UPDATE 1/21/15 spelling, clarity
January 20, 2015
Hope all is well with everyone in the new year.
This is just a short post to let T&T readers know that I haven't dropped off the face of the earth and forgotten about covering cases. One of my main priorities is being the financial manager for Mr. Sprocket's business. Through November and December, I helped Mr. Sprocket put together some difficult proposals for his business and I'm helping with another difficult proposal this month, too. Additionally, the December holidays are the busiest time of year for my home business.
A big Thank You, to those of you have inquired about how Mr. Sprocket is doing since his heart attack last May. He's actually doing quite well. He's only gained three pounds since losing over 30 in the ICU. His latest blood work tests were pretty good considering where he was six months ago.
Here are some short updates on the cases I'm covering as well as a new trial I'm going to cover in the next week.
Cameron Brown - Next Hearing: 1/27/15
To recap, Brown is charged with first degree murder in the November 8, 2000, death of his 4 year old daughter, Lauren. Prosecutors allege Brown threw his daughter off of Inspiration Point, a 120ft cliff in Rancho Palos Verdes. Brown has had two hung juries and will be going to trial for a third time.
Although I had to miss the last two pretrial hearings in the Cameron Brown case, I believe I will be able to make the next one on January 27th. Last time I dropped in on the case, a trial date was tentatively set for April 2015.
Michael Gargiulo 1/9/15
Gargiulo is charged with a total of seven counts and is facing the death penalty. His charges include two counts of murder, one count of attempted murder and one count of attempted escape. At the November pretrial hearing, Gargiulo relinquished his pro per status. Charles Lindner has been reinstated as defense counsel.
I'm still working on getting my notes finished for the last hearing on January 9, 2015. The next pretrial hearing in Gargiulo's case will be March 20, 2015. As of the January 9 hearing, the status of Gargiulo being able to have massive amounts of court documents with him in his cell hasn't been resolved yet. There will be more on that, in my post that I hope to have up in a few days.
Dawn DaLuise 1/12/15 - UPDATE
DaLuise is charged with one count of murder for hire. Opening statements started on January 9, 2015. I missed the first day of trial since I was covering the Gargiulo hearing downtown. I attended the second day of trial on January 12, when the prosecution presented their first three witnesses. Local ABC 7 covered the case with well known sketch artist, Mona Edwards providing visual color for their on air reports. You can read a bit of their trial coverage and see some sketches at this link. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend any more of the trial. According to the DA's calendar, closing arguments will be presented tomorrow. It's a good bet the jury will get the case sometime in the afternoon on Wednesday.
On Thursday, January 22, a jury found Dawn DaLuise not guilty of attempted murder. According to ABC Channel 7 article:
Dawn DaLuise, a former model and skin care business owner, was arrested in March 2014 for allegedly trying to contract former NFL player Chris Geile to murder rival business owner Gabriel Suarez.
During the trial, Geile testified that he was a shoulder to cry on for DaLuise, but that he never thought she was trying to solicit him to commit murder.
The ABC story has video of DaLuise with her attorney, Jamon Hicks after the verdict.
Rafael Enrique Martinez, Jr. 1/13/15
After the Gargiulo hearing, Deputy District Attorney Daniel Akemon mentioned that his next case, a cold case, would be at the Van Nuys Courthouse, Dept. V.
People v. Martinez is scheduled to start on January 26, 2015 and is expected to take about three weeks with an additional 3 to 5 days for jury selection. Although I dropped in on a case or two this past year, the last trial I covered from start to finish was the Kelly Soo Park trial in 2013. This would be a chance to cover a relatively short case close to home. The first trial I ever attended was at the Van Nuys Courthouse. It was the Robert Blake trial back in 2004-2005, long before the start of T&T. One of the reasons I'm interested in attending this trial is the fact that the defense has informed the court that the defendant is expected to take the stand and testify in his own defense.
Rafael Enrique Martinez, Jr., allegedly a member of La Eme, is charged with 187 felony murder in the deaths of Nancy Boehm (pronounced "Beem") and her son Shawn in a North Hollywood neighborhood back in September 1997. It's my understanding that Shawn, 23, was autistic with the mind of a 12 year old. He was often seen by neighbors riding his bicycle around the neighborhood.
Martinez was already serving a 14 year sentence in prison for voluntary manslaughter when he was identified as a suspect in these murders. The prosecution will introduce evidence that Martinez's DNA was found under Nancy's fingernails. Here is an LA Times article that give a few facts of the case and Martinez's arrest in November 2009.
I attended a pretrial hearing in the case on Tuesday, where Judge Susan Speer ruled on several defense and prosecution motions in limine regarding the admissibility of evidence. Judge Speer is an atractive, bespeckled woman with short, blondish straight hair that stops above her shoulders.
Rafael Martinez is represented by Tom Burns with the Alternate Public Defender's Office. Mr. Burns is a slender man with gray hair. When I arrived, I made sure to check in with the bailiff and to ask if Judge Speer allowed journalists to use laptops for note taking only. She does. When DDA Akemon arrived, it was evident that several of the deputies in Judge Speer's courtroom were happy to see him. One female deputy told me that they miss Mr. Akemon. He used to work in the DA's Van Nuys office, Hardcore Gang Division. It's my understanding that DDA Akemon has tried a few cases before Judge Speer before.
