Thursday, September 26, 2013

Lonnie Franklin, Jr., & Pretrial Hearings in New Cases

 Lonnie Franklin, Jr., at an earlier court proceeding.
Photo credit and date unknown.

UPDATE 9/26: punctuation, clarity, accuracy
UPDATE 9/26: links added at bottom of story
Wednesday, September 25th, 2013
I'm on the 9th floor of the Shortride-Foltz Criminal Justice Center.  Although it’s 8:20 AM, I’m not sure which cases I’m going to cover this morning.

When I checked the DA's calendar for this week, I saw that one of my favorite deputy DA's, Daniel Akemon, (prosecuting Michael Thomas Gargiulo and Ka Pasasouk) had a preliminary hearing that was scheduled in Dept. 102 on the same day as a pretrial hearing in Dept. 109 for the Alberd Tersargyan case.  Additionally, Lonnie Franklin, Jr. was also scheduled for a hearing in Dept. 109 this morning. I had not dropped in on the Franklin case for some time, so I thought I would see where it stood.

I had attended a couple pretrial hearings in the Tersargyan case back when former DDA Alan Jackson was assigned to it. Now that DDA Akemon had taken over the case, I'm considering adding it to the list of cases I'm tracking.

The preliminary hearing in Dept. 102, Judge Stephan A. Marcus’ courtroom, is for Bryan Barnes and Javier Bolden who are charged with 187 felony murder in the shooting deaths in April 2012, of two USC graduate students from China. Ming Qu and Ying Wu, both 23, were gunned down in their vehicle just a mile from the USC campus. Eighteen months later and the defendants still have not had their preliminary hearing yet.  In contrast, Stephanie Lazarus’ preliminary hearing occurred six months after she was arrested.

I’m hoping I can get a word with DDA Akemon before the courtrooms open to find out how long the preliminary hearing is expected to last. If it’s only a few days then Mr. Sprocket will be able to spare me from helping him on that year overdue nightmare project he’s been working on.

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Already in the hallway, I see two Asian individuals waiting for Dept. 102 Judge Stephen A. Marcus’ courtroom to open.  Now, a third Asian man has arrived, and a fourth pretty woman, possibly a reporter.

 There are a group of three black ladies and a black gentleman (standing) who were here when I arrived on the 9th floor.  The elevator lobby was unusually empty today and the line to get through security very short.

 Now I see that the two young Asian peope might be from a news agency.  The woman has a rolling card and a lanyard around her neck. Another suited Asian woman arrives and checks the door to Judge Marcus’ courtroom.

 More people arrive looking to see if the courtrooms at this end of the hall have opened. An older gray haired gentleman with a court employee badge hanging from his neck checks the door to Dept. 109.

When DDA Akemon arrives I jokingly tell him I’m stalking him. He tells me that the prelim will be delayed until Monday or Tuesday of next week.

8:28 AM 
Mary Hearns from the Superior Court’s Public Information Office (PIO) arrives on the 9th floor.  I ask, but she doesn’t know how many days the prelim will go.  More Asian reporters come up to her and ask her questions.  I see another reporter with a tripod and camera, but they are going into Dept. 101, not Dept. 102. Another Asian man arrives. 

A fast walking suited man carrying a DA case file comes down the hall and quickly enters Dept. 101. I ask Mary if Judge Marcus allows reporters to use their computers for note taking.  She indicated she would find out.

8:35 AM
Bryan Barnes and Javier Bolden

I step inside Dept. 102 for the first time since the Anand Jon Alexander trial back in 2008. Back then, it was Judge David Wesley’s courtroom. Great news. Judge Marcus allows laptops for reporters. The seats in the second and third rows are almost full so I ask the bailiff if I can sit in the front row.  Most courtrooms on the 9th floor, the judges don’t allow seating in the front row for pretrial hearings but
Judge Marcus appears to be an exception.

