care, it doesn’t automatically follow that I’m a sociopath. What I am is a misanthropist; I think most people are just really happy idiots. This makes me come across as elitist, pretentious, and aloof, which is fine with me, because people don’t usually chat up the elitist, pretentious, and aloof.

Then there are the folks who don’t read body language very well or are otherwise oblivious to those around them.

In my head I heard Look, there are situations into which we are thrust that cause us to be in close quarters with people we would never choose to socialize with. Neither of us chose to be here, we’ll probably never see each other again, and I’d like to remain thinking you’re more than you are than have you open your mouth and remove all doubt.

What I said out loud was, “Oh? What kind of law are you in?”

Thankfully, conversations in the realm of the mandatory mundane don’t last long. This is because I have a knack for diplomatically and politely ending them. I consider it a gift, though the people who have had such conversations with me may think otherwise.

When our names were called, we were told to sit anywhere in the court room, including the jury box. As much as I don’t like people very much, I am the adventurous type, so when my name came up, I was the first one up there. My thinking in the moment was I may never get to sit in a jury chair again.

Heh.

As I passed fellow prospective jurors in the front row of the courtroom, I said quietly, “Someone’s got to break the seal.” It’s like having a cake at a party; if it’s in one piece, it will take forever for someone to take the first slice. Take a slice out of it, though, and it will be devoured in no time. The tactic worked – as it always does – and several people eventually joined me.

Prior to entering the court room, we had been handed some papers and told NOT to look at them until the judge said to do so. From my vantage point up front, I spotted no less than three people already writing on what would turn out to be a questionnaire. The case attorneys took mental note of who was failing that particular Stupid Test and I don’t believe any of those folks were called back for further questioning.

While not even feigning a look at my paperwork, we were informed our case was not just any criminal one, it was one that may take up to three weeks to try.

A heavy sigh, mine included, went up. Three weeks? Who has that kind of time?

I hated to admit it, even to myself, but I do. Self-employed, no boss to whom to report, flexible schedule … and that was the exact moment I knew I was boned. Between sending the message out to the universe I wanted something interesting about which to write and not being capable of lying about myself when asked direct questions, I simply knew.

I didn’t say so out loud, though. That would be like asking the universe to double-down on my happy ass.

The judge administered the juror’s oath and we were all asked a series of questions – are you a U.S. citizen, are you a resident of Denver city and county, etc. – to ensure we were qualified to sit on the case. Then we were told to fill out the questionnaire we had been given, which turned out to be a written Stupid Test. I was pleasantly surprised at how many pains the court had taken thus far to ensure the wheat, not the chaff, got to serve.

I had no idea the lengths which were needed to go yet.

We were told the case was The People vs. Edward Timothy Romero and his plea was not guilty by reason of insanity. The defendant’s name didn’t ring a bell with me. Neither did the victim’s, Alicia Martinez, so, not knowing what exactly I was getting myself into, I proceeded to fill out he paperwork as instructed.

One of the sheets was a witness list for the case and the questionnaire asked if we knew anyone on it. I spend inordinate amounts of time in the goth and hacker scenes, so I thought about writing “Nearly all my friends go by nicknames or screen names – how would I know?” but thought better of it. I was among the mundane and they certainly don’t go by aliases. Best to answer “Not that I’m aware.”

Another query was about hobbies and I figured if I were to have an “out,” this would be it, so I wrote the first one in a short list as “blogging.” Hey, no attorney wants a writer on a jury, right?

Heh.

After we handed in the questionnaire, we were excused and told to wait by our phone for notice of recusal or further questioning. My call to return first thing Tuesday morning (Monday was a holiday) came in at 4:00pm. I discovered later most of my fellow jurors weren’t called until well after 6:00 or 7:00 at night.

I spent the weekend catching up on all the work I could, trying desperately NOT to Google the names in the case, and coming up with excuses not to serve, but I knew my justifications wouldn’t fly.

I knew because I wasn’t even able to sell them to myself.

Let’s rock.

The Stupid Test.

Posted in Romero Trial, SoForth on February 6th, 2013 by Diva

When a bouncer sees you smiling at someone in a bar and then that someone hauls off and punches you, the one who threw the punch – regardless of what you said about his mother or you did to his sister – is the one who gets booted.

When you say, out loud and with conviction, that a woman won’t get pregnant from a rape because “A woman’s body has ways of shutting that down,” you get voted out of office.

When there is an officer sitting in a police car which is inconveniently blocking a driveway through which you’d like to exit in your own vehicle, if you drive over the curb instead of choosing another way out, you will get a ticket. Probably from a bemused cop who can’t believe you did that right in front of him.

All of these are examples of what I call the Stupid Test. Some people pass, some people fail, but everyone takes them, sometimes without even realizing it. And until a few weeks ago, I had never seen a bigger Stupid Test than the jury selection process for a criminal trial.

It was an early Friday morning and my love had dropped me off so I didn’t have to find (and pay for) parking. Encounter one with the Stupid Test was the security folks yelling out instructions to the crowd entering the court house, directions such as “Take off all metal, put it in the bins” and “Remove all coats and sweaters, put them in the bins.” Standard security protocol for a courthouse, yet there were more than a few blank stares and total confusion. Some got as far as nearly walking through the metal detectors with their coats still on before they were told to back up and remove them.

I noticed this, but let it go. I spend a lot of time at airports, so I encounter this particular level of stupidity at lot. If I allowed other people’s inability to follow directions to bother me, I’d spend a good part of my waking life stressed out over nothing.

I arrived in the prospective juror room with just a minute to spare before the call time of 8:30am, a time of day I intellectually know exists, but had not seen fully dressed, hair dried, and with makeup on in years. Yeah, I can hear you: “Waaaah, poor baby.” For the record, I am at work early every morning, just not in what would be considered office-appropriate clothing. (I also don’t get regular breaks or a lunch hour and my boss is a complete bitch sometimes, but at least I respect her.)

The room was packed with people. I was a little overwhelmed at the number at first, but then I did the math in my head and figured 200 people would be about what it takes to fill five floors of court rooms after performing the necessary Stupid Tests. The courts call it voir dire, but it is essentially separating the wheat from the chaff.

I did not know yet 100 of us would be considered for just ONE case.

The court representative introduced herself and showed a short film about jury duty in Colorado. Like most corporate or public service videos, it was a little boring, but changed cinematography enough to maintain attention. Well, for me at least. There was a girl across the aisle from me who texted on her phone the entire time and a guy not far from me who kept talking, much to the chagrin of his neighbors, throughout the presentation.

The video stipulated the obvious: It’s a civic duty to be here, thanks for your time, we know some of you work/go to school, plead hardship if you have to but stick it out if you can, here’s a mass transit pass, we have child care, yadda-yadda-yadda. The part of the video that caught me, however, was the bit about not researching, inquiring, or watching the news about any case to which you’ve been assigned. I recall it because I thought to myself, “Well, that makes sense. They don’t want folks coming in to this with presuppositions and bias.”

When the film ended, the court representative said we were going to go up to our respective court rooms for further selection (read: Stupid Tests) and not in the usual way it was done because “Today is kind of a special day.”

“Uh-oh,” I said aloud. I had, just a few days before, uttered that I wanted something interesting to write about.

I had no fucking clue how powerful those words actually were.

Be careful for what you wish.

***

NOTE: Because I am a lover of chronological order, I will be telling this jury duty story from beginning to end. And, since I work for a living, it will probably come in increments. If you want the distressing, depressing, disgusting parts of the story, there’s plenty of it in a Google search.