Friday, September 20, 2013

Gerhard Becker Pretrial Hearing 8

 Gerhard Becker, at a prior court proceeding.

UPDATE 9/23: correction on street corner; thank you Karen
UPDATE 9/22: spelling, clarity
Thursday, September 19th, 2013
There is pretrial hearing in the Gerhard Becker case today.  A few months back, Becker's case was transferred to Dept. 104, Judge Perry's courtroom.

I was waiting on the northwest corner of Temple and Broadway for the light to change when I recognize Deputy Head of Major Crimes, Gary Hearnsberger standing beside me. DH Hearnsberger sat in the gallery during several pretrial rulings in the Kelly Soo Park trial.

It's still relatively early, just before 8:00 AM and the ground floor lobby of the Shortridge-Foltz Criminal Justice Center is eerily empty.

8:07 AM

Up on the ninth floor, Becker is already here and it looks like his hair is even shorter than what I last remembered.  I almost didn't recognize him at first, but a quick look at his crossed legs and I saw the ankle monitor.

Two camera operators are clearing security. I have no idea which case they are covering.  It’s a team I’ve never seen before. They head down toward the left wing and take a seat.  So it could be Dept. 105 through 108; any one of those courtrooms.

Down at the other end of the hall sitting on a bench I believe I see Mark Kassabian, one of Kelly Soo Park’s defense attorneys. Kassabian and his partner George Buehler, successfully defended Park against first degree murder charges.

8:19 AM

Judge Perry’s courtroom opens.   Judge Perry's bailiff peeks his head outside of Dept. 104, unlocks the door  and gives a thumbs up to one of the deputy sheriff's manning the security station.

Becker's defense attorney Donald Re arrives. Becker gets up off his bench seat and greets his counsel.  DDA Carney hasn't arrived yet. Re and Becker move to another bench. Re appears to be looking over some papers. A few moments later, Re smiles and pats Becker’s back.

Down at the end of the left wing of the hallway, it appears that two casually dressed female reporters are chatting with the two male camera operators.

In preparation before entering Judge Perry's courtroom, I put my phone on silent. Judge Perry has zero tolerance for any electronics inside his courtroom. In the hallway, I see a few familiar defense attorneys, but not a one that I could put a name to.

8:22 AM 

DDA Sean Carney arrives in the elevator bay.  After he clears security, I smile and say hello. At the same time, I notice DDA Garrett Dameron (who is co-counsel with DDA Daniel Akemon on the Michael Thomas Gargiulo case) almost directly in front of me in the hallway. Unfortunately,  I miss catching his eye as he and another gentleman head down towards the right hallway wing.

Sue, a producer for CBS 48 Hours (who I met last year cover Kelly Soo Park) stops by to say hello on her way towards Dept. 107. I tell her I'm covering Gerhard Becker. She's here for a post sentencing hearing in the Christian Gerhartstreiter (aka fake Rockefeller) case.  It's 8:29 AM. I can't hang out in the hallway people watching any longer. I pack up my laptop and head into Dept. 104.

Judge Perry takes the bench right after I sit down in the front row. Although Perry is on the bench, they are not on the record yet. Judge Perry tells counsel, "Thank you for being here so early. ... You get a gold star. ... Have you figured out Mr. Carney, when you might be able to respond?"

It's a good guess that Judge Perry is talking about the prosecution's formal response to a motion filed by the defense.  Carney replies, "By next Friday."   After that, Re will have the opportunity to file a response to the prosecution's response.

The next order of business is trying to set the case for trial.  I believe it's the court that states they want to "Get this thing going."  Re states that he has a trial scheduled for October 10th and another trial scheduled for October 28th.   Judge Perry asks Re when his trial on the 28th will finish. That case is a two week trial.  Perry responds that he has a hearing on a specific date, but offers up a trial start date of November or December, on the 15th.  I believe Re responds, "The fifteenth of December." (December 15th is a Sunday. Sprocket.)

Judge Perry's court reporter Beth, takes her seat and Judge Perry goes on the record. He states the appearances for the record.  Re then asks the court for a moment to confer with his client privately.  The court has no objection and Re and Becker exit the courtroom.

DDA Carney takes the time for a bit of small talk with Judge Perry. "How have you been, your honor?"  Judge Perry responds and then asks Carney a question of his own. He asks him something to the effect of where is he currently assigned.  Carney replies that he's still with the arson unit and replies, "It's a fascinating field."  Then Carney and Judge Perry have an interesting conversation about arson cases.  They discuss a former DDA (I believe with another county) whose name I don't quite catch.  Judge Perry mentions that he was known as an arson expert and a "super guy."

