Sunday, March 22, 2015

Michael Gargiulo Case, Pretrial Hearing 26; Suge Knight Collapses in Court

Exclusive T&T Gargiulo Case Coverage.
 Michael Thomas Gargiulo, in custody

March 20, 2015
There was quite a bit of excitement on the 9th floor of the downtown criminal court building. It was a hearing in another courtroom that ended up all over the news. I’ll share what I observed a bit later.

8:30 AM
I didn’t get to the 9th floor until quite late. It’s because I’m worrying about Mr. Sprocket and how’s he’s feeling. Yesterday morning, Mr. Sprocket stepped out side to get something out of his White Whale Work Truck. We’ve had many overcast mornings and there was a bit of condensation on the front steps. Mr. Sprocket slipped and went flying into a large terra cotta pot in the front yard.

I was sitting at my computer when I heard moaning sounds coming from the porch. Mr. Sprocket was in the front yard on his back, the large pot was on its side and there was blood on Mr. Sprocket’s face and ear. He had a scraped knee, scraped shoulder and his ear was cut. Most frightening was directly beside his right eye, I saw several cuts and a quarter sized bump that continued to swell. Fortunately, he did not pass out.

Mr. Sprocket is feeling much better now, although it does look as if someone gave him an eye punch and not a clay flower pot.

Michael Gargiulo Hearing

In the elevator, I rode up with Pat Kelly from the Superior Court’s Public Information Office. She’s headed for Dept. 101, the opposite direction I’m going. 

As I walk down the left wing hallway towards Dept. 108, I see defense investigator Chris Nicely in his regular bench spot. He’s wearing one of his sweater vests that look quite nice on him. At the very end of the hall, I see DDA Garrett Dameron opening the door to Dept. 108, Judge Ohta’s courtroom. I give a smile and wave to Nicely as I pass and follow Dameron in. I had heard earlier that DDA Akemon would be off this week.

I take a seat next to the aisle in the second bench row. One of the first things I notice is there are two black and white photographs on the wall directly behind Judge Ohta’s bench.  From where I’m sitting, I can’t tell if they are photographs, or black and white drawings. To Judge Ohta’s right (my left) is a classic portrait of President Lincoln. On the other side is a portrait of President Teddy Roosevelt.

When Nicely enters, he takes the bench seat directly behind me. There are several counsel in the well for another case in front of Judge Ohta. There is a new court reporter in front of the jury box. The tin of Red Vines is still on the edge of the clerk’s counter, next to the right wall.

Against the back gallery wall, next to where the wood bench stops are some nice, modern looking red and gray chairs. The seats are red and they are padded. I can’t recall those chairs being there before, but I could be mistaken. Usually, when courtrooms need extra seats, the bailiff’s pull out of storage these metal and plastic interlocking chairs. These new chairs are much nicer.

Judge Ohta calls another other case to order. There is no defendant in court, just counsel, and Judge Ohta is not in his robe. Judge Ohta asks the parties if they have any additional arguments beyond their motions. Both counsel decline to add oral arguments. Judge Ohta then slowly and methodically, steps through the facts and arguments to support his ruling.

As I listen in, I try to grasp all the particulars. It’s a habeas petition and the issue today being decided is limited to an evidentiary issue and whether or not some material is discoverable and if the evidence can be released to “non-qualified individuals.”  Judge Ohta mentions that the petitioner filed a “transverse.”  The case relates back to May 2007. From what I’m understanding it appears the defendant was tried and sentenced to death row. The defendant is now claiming to be mentally challenged. The court ruled the contested documents would be turned over.

9:11 AM
LA County Sheriff’s Detective Mark Lillenfield arrives. He smiles and gives me a little waive as he walks past and enters the well. I don't personally know Detective Lillenfield but I feel as if I do. I've seen him in the witness chair in several trials over the years and I've really enjoyed listening to him testify in those other cases.

Almost right behind him is Gargiulo’s defense attorney Charles Lindner. Lindner is assisted by his son Abe, who also serves as his paralegal. Abe is in law school, but I don't know if he has graduated yet. I believe Abe has long hair. I’ve only seen it pulled back into a tight, compact bun at the nape of his neck, so I don't know how long it might be.  DDA Dameron greets Lindner. They then head to the ante chamber to chat privately.

