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Tuesday, September 11th, 2018
Murder Trial Parts 3 and 4

Previously I talked about attending a murder trial. If you haven’t read parts one and two, I’ll give you the links to those pages.

Part I

Part II

What follows are the next two parts.

Murder Trial Part III

In Part I and Part II, I talked about things I’d learned and the initial testimony of the coroner, first cops on the scene, and the investigating detective.

Now a cybernetics and forensic sound detective was called to the stand. A lot of time was spent establishing in credentials. He had degrees in his field and he’d trained with the FBI and CIA, plus taken a lot of post graduate classes. He knew his stuff.

The reason he was called was because of Sparky’s phone, that as I said before, was found on the counter. It was an iPhone, and at first the police couldn’t get into it. About a week after the murder (and I’m calling it that because he was convicted), a member of her family produced the code and unlocked it.

That’s when they discovered the recording.

Now, this was interesting for me because I hadn’t heard any of the opening statements earlier that day, and so I had no context for the recording. I’m fairly certain the prosecution laid out its narrative of what happened in the opening, as did the defense, and so I think the jury must have had some context.

The detective was questioned about how he worked with the phone and how he took the recording off it. He talked about putting it into a Faraday Box so that it couldn’t transmit or receive any transmissions, and then went into technical detail about how he processed the phone.

Eventually, they got to the recording, which they proceeded to play. I’ll tell you more about that soon. Then there was an attempt to present an “enhanced” recording, which the defense objected to (they didn’t object at all to the recording’s initial presentation). Their argument was essentially that the enhancement would prejudice the jury (the jury had been removed from the courtroom for this objection argument). The prosecution argued that this was no different from photographs with arrows and explanations provided by investigating detectives.

The reason that they wanted the enhanced recording was because certain things on the recording could not be heard on the courtroom’s sound system. What the detective said was that in his sound room, with high end speakers and no exterior sounds, things could be heard that couldn’t be heard on the court speakers without pushing the gain and things like that. Basically, he was amplifying certain sound waves to make them more audible.

The judge ruled in favor of the prosecution. The jury came back in and then the enhanced recording was played. I’ll admit I didn’t hear a lot of what had been enhanced, but here’s the sequence.
One thing that wasn’t clear at the beginning was how much of the beginning of the recording had been cut that we didn’t hear. We learned that later. But I’ll get to that soon.

So first we hear a knock on the door. No one answers. Then the door opens and we hear footsteps. Maybe six or seven. Then we hear two quick shots and a gasping sound, and then the body hits the floor along with the phone. Then six more shots.

Then there are sounds and the phone is picked up. There’s swearing and the sounds of numbers being punched into the phone and then the cabinet getting kicked or the counter getting hit. After that, there are several minutes of walking through the house and more sounds near the phone, and more muttering and swearing. And then finally he calls the police.

Jason sounds panicky, though when he’s walking through the house he seems very calm. He says he’s killed his wife, that she wasn’t supposed to be there, that she attacked him with a knife. The operator talks to him and he claims he’s checking her pulse and she’s not breathing. He says he shot her eight times. The operator tells him to go outside and wait for the police to arrive, and we can hear the sirens, and then voices signaling the arrival of the police. What’s interesting is that we can hear the operator talking to dispatch and the dispatch talking to the officers. It was kind of surreal.

So that was the recording and the main evidence. As I think I mentioned at the beginning of all this, the reason I was at the trial was because my husband had been called by the prosecution to testify. I couldn’t be there for that, as he wasn’t called that day, and I couldn’t come back the next day.

But he’d been talking to Jason about Sparky and the difficulties in their marriage, and then at one point Jason (my husband thought jokingly and still does), asked a fellow hispanic employee if he knew any gang members. This is what they prosecution wanted to ask about. The implication being that Jason was looking to hire a hitman.

Next time . . . The defense story and my problems with their narrative.

Murder Part IV

All right, so last time I talked about the recording and the murder. Now I want to talk about the defense story of what happened and why I had such issues with it.