Becker and Re return to the courtroom. They first set November 15th as the next court appearance date with the case calendar set at zero of 45. Judge Perry then asks, "This won't require testimony will it?"  I'm not sure who it is who informs Perry, "It's a Franks hearing." Judge Perry realizes that there might be testimony.  Carney assures Judge Perry that they can issue subpoenas for witnesses to be on call. Judge Perry then changes his mind. The next court hearing will be on November 14th.  He tells counsel he realizes they are waiting for him to make a decision on the motion(s?) that (will be?) filed.

Judge Perry states, if there is testimony, it can continue on the fifteenth of November, and he'll clear his calendar. Judge Perry then muses, "I thought it was a 995..." Re jokingly tells the court, "If you'd like to rule on that your honor..." Everyone has a chuckle at that and Judge Perry replies, "We aim to please."

Judge Perry slowly and patiently explains to Becker his right to a speedy trial, and asks for his waiver.  Re then mentions that he has another motion and I believe the court indicates they will handle that motion on the 14th also.

In closing, Judge Perry tells counsel, "Thank you for being here so promptly."  Carney and Re chat in the well for a few moments. Judge Perry and his court reporter then begin a conversation.

Just then, Matthew McGough steps into the courtroom.  Judge Perry looked surprised and happy to see Matthew.  Judge Perry then addresses Matthew. "Ive got to talk to you!  Where's our book?" (I took that to mean, Matthew has probably promised Judge Perry a copy when it's published. Sprocket.)

I think Judge Perry then added smiling, something to the effect of, "Where have you been? I feared you were sitting under a freeway overpass, taking donations." Matthew responds, "It hasn't come to that yet." Judge Perry then makes a "Puffft!" sound and adds, "Where's the book? I want Christmas gifts for people."

Matthew and Carney then greet each other. Matthew and I both compliment Carney on the presentation he gave at the 2013 District Attorney's Forensics Science Forum last week.  All the presentations were excellent, but for myself, I especially enjoyed Carney's presentation.  Carney appreciated the feedback. His objective wasn't to debate the case, but to add context.

Judge Perry interrupts and asks what we are discussing.  DDA Carney explains that he gave a presentation at the conference on a famous arson, the Cameron Todd Willingham case.

Carney tells Judge Perry that the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards for investigating fires (921) was published a few months after this case occurred and most likely was not widely known until a few years later.  The big question in the case, was the fire an accident or was it intentionally set. Matthew tells Judge Perry that Carney's excellent presentation had a journalistic tone and neutral point of view.

Judge Perry brings up a well known arson trial he presided over, the John Leonard Orr case.  And for the next few minutes, Judge Perry gives a fascinating review of some of the highlights of this case.

Four people died. Two employees of the business as well as a grandmother and a child. One month later, there was another attempted arson.  There was a civil suit and money awarded against the business.  A few months later, fingerprint analysis (AFIS?) goes online and a fingerprint is matched.

Joseph Wambaugh wrote a book about the case, Fire Lover.  There had been 75 fires in Oakland grocery stores.  They had a name for the arsonist, "potato chip pyro," because he set the incinerary device in a rack of potato chips. It would go off like a bomb (because of the amount of oil in the bag).  (Yes, you can start a fire with potato chips. Kids, don't try this at home. Sprocket.) At trial there was a witness, a CIA agent, whose job was to go to Russia and identify faces.  He saw Orr's photo and identified him.  Orr's incriminating novel is mentioned and that he wrote a new book on the travesty of his case. Orr sent a flyer of the new book to Judge Perry.

After Perry's interesting discussion about the Orr case, Judge Perry invites Matthew back to talk with him in chambers.  While I wait for Matthew, I get the opportunity to talk to Judge Perry's new (to me) bailiff and his clerk, Melody.  I tell Melody I'm always amazed at all the work that clerks accomplish.  I tell her, "I don't know how court clerks do it."

Although the court reporter creates a transcript of the court proceedings, those documents are not part of the official case file. Court clerks have to type up a synopsis of the minutes of each case's hearing as well as the judge's rulings. Those minutes then must get into the appropriate case file. Clerks also field phone calls and log all motions that are filed each day for every case assigned to the court. When a case is in trial, there's more to do. They are the liaison with the jurors and their needs. They also have to keep track of the trial exhibits and take custody of them.  I'm sure there's more behind the scenes, but that's at least the tip of the iceberg that I've observed when I've been in court.

When Matthew and Judge Perry finished their talk, Matthew came back into the courtroom and said jokingly over his shoulder to Judge Perry, "Thanks for the kick in the pants."  Melody laughed.  Matthew promised Judge Perry's staff that he would keep them posted.  He promised them copies of the book when its published.

I asked Matthew about the status of his Stephanie Lazarus book. Matthew said, "It's coming along well."  Apparently, he's still hard at work.