9:25 AM
Lindner and DDA Dameron come out of the ante chamber area. Nicely gets up to speak privately with Lindner’s paralegal by the jury box. DDA Dameron, Lindner and Detective Lillenfield chat in the well about possible additional discovery. Is there additional information that the defense thinks is out there.

Judge Ohta puts on his robe. To me, it appears that Judge Ohta’s hair has grown out a bit and I like it much better than when it's cut shorter. There’s a bit of discussion among counsel and the court on the previous case. Habeas cases actually bypass the Courts of Appeal and go directly to the California Supreme Court. They take a long time to wind through the courts. The Habeas Corpus Resource Center, provides counsel to individuals on death row.

Lindner rolls his wheelchair over to where the Red Vines tin is and takes a few. I’m a bit envious and nostalgic aa I watch Lindner chomp down on the candy. I think back to the times when I used to eat them. However, Red Vines are made from corn syrup and wheat, foods that contain known lectins. The wheat and corn lectins are inflammatory to my blood type, so I don't eat Red Vines anymore.

Judge Ohta has sports on his mind and chats with counsel about their “picks.” (I believe the court is referring to “March Madness” the NCAA championships.) The Michigan State team is mentioned. 

From where I’m sitting, I can see a short distance down the hallway behind the clerk’s desk. I see Judge Lomeli (whose courtroom is right next door) walk by. Judge Lomeli’s clerk also comes into view and hangs out in the doorway beside Judge Otha’s clerk’s desk. I catch Judge Lomeli's clerk's eye and give them a smile.

9:40 AM
We are waiting for the sheriff’s to bring Gargiulo out.  Lindner asks for Nicely to join him at the defense table.  When Gargiulo is finally brought out, it appears he has a long-stride limp. His head is completely bald. To me, his face looks a little fuller, like he might have put on some weight.

The court calls the case and asks parties to state their appearances for the record. 

Lindner tells the court he is preparing his 995 motion, which is a motion to dismiss. I believe he states that he will file it in about two weeks. Court and counsel discuss the timing of returning, as well as how much time the people will need to review the motion and respond. After a little back and forth, the next hearing is set for April 24th, for further pretrial.

If the 995 motion is filed in two weeks, then that would give the people two weeks to go through the motion before they return to inform the court how much time they will need to formally respond.

I believe it’s Dameron who informs the court of a potential roadblock to trial, and that’s the fact that a second counsel has not been reappointed by the court.

When a defendant is facing the death penalty, California law requires that he be represented by two counsel. The only time that I'm aware of where a defendant facing death would not have a second counsel is when they are pro per. I believe the logic behind it is, one counsel to argue the guilt phase to a jury, and another attorney to argue the penalty phase.

This issue needs to be resolved as soon as possible. My understanding is, that attorney is assigned through another courtroom.

I believe Lindner informs the court that the attorney that is tentatively assigned is very familiar with the facts of the case. I believe he states it’s Mr. Rubin. (Mr. Rubin was prior co-counsel before Gargiulo went pro per.) Lindner informs the court that a meeting is scheduled for April 2. The court asks that Lindner give a status on assignment of co-counsel when they return on April 24.

Gargiulo was silent throughout the entire proceeding.
Suge Knight Bail Hearing - After the “Collapse”

When I exit the courtroom, there is a mass of media at the other end of the hallway.

At the same time as the Gargiulo hearing, there was a bail hearing for Marion Suge Knight in Dept. 101, Judge Ronald Coen’s courtroom. Knight, the founder of (now defunct) Death Row Records, was recently charged with hit and run murder and attempted murder. (LA County DA’s felony complaint) In early February, Knight was initially arraigned at the Compton Courthouse but the bail hearing was transferred to the downtown criminal court building.

At today's bail hearing, the DA’s office was requesting Knight’s bail be set at 25 million, an unprecedented amount. I was wondering why everyone was still in the hallway. I thought the hearing would be long over by now.

 (Here is the most complete video I could find of the hearing.)

Towards the center of the hallway, a court spokesperson is speaking to a group of reporters, including City News’ Terri Keith, LA Times’ Marisa Gerber and Local NBC 4’s Patrick Healy.