8:36 AM

In the well, I see DDA Akemon’s co-counsel, the lovely DDA Debrah Brazil. Brazil is in conference with two defense attorneys. She’s wearing a black pantsuit, white blouse and disheveled pixie haircut. I envy the leopard print pumps on her feet. I haven’t been able to wear high heels ever since a 1991 mishap with a child on a moped knocked me to the ground and broke my left ankle in four places.

Along with her co-counsel David Walgren, Brazil successfully prosecuted Conrad Murray on involuntary manslaughter charges in the death of legendary music icon, Michael Jackson. Last year, Brazil and Walgren were honored for their work on the Murray case. Searching the web, I learned that Brazil is an adjunct associate professor at Southwestern Law School, her Alma mater. You can read an interview she gave here.

I did not attend the trial, but I was fortunate to attend Murray’s preliminary hearing.  Or rather, I watched the prelim on live feed from an adjoining courtroom with other journalists.  I admired Brazil’s work in the courtroom and was hoping a case would come up where I could experience her legal skills again.

DDA Akemon is over at the clerks desk. He’s receiving a slew documents that were most likely under subpoena.  There are two stuffed FedEx boxes and many bulging manila envelopes.

There is the standard black and brown name plate in the front of Judge Marcus’ bench but he also has a beautiful, dark green marble looking name plate on his bench.

 Akemon is going though the stacks of paper that were in the FedEx boxes. I hear friendly banter between Brazil and the two defense attorneys.  Over by the clerk’s desk there is a stuffed animal sitting on top of the covered over water fountain. (All the the water fountains in the building have been covered with plastic from around the time of the first Spector trial. Sprocket.) It’s green. Is it a lizard? A frog? I can’t tell.  Around the bailiff’s desk, there is a Plexiglas separation, but it’s not nearly as high as what I’ve seen in the other 9th floor courtrooms.

Judge Marcus comes out and takes the bench. He has a kind, welcoming face. He talks informally with counsel about calling them and rescheduling the preliminary hearing. Dept. 102 is still in trial so this will not kick off today. Prelim is expected to take 2 days. Judge Marcus asks counsel what they are hoping for in regards to a start time for the prelim.  Both defense attorney’s present indicate that Monday is not a good day for them Judge Marcus replies, “No, I got to do this on Monday.”

One defense attorney indicates there is a scheduling issue with her co-counsel, and the other defense attorney is explaining that her co-counsel is unavailable that day. .

Judge Marcus is adamant. “We’re staring this.” One of the defense attorneys ask if they can approach. Judge Marcus replies, “We’ll do all this on the record.” 

There are scheduling conflicts with co-counsel for the defense.

Marcus asks DDA Brazil about phone records in (it appears) another case she has before him.
We are waiting for the two defendants to be brought out. Marcus explains that the lawyer in his current case got sick, or they could have started today. Smiling, he tells counsel about the current trial, “We’ll be done by Friday, even though I lost two days, I drove them.”

 There’s more friendly banter from Judge Marcus with counsel.

A male defense attorney shows up. Akemon leaves the courtroom.

 One defendant, a young black man is brought out wearing jail blues. More gallery people arrive. The second defendant is brought out who is also in jail blues. The second black man, looks much younger than the first, although later I find out there is only a three month age difference between the defendants. They are both twenty-one years old. When the second defendant was brought out he looked into the gallery and smiled. I'm familiar with one of the female defense attorneys but I don't know her name. I saw her sitting in the gallery during several days of the James Fayed case. I believe she is with the public defender's office. 

Judge Marcus goes on the record with People v. Barnes and Bolden.  The court asks the parties to state their appearances for the record.  Marcus explains the delay, that he lost two days due to an attorney being ill in the case currently in trial.  Judge Marcus states the prelim will start on Monday, September 30th. “That is still my plan although I could start on Friday,” he tells counsel.

 The defense counsel explain their difficulties with starting the trial on Monday. The male defense attorney states he has a preplanned commitment on Monday afternoon at 4 PM (I believe he said on the west side).  Marcus offers that they will stop the proceedings at 3:30 PM so he could make that commitment.  The man counters that they stop at 3:00 PM. I believe Judge Marcus tells counsel that he will split the difference with him: 3:15 PM.

