Friday, April 5, 2019

Jennifer Francis v. City of Los Angeles (LAPD) Verdict Watch, Day 1

 Stanley Mosk Courthouse, downtown Los Angeles

UPDATE 4/16:
Corrected the spelling of Detective Shepard's last name. Sprocket
I've made a correction to the section on defense counsel's closing statement, regarding what John Ruetten told detectives in 1986. In my original post, I did not say or intend to say that defense counsel Reginald Roberts intentionally misled the jury, only that he had misstated what John Ruetten told detectives in 1986. The corrected text below is based on actual transcripts and official records, some of them dating back to 1986. Sprocket
UPDATED 4/5: Adding Jeff Thompson's title, Asst. Lab Director. Sprocket
April 4, 2019
Closing arguments were presented to the jury today.

[Note: What follows is a very short summary of closing arguments. I will have a more comprehensive report when I publish my daily notes. Sprocket.]

In the morning session, the jurors heard closing arguments from both parties. The plaintiff's attorney John Taylor went first. Much of Taylor's closing argument was reviewing with the jury defense counsel Reginald Roberts opening statements and characterizing many of the statements as misleading or outright wrong.There are quite a few statements that Taylor goes over with the jury.

John Taylor told the jury of the many people that Francis told about what Cold Case Detective Cliff Shepard said to her in 2005, that John Ruetten's ex-girlfriend, a detective, didn't murder Sherri Rasmussen. She was cleared. Those people included, in order of who she went to, [then] DDA Shelly Torrealba, Detective Greg Stearns, Harry Klann, Jeff Thompson (Assistant Lab Director), Detective Dan Jaramillo, Detective Debra Winter and finally the Office of the Inspector General.

[Note: When Francis went to the Inspector General, that notification finally triggered an Internal Affairs investigation. Sprocket]

John Taylor told the jury that Jeffrey Thompson, a supervisor in SID (Science Investigation Division) admitted on the stand he ordered Jennifer Francis to Behavioral Sciences Section (BSS) for psychological counseling without the approval or review by the commander of SID.

Taylor reminded the jurors of DDA Beth Silverman's testimony where she indicated she had heard from other Deputy DA's in her office, negative comments about Jennifer's ability to be a team player and that she wanted to lead investigations. Taylor told the jury about DDA Silverman's testimony regarding the DA's office "Brady" database, where, any accusation or complaint about police officers is kept and could potentially be turned over to the defense as part of discovery in a criminal case.

In his closing, Taylor told the jurors that the LAPD's decision to send Jennifer to BSS was retaliation and caused her emotional pain and suffering. Taylor pointed out that Jennifer's reputation suffered with the DA's office.

[Note: Jeff Thompson in his deposition, stated that DDA Beth Silverman told him she did not want Jennifer Francis doing any DNA analysis on the Grim Sleeper serial killer case she was prosecuting. That DDA Silverman told him that Francis would be defense witness number one. Sprocket]

Based on Jennifer's estimated lifespan of 83 years, Taylor recommended the following compensation for Francis. For the age period of age 50 to 60 years, she should be compensated somewhere between $875,000 to $1.2 million, per year.  Taylor then recommended another amount, over $500,000 per year for the age years from 60 to 83.

Taylor spoke for approximately an hour. The jurors were given a break and then defense attorney Reginald Roberts started his closing argument right before 11am.

Roberts started off by talking about his biggest fear as a lawyer was getting some fact wrong for his client. He then directs the jurors to focus in on one of the instructions the jurors were given, the Casey instruction 0329.

[Note: I believe I have that correct in my notes. Sprocket]

Roberts then went through several sections of Detective James Nuttall's testimony and interpreting it for the jury.

Roberts stated that all the evidence the Plaintiff told them referencing the murder of Sherri Rasmussen, going back 33 years, "... that's a distraction. ... This case is about 2004 to now."  Roberts told the jurors that Francis was one of several criminalists who worked on the case, she wasn't the only one. He stated that the LAPD Detectives "stuck with the case over time ... [and] got the right person [Lazarus]."

Roberts mentions the commemorative award Francis received for her work on the case. "You don't retaliate by giving [the] highest award. This was a public honor for a team [effort]."

Roberts tells the jury a "... homicide team ...  worked to put Lazarus in prison." Roberts lists on the screen the many names of detectives, Deputy District Attorneys and criminalists who worked on the Lazarus case. "Jennifer is the only one who claims retaliation."

As Roberts speaks to the jury, he paces a bit and waves his arms around a lot. He tells the story of watching [I believe] a golf tournament or golfer on TV with his young 4 year old son, and that his son when asked the golfer's name, said Lion instead of Tiger [Woods].

Roberts stated "... Plaintiff never disclosed a crime ... [plaintiff] complained about the way Detective Shepard conducted the investigation not that [misconduct?] was done."


Roberts tells the jury, "John Ruetten was interviewed. And he was crying when he was telling the detective, Detective Mayer way back when, 'I don't have any problems with an ex-police officer girlfriend.' He told the detetives back in '86, 'I don't have a problem with anyone else.'"

[Note: During Roberts examination of Detective James Nuttall on 3/18/19, Roberts asked the following question:

Roberts: So was it your understanding that he was crying when he was telling the detective, no, I don't have any problems with an ex police-officer girlfriend?
Nuttall: That's correct, sir.

Here is what John Ruetten told Detective Lyle Mayer in their interview on 2/24/86, the night of the murder:

Mayer: You were not having any family problems, or marital problems, or anything?
Ruetten: We were having the best time. We just got married.
Mayer: No financial problems? She's not having any problems with an  ex-boyfriend? Or you with an ex-girlfriend?