I read this in the paper, so I don’t have the details I might have if I’d been there, and I wish I could have been.
So what the story of the defense is as follows . . . .

It was Valentine’s Day. Jason and his girlfriend (who, in soap opera style, was the maid-of-honor at their wedding, and in news that doesn’t matter, her boyfriend was Jason’s former best friend), had decided to take his young kids to a Valentine’s breakfast at McDonalds before he went to work. However he had a bout of IBS and sent them without him and then called into work and said he couldn’t go.

He says that Sparky shows up after his kids are gone and they get into a huge fight and she threatens him, grabbing the bread knife to do it, and then storms out with it. Fearing she’ll return, he goes to get his pistol out of the gun safe which is why he has it. He claims that she returns a short time later, comes in with the knife and attacks him, and then he shoots her.

I had a number of problems with his story. First, I found it very hard to believe that he and his girlfriend would be taking the kids to McDonalds before school and before Jason left for work. Here’s why. He began work at 7 a.m., so he had to leave an hour early to get there. That means he had to get his two kids, ages somewhere between 6-10, out of bed and to eat before that. As a parent, I found that very difficult to believe.

Then there was his timeline. He didn’t text in to say he wasn’t going to be at work until after 7 (something my husband’s boss was called to testify about). So he knew he wasn’t going to work as early as six when he’d have had to depart, but doesn’t text his boss until after he was supposed to be there. Incidentally, the murder happened around 7 a.m.

Then there was the recording. She walks in and goes a few steps and there’s gunshots. No talking of any kind, no fight, no sounds of her attacking him with a knife.

Why was her phone on the counter? She was holding it as she walked in from the sound of things on the recording. You could hear it hit the floor when she fell. And along the same lines, why was the knife so loose in her hand when the backpacks in the other were so tight they had to pry out of her hand?

But there were a few other things that I haven’t mentioned. She’d made a habit of coming to pick up the kids before school when he wasn’t home, even though she wasn’t supposed to. I don’t know if that was a legal agreement or not. Apparently this made Jason very angry.

He’d switched vehicles with his dad the night before, saying he needed his dad’s truck. He left his car at his dad’s house. That meant Sparky had no idea he was home because the car wasn’t there.

But the big kicker was that this wasn’t the only recording. She’d recorded 12 other visits prior to this and the prosecutor played the first minutes of each time. They were the same. She knocked on the door and either walked in, walked down the hallway and talked to her kids and their grandfather—Jason’s father—(who seemed to always be happy to see her), or he answered the door and let her in.

Twelve times. Then on number thirteen, she walks in and gets shot. If she was planning to attack him with a knife, why carry the backpacks? She expected obviously her kids to be there, which suggests she wasn’t planning on a fight. Second, why record if she was about to commit a major crime like assault or murder? Makes no sense.

I find it difficult to believe that this wasn’t a premeditated murder. He got his kids out of the house. He made sure his car wasn’t there to warn Sparky. He lay in wait with his gun in the kitchen behind the refrigerator so he could shoot her as soon as she came out of the hallway. From the recording, she didn’t see him. He shot her before she knew he was there.

Clearly he wasn’t expecting the recording. He wasn’t expecting that his several minutes before the call to 911 would be heard by anybody, nor that he’d only checked her vitals to see how she was when he called. And no, I don’t think he actually checked her vitals.

I do wonder if I’d actually heard the defense and heard him on the stand, if I would have believed him. But I don’t know how he would have explained away the problems I see.

So that’s it. The whole part of the trial I saw and what I learned about later from reading the paper about his testimony.

This is a link to one of the accounts that includes a summary of his testimony.

 

 

Sunday, July 29th, 2018
Murder Trial Part II

If you haven’t read part one and you want to, click here

I left off last time having talked about the procedure of the courtroom and what I’d learned. Now I’ll move on to the evidence.

The first person on the stand that I got to see was the assistant coroner. She got asked a lot of questions about her experience and her qualifications to testify, and then the questions turned to the body. They showed pictures of the body on a monitor, which was facing the jury so I couldn’t see it that well.