The other female defense counsel explains to Judge Marcus that she rearranged her personal matters for Monday. In addition, her co-counsel, Mr. Goldman is also unavailable on Monday. He will be in charge of their office on Monday and is involved in (I don’t quite catch this) some sort of training.

 Judge Marcus is firm. He tells counsel, “I’m afraid I’m going to start Monday.”  If Judge Marcus starts later, (Tuesday) that will upset the rest of his schedule for other matters. He adds, “I’ll shut down at 3:15 PM. ... want to get this going. ... With all do respect, I have cases after your case. I lost those two days myself.”

Judge Markus asks Brazil about DDA Akemon, and she tells him that Mr. Akemon will be here for the prelim. Brazil then tells the court that the prosecution has another matter. The people issued SDT’s in this case (I take the initials to mean subpoena duces tecum). They are medical records that will be related to the penalty phase. The defense has no objection that the people can take possession of the documents, Bates Stamp them and prepare copies for the defense.  Brazil adds that although the documents are relevant, they will not be presented at the prelim, so there will not be any surprises for the defense. Judge Marcus has no problem with that. 

And that’s it for this hearing.

Judge Marcus appologizes to all the people in the gallery that he wasn’t able to notify them that the prelim would not start today. After the hearing I step outside to get the names of the defense attorneys who appeared today: Marie D’Onofrio and Gustavo Sztraicher are with the Public Defender’s Office.  Counsel for the other defendant was Jena Seng. Her co-counsel is Andrew Goldman who was not present today. Unfortunately, although I can match the attorneys to the defendant’s I saw in court, I could not tell for certain which name went with which defendant. I apologize.

There are links to relevant stories about the grad student’s murders at the bottom of this entry. Sprocket.

Lonnie Franklin, Jr.

9:01 AM

I cross the hall and step inside Dept. 109, Judge Kennedy’s courtroom. I take a seat in the third bench row. There are people already here in the gallery, who I believe are family members of the victims in this case. There’s a new sheriff at the bailiff’s desk. It’s an older gentleman with a large mustache. Judge Kennedy’s clerk is at her desk and the court reporter is just starting to set up her equipment.

I have a feeling the Franklin case will be heard first and the Tersargyan case second.

 There are two gentlemen sitting on the left side of the aisle beside the bailiff’s enclosure.  This is where detectives usually sit, but their suits are more interesting than what detectives usually wear. I guess they are defense counsel, even though they are not sitting in the well.

DDA Beth Silverman entered a few moments ago. She stops to greet the family members in the gallery in the row in front of me before taking a seat in the well. A clerk brings Silverman a file then takes a seat in the gallery.

Defense counsel Seymour Amster and Louisa Pensanti were in the well of the court when I arrived.

 I note that the left side of Judge Kennedy’s bench is still covered in figurines and the painting that I noticed hanging behind her bench during the Kelly Soo Park trial is still there. Judge Kennedy comes out to speak to her clerk. She looks thinner to me each time I see her.  She’s wearing a black and white blouse with ruffles around the v-neckline.

 DDA Marguerite Rizzo, co-counsel to Beth Silverman arrives 9:06 AM. She’s wearing a sharp black and white check jacket . Silverman motions to her clerk in the gallery to speak to her.

9:07 AM
Franklin is brought out from the jail holding area. Judge Kennedy takes the bench and says “Good morning,” to counsel. She asks them to state their appearances. Then 

DDA Rizzo addresses the court. She is speaking pretty fast and I did not completely catch was she was saying. This is what I typed, but I'm not sure it's exactly what she said: We submitted a final order to squash. We are working on a review of orders for uncharged victims. Inez Warren, ... informed evidence in her case has been destroyed.  She then mentions two other individuals that I don’t quite catch but I believe she’s talking about Sharon Dismuke and Georgia Mae Thomas, who are all mentioned in this LA Weekly story from November 2011.