Ruetten: No.

During the crime scene walkthrough the following morning, 2/25/86, John Ruetten gave Detective Mayer Stephanie Lazarus's name and informed him that she was a police officer. There's no evidence that John in 1986 ever described Stephanie Lazarus to Mayer as a girlfriend or ex-girlfriend.

EDITOR'S NOTE: T&T is always happy to make a correction, if warranted, upon request. Sprocket]

Roberts tells the jury that after Francis developed the female profile, the Rasmussen murder fell into the lowest classification tier [#4] of cases to work within the Cold Case Unit and that Detective Shepard was "very busy."

Cold Case Unit Classification Level [Highest to lowest priority]
1. DNA hit [connected] to an specific person who is free [not in custody].
2. DNA hit to a specific person who is in custody.
3. DNA hit case to case but no specific person known.
4. No DNA hit to a known suspect.

Roberts tells the jurors that Jeff Thompson in his testimony said Francis "... didn't have a single bit of evidence Cliff Shepard [had] committed a crime."

Roberts tells the jurors that the Cold Case Unit's working conditions were so cramped that when Detective Shepard worked on a case, he had to run over to a storage unit to get a file and run back. Detective Shepard had over 100 cases on his plate, including serial killers.

[Note: It is my memory that I heard Detective Shepard testify earlier in this trial that when he was moved to the Grim Sleeper Task Force, the Rasmussen murder book was locked in a file cabinet behind his desk. Sprocket]

Roberts mentions again that Detective Nuttall never picked up the phone to call Detective Shepard.

Roberts tells the jury that when Detective Nuttall started looking into one of their own for the murder of Sherri Rasmussen, "... he didn't get any push back..." [from his superiors]. Roberts states that the Van Nuys unit kept the investigation under wraps because they knew Stephanie's husband also worked in the same building as them.

Roberts arms are flailing around as he talks to the jury. Roberts then talks about the Lazarus arrest.

Roberts tells the jury that the Plaintiff never told anyone or used the words "cover up" that it was her own counsel, a different counsel than the firm representing her now, who was with her during her interview by the Internal Affairs investigator who used that term. Roberts goes over the various people Francis told about Detective Shepard's statements and that every time she was asked if she was reporting misconduct by Shepard and Francis said no, that she was not making an accusation of misconduct. Like he did in his opening statement, Roberts plays portions of Jennifer's taped deposition for the jury answering these questions.

Roberts claims that the LAPD did not retaliate against Francis. She was not demoted and she did not lose any pay, so there was no retaliation. After the Lazarus trial Jennifer's supervisors gave her higher performance evaluations and she received a commendation. Roberts claims that Francis continued to testify in court on DUI toxicology cases.

Roberts tells the jury that after the Internal Affairs investigation, "... Plaintiff didn't like the outcome ... so we're here." Roberts tells the jury, Francis was "... sent to BSS although she was also under her own therapy at the same time."

[Note: This is not an accurate statement. Francis did not seek her own psychological counseling until after she was ordered to BSS. Sprocket]

Roberts then brings up things in Francis's personal life that she talked about with her own therapist. These are the same things Roberts mentioned in his opening statement, such as her father was dying of cancer during the same time frame. Roberts tells the jury her therapist testified "... she had a lot of problems going on ... these can be an extreme emotional mental burden ..."

[Note: Some of the things that Roberts tells the jury that Jennifer spoke in confidence to her therapist about I will not repeat here. It is my own personal opinion this information is private and would re-victimize Jennifer. Sprocket.]

Roberts tells the jury "... she was dealing with all [this] family stuff [during] the same time frame ... we [LAPD] didn't cause any of those personal things ..."

In closing, Roberts goes over the eight questions on the verdict form that the jurors need to fill out and how he feels they should answer each question.

Roberts finishes his closing about six minutes into the lunch hour. He apologizes to the jurors for taking up some of their lunch time.

Judge Fujie then asks the jurors if they would like to go to lunch now or listen to the Plaintiff's rebuttal arguments before they go to lunch. The jurors say they would like to listen to the rebuttal arguments before they go to lunch.

John Taylor presents his rebuttal arguments. Taylor tells the jury again that defense counsel misled them and cherry picked out information. He talks about psychosomatic symptoms and that they are not all in Jennifer's head.

Taylor brings up Harry Klann's deposition [Jennifer's immediate supervisor at the time] where he adamantly states he did not believe what Jennifer told him about Detective Shepard, a homicide detective, possibly covering up a murder. 

Taylor tells the jury, "Not one LAPD person, ... did you see one [person] who cared about Jennifer Francis."

Taylor talks about the LAPD being incapable of policing themselves. They [LAPD] want to know if they got away with it again. Taylor says, "You get to see how the LAPD treats one of their own ..."

Taylor tells the jury that the damages numbers he recommended to them "... those [numbers] are low. ... They know it. ... If [you come back with a number any lower] ... they [LAPD] will be clinking champagne glasses ..."

Taylor concludes his rebuttal argument around 12:20pm Juge Fujie then tells the jurors to return to the courtroom at 2pm. She tells them, "I bought you snacks [that are] in the jury room. No court funds were used." She says this is her gift to them.

3:39 PM
Some jurors exit the courtroom for a break.

3:49 PM
Jurors start to file back into the courtroom.

4:31 PM
No verdict today. Deliberations continue tomorrow at 9:30am.