Listening in, I hear the words “slumped down.” Apparently, Knight passed out in the courtroom and the sheriff’s ordered everyone out in the hallway. That’s why everyone was there. Judge Coen did grant the DA’s motion of 25 million bail. The question in my mind was, did anyone see Knight fall? Was the fall filmed?

I headed towards Dept. 101, looking for other familiar faces. I see a man wearing a 8”x11” red and blue sign around his neck that says ABBA Bail Bonds. Every bench seat was filled with reporters on cell phones, writing notes, or on their laptops, reviewing photos or video. Interspersed between the journalists on the benches were people wearing juror badges.

There were two seated journalists on laptops that had a group around them. My guess was, these two probably got the first download from the cameras. I observed microSD memory cards being passed and returned as journalists were waiting to get the video copy. I try to peek over shoulders to see if there are any images of the fall on the laptop screens.

 A seated male reporter nearby with a laptop initially states (referring to Knight’s fall) “it’s on video.” I hear snippets of conversation. Some journalists state Knight “hit his head” as he fell.

Over by the door to Dept. 101 is a group of people asking if Knight’s family can go back inside. The bailiff is shaking their head. No one is allowed inside. This family group moves down in masse to the center of the long hallway and several journalists move in to ask questions. One of the family members yells for the media to leave them alone and give them privacy. The journalists slowly back away.

At some point, the PIO spokesperson calls out to the media “no photography in the hallway.” I hear one journalist state we will have to take a photograph using our brains. As I was walking beside reporter Marisa Gerber I so wanted to ask her if she saw Knight fall. However, Marisa was so intently typing her notes on her cell phone that I didn't want to be impolite and interrupt her concentration.

Fire Department paramedics arrive on the 9th floor with a gurney and head towards Dept. 101. Seeing the paramedics, a few journalists think Knight will be taken out of the building via a private elevator (possibly the freight elevators) but I’m not sure. It probably depends on where the ambulance is parked. It could be on 9th Street. It could also be via the freight or private elevators where the Sheriff’s bring in-custody defendants in and out of the building.

As I decide what to do, I overhear conversation that Knight’s new defense attorney, Matthew Fletcher, will address the media on the 12th floor elevator bay, the spot where the DA’s office usually speaks. That location quickly changes to “outside,” meaning the Temple Street plaza. (Fletcher's press conference was held on the 12th floor.)

Not knowing how long it will be before Fletcher would speak to the press, I decide not to wait and head over to the PIO to pick up documents I'd ordered in the Cameron Brown case and then head home to work on invoices for Mr. Sprocket.

Searching the web over the weekend, I could not find any video of Knight falling.

While I was on the 9th floor, I was overhearing snippets of conversation about what happened. The best I could gather at the time was, the event happened after the hearing was over and Judge Coen was probably off the bench. If Judge Coen had left the bench, that would mean the cameras had probably stopped rolling.

From what I overheard, it seemed Knight’s defense attorney had gone back into custody with his client to speak to him and then they both came back out and went on the record a second time. Maybe that’s why the cameras were not on Knight when he fell. A likely scenario would be, reporters were still in the courtroom, waiting for Fletcher to come back out from the custody area.

Searching the web, I listened to several media reports and watch video on You Tube. It appears I wasn’t far off the mark. From the snippets of Matthew Fletcher’s presser that I could find, according to Fletcher, Knight collapsed right as he was returning to the defense table.

Media photos show the ambulance at the entrance to the underground parking lot so it’s likely that Knight was taken out of the building through the freight elevators.

I wasn’t in the courtroom. I don’t know if the LA Times online report is accurate when it states that Knight collapsed “Just moments after ...” bail was set at 25 million. Fox News reports Knight collapsed after he was brought back into the courtroom. 

The DA's daily calendar states the Major Crimes Division is handling the case with DDA Cynthia Barnes prosecuting Knight.

Daily News - Associated Press Report on Bail Hearing
ABC News - Suge Knight Charged with Murder, Attempted Murder
The Young Turks- Video Commentary
CNN - Video of Hit & Run Attack
Lady Justice - Video: Suge Knight Bail Hearing
NY Daily News - Video: Fletcher Speaks to Press
WWETV - Video of Fletcher Presser
You Tube, JOLI’s@LEAK - Different Video of Fletcher Presser