Yesterday in Boston, Judge Richard Sinnott had defense lawyer Susan Churcharrested and removed from a courtroom as she tried to read case law relevant to her client’s case. This is wildly inappropriate behavior from the judiciary in any circumstance. Even though the judge released her, several hours later, without pursuing contempt charges, the intent and possible effect of threatening to jail a lawyer for doing his or her job is to discourage lawyers from advocating for their clients. The judge told her her didn’t her to turn the hearing “into theater”, then proceeded to perform the great theater of having her taken into custody. Said Church, “[I] sat there wondering if I was going to jail that night, whether I’d be able to see my children at dinner that night, what I was going to do about my work and my clients.” She continued, “My biggest concern is that this doesn’t have a chilling effect for all the other lawyers out there who are fighting the good fight,” via BostonGlobe.com.
The backstory is that Judge Sinnott was already feeling the heat by going against the prosecutor’s decision not to file charges, and refusing to dismiss this and several other cases the prosecution had already decided were not appropriate to be prosecuted related to protesters against the white supremacist “Straight Pride Parade” in Boston last week. So, when Church was citing case law, she was specifically pointing out the legal authority that said the judge had acted illegally in refusing to dismiss the case. Instead of listening to the legal precedent, he had Ms. Church removed. He didn’t like being told what he was doing was wrong, and he responded by arresting the messenger, who bravely persisted in doing her job in the face of threats to advocate for her client.
Since that episode in court, the prosecutor has filed an emergency petition with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to overturn Sinnott’s ruling. DA Rachel Rollins argued that the judge, “ignored the clear and unambiguous constraints placed on the judiciary by the separation of powers.” Church cited a 1991 Supreme Judicial Court case for exactly that proposition. It sounds like the case law will require the decision to be reversed, and the Judge may face discipline for his encounter with Ms. Church. Susan Church is a hero.
Today, prosecutors in Nantucket formally dropped criminal charges against actor Kevin Spacey. Spacey had been charged with felony indecent assault and battery stemming from allegations that he had inappropriately groped an 18-year-old man at a Restaurant in 2017. The young man had filed a civil suit against Spacey last month, which was then promptly dropped. There had been accusations that the accuser had deleted text messages that Spacey’s attorneys say may have demonstrated the actor’s innocence. The prosecutor’s office gave the “unavailability of the complaining witness” as the reason they decided to drop charges. The accusers apparent change of heart regarding cooperation could mean several things, but coupled with the allegations of deleted text messages that may have exonerated Spacey, it’s possible that he didn’t want to subject himself to cross examination, or