I’m not certain if it’s Ms. Rizzo or Judge Kennedy who suggests they come back in two weeks. Judge Kennedy tells counsel that jury selection in the Rizzo case (City of Bell, public corruption scandal) will start on October 7th.  There is a bit of discussion as to what time the jurors will arrive on that date, but that’s when they will come back. As of today, the case calendar is set at zero of 90. Judge Kennedy doesn’t take a waiver. The case will be at 12 of 90 on the 7th.

And that’s it. Silverman asks the family members in the gallery to head out into the hallway so she can update them. I stop Marguerite Rizzo to tell her what I thought about the DA’s Forensics Science Forum, that was held two weeks ago. Marguerite was the one who organized this year’s conference. This was the first year that the conference was under the direction of new District Attorney Jackie Lacey.

I told Marguerite that I didn’t get a chance to speak to her at the DA's Science Forum, but I wanted to tell her that I thought she did a fantastic job on organizing the conference. Like Matthew McGough mentioned last week to Judge Perry, during the Gerhard Becker hearing, I told her I thought all the presentations were excellent. The food was also a big improvement over last year.  I was also impressed that the cost was $10.00.  It was a packed room and an a great event. I hope to find time to write about it, soon. 

And that’s it for the Franklin hearing.

Albert Tersargyan
The older gentleman with the court employee badge I first saw in the hallway is in the gallery. Apparently he’s an interpreter, but he speaks Arabic, instead of what Tersargyan speaks, which is Armenian. Tersargyan is not yet on the 9th floor yet. He's in a different holding location.

The gentlemen in the gallery and the Arabic interpreter are now talking to Judge Kennedy. The two men must be Tersargyan's court appointed counsel. The interpreter is asked, "Can you speak Armenian?" No, only Arabic. They were sent the wrong interpreter. Judge Kennedy tells the man, "Well, we don’t need you. We need an Armenian interpreter. ... We’ve had an  Armenian interpreter every time. ...  I don’t understand."  

It will take some time to get the right interpreter here. The off the record discussion is to set the hearing over to October 11th, 2013.  The court clerk is not sure if they can "trail" the hearing because this is a death penalty case. One of the gentlemen gets up to speak to Judge Kennedy's clerk privately.

Judge Kennedy takes the bench. "In the matter of People v. Mr. Haroonian (sp?) ... Mr. Haroonian might be in the building now. The interpreter's office sent an Arabic interpreter for reasons I know not." Judge Kennedy states they are 0 of 90 today. On Oct 11th, they will be 16 of 90. And that's it.  The hearing is over and Tersargyan will not be brought to the courtroom.  And that's it for this hearing.  In the hallway, I ask the two gentlemen representing Tersargyan for the correct spelling of their names. They are Gregory Apt and Pete Waimrin from the Alternate Public Defender's Office.

After I got over my puzzlement of Judge Kennedy calling the defendant by a different name, I have a memory of a conversation with former Deputy DA Alan Jackson. Back in 2011, I believe Jackson told me there was an issue as to whether or not Tersargyan was the defendant's correct last name as well as the possibility that his age was about 15-20 years younger. So although Tersargyan is how the defendant is listed in the LA Co. Sheriff's inmate look-up web site, this is not the name that is being used in court.

Mainstream Media Stories on Barnes & Bolden Case
04/11/12 NBC Two Grad Students Shot Dead

04/11/12 LAT Slaying of Two Grad Students Stuns USC
05/02/12 LAT Arrests Made in Grad Student's Deaths 
05/22/12 LA Weekly Barnes & Bolden Possibly Catch Death Penalty
05/22/12 LAT Slaying Suspects Portrayed Themselves as Party Boys
02/15/13 LAT Lawsuit Against USC Dismissed

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Anonymous said...

It's been three years, three months since Franklin was arrested. Now this blink and you'll miss it hearing?!!! What is going on with this case? What is going on with our "justice" system?!!! I don't know how the victims' families keep from going mad. And I still don't believe that Franklin is the real killer, but let's gets the trail going so we can find out!