I was back at the Van Nuys Courthouse again today, for Judge Speer's rulings on defense motions to admit evidence of third party culpability. One of these motions overlapped a prosecution motion to exclude certain evidence. When I arrived on the 8th floor of Van Nuys West I got a surprise. In the hallway was none other than former DDA Alan Jackson. Many of you may remember Jackson from the Spector case as well as the James Fayed case. Jackson is in private practice now, mostly handling civil matters. I got a hello hug from Jackson and he asked me why I was here. I told him that I'm following one of DDA Akemon's cases. Akemon and Jackson are good friends from when they worked together in the DA's Major Crimes Division.
Inside Dept V, there is a single outlet on the left wall and I grabbed that seat so I could use my laptop. The morning session was entirely taken up by pretrial hearings in other cases. While I was waiting on the Martinez case, I tried keeping my eye on the door for when DDA Akemon and Mr. Burns would arrive. A few hours into the morning session I looked back at the door and saw one of the Van Nuys Cowboys, Detective Pete Barba. "The Cowboys" were the team of homicide detectives that solved the cold case murder of Sherri Rasmussen and led to the arrest of LAPD Detective Stephanie Lazarus. I caught Barba's eye, gave him a smile and wave.
After hearing oral arguments from the defense and counter arguments from the people, Judge Speer denied defense motions to introduce evidence of potential third party culpability by three different individuals. Judge Speer informs counsel that she read almost every case before the California Supreme Court and Appeals Court regarding 3rd Party Culpability evidence.
The court then went over every item in detail that the defense wanted to admit and then gave her reasons why that evidence did not meet the standard. Mr. Burns gave a valiant effort in oral argument to defend some of the evidence he was trying to have admitted. The court did rule that the defense will be allowed to introduce the fact that fingerprints from some identified and some unidentified individuals were found in the residence, but she placed limitations on the jury being presented with each and every name for prints that were identified.
Judge Speer then outlined for counsel her general trial procedures. DDA Akemon is familiar but Mr. Burns was not. 16 jurors will be selected for this trial. Since there are only 14 seats in the jury box, two jurors will sit outside the jury box and in the row of gallery seats directly in front of it.
I found it interesting that Judge Speer does not designate alternate jurors at the start of the trial. All 16 jurors will be sworn in as jurors. After the trial is completed and the jurors have been read jury instructions, four juror numbers will be randomly selected from a hat to be the alternates. Judge Speer indicated that she feels this method has all jurors pay more attention to the evidence if they don't know if they will be an alternate or not. This method also gives counsel more preemptive strikes. She explained it to counsel, but I wasn't quite following the details of that.
For voir dire, Judge Speer will go through the hardship questions and then she uses a preset list of questions for the first 16 jurors in the box. Once she has asked each juror her questions on that form, she will open up voir dire to counsel. She indicated she would give 20 minutes to each counsel. Mr. Burns appeared concerned about that short amount of time for the first jurors in the box. Judge Speer uses CALCRIM instructions (verses CALJIC) and she types up her own jury instructions.
One of Judge Speer's pet peeves is running out of witnesses in the afternoons. She reminds counsel to have their witnesses stacked with no more than 30 minute call times. Counsel confirm to the court that they will not need any interpreters for witnesses.
Judge Speer tells counsel that she does not want speaking objections during testimony. She will make a note of the objections and typically will wait until the next break to argue those objections on the record outside the presence of the jury. To me, it sounds like this would reduce the number of bench sidebars.
When Judge Speer is finished, I believe it's the Sheriff's Department that asks for a Wilson hearing and presents a number of inmate discipline reports for the defendant. Judge Speer reads into the record the incidents the Sheriff's Dept. provided on the defendant. These incidents involve the defendant not complying with deputy's orders, difficult situations for the sheriffs involving threatening statements, talking back to deputies, and swearing. Judge Speer states that the defendant is convicted of voluntary manslaughter, associated with La Eme and that the people are seeking life without possibility of parole. Judge Speer rules there is a manifest need to utilize a type of restraint on the defendant. An invisible stealth belt will be connected to the back of the chair.
The defense objects. Mr. Burns argues, "I don’t believe there’s enough evidence. He’s been coming to court without any disturbance. ... He has every incentive to be a gentleman in the courtroom. ... They (the jury) are going to decide his fate. He knows they're going to decide his fate and he knows this. ... And he's a smart man. I don't think there's any cause to restrain him."
Judge Speer responds, "Mr. Burns, I’ve been in so many courtrooms where it would seem counter productive for a defendant to act out." Judge Speer recounts to the defense her own experiences of having people be injured, stabbed, reporters injured, and her own experience of having to crawl under a desk. She adds that it usually happens outside the presence of the jury.
DDA Akemon replies, "The people concur with the Sheriffs Department on the analysis and request. The incident in custody of violence and other nonconforming behavior, Mr. Martinez's connection to the Mexican Mafia, ... I think there is a manifest need in this case."
Mr. Burns asks about a shock belt being used instead. The Sheriff's representative informs the court that those are no longer being used. Mr. Burns asks to see the stealth belt and the deputy takes out and and shows him how it's used. It is attached around the waist and hidden under a jacket or a pulled out shirt. It's explained to Mr. Burns that with the stealth belt, the jurors will not be able to see that the defendant is restrained to the chair. It is the least visible and the most minimal restraint. The defendant's arms and hands will be free.
And that's it for today. Counsel is ordered back at 9:30 for any last minute decisions. The jurors are expected at 10:00 am.
I will be back for the first day of trial in the hopes that in this small courtroom and a total of 61 fixed folding seats in the gallery, I will be able to attend voir dire. It will all depend on the judge and available seating. I believe the court may have already pre-qualified 75 jurors. That's a lot of jurors to cram into that courtroom.