It was already established that Jason had emptied the magazine of his automatic pistol into Sparky. I can’t tell you what caliber, but I believe it was probably a .9 mm or a .45. I believe he fired eight shots total.

According to the coroner’s testimony, the first bullet went into her left shoulder at an angle. That’s the shot that killed her, going to her heart. After that, she was shot seven more times in the back.

After discussing the wounds and the likely order of them and which killed Sparky, it was time to move on to the cops who first on the scene. Jason was waiting outside for them. They secured him, and went inside. They found Sparky facedown sort of slumped up against the back of the couch.

The prosecutor now had one of the detectives lay up against the Judge’s stand (I don’t really know what that’s called) to demonstrate to the jury. The cop adjusted the detective until the scene imitated how he’d found Sparky.

Next he was asked about her body. In one hand she was clutching two children’s backpacks so tight that they had to be pried from her hand, and her other hand she held the knife that Jason claimed she tried to kill him with. The knife released easily from her fingers, which were loose on the handle. Her phone was found on the counter.

Then the prosecutor asked about the brass ejected from the gun. My understanding of the layout is this: A short hallway led from the front door to a room that was open concept. On the left was the kitchen with an island and the refrigerator was on the left as you walked in, blocking the immediate view of the kitchen. On the right was a pony wall with a computer set up in front of it, and directly ahead was the living room area with the couch where Sparky’s body was found.

Brass was found on the keyboard, on top of the fridge, and then littered around the kitchen floor.

The defense then asked whether the officer had made a mistake by removing the knife from the scene before the detective arrived and whether he thought the officer thought he’d tampered with the scene (there were no pictures of the knife in her hand).

Next is was the investigating detective’s turn. He was sworn in and asked about his report being correct and all that stuff I mentioned in my first post. He was then asked what he saw when he came on scene. I don’t remember if the body had been removed by then or not. I want to say no.

But the prosector focused a lot on the knife. The knife block with all the knives was produced, and then the knife that Sparky was supposed to have attacked Jason with. The last was a serrated breadknife with a very sharp inch-long or more point. It was established that these knives belonged to Jason. The defense queried about the fact that the knife was dirty, and indicated that before Sparky was supposed to have grabbed it, it had been used for cutting bread and so was on the island, not in the block.

This last was important because to get to the block, she’d have had to cross the kitchen, reach under the cabinet to the back of the block to get the knife. On the island, it was much more accessible to her.

Next they showed a video of the house interior and exterior. This, apparently, is common protocol in a murder investigation. Everything is filmed to establish where things were and where they weren’t. The body had been removed by this time. As he walked through the house and filmed, the detective indicated where certain pieces of furniture were and where rooms were. One thing they made a point of was that the gun safe was in another room.

So at this point, they dismissed the detective and called another detective, specializing in forensic sound and cybernetics. This is where I learned that Sparky had recorded her murder.

Next time: The recording.

Monday, July 16th, 2018
Murder Trial Part 1

I had occasion to attend a portion of a murder trial a couple months ago. My husband had to testify, called by the prosecution. More on that later.

A man was on trial for murdering his estranged wife on February 14, 2017. I remember that date because my husband had his wisdom teeth out that day, and we got the news the next morning just before I headed out for the Rainforest Writers Village, a writing retreat.

Why did we get the news? The accused (now convicted), named Jason, was a former coworker of my husband’s and they’d been talking about his situation over the previous months. Jason was in the middle of a bitter divorce with two young children in the middle (both under 10, I believe). He was frequently upset with his wife who he claimed was abusing the kids. He talked to my husband fairly regularly about it. My husband told him to document everything, and to work with the police and his lawyer. Jason claimed that her parents were willing to testify on his behalf in a custodial hearing, and he claimed that his wife’s boyfriend’s ex-wife was also concerned that Sparky (the murder victim) was abusing her kid and was talking to the police.

So we were feeling pretty sympathetic to his situation, given this information.

And then he killed her. Read the rest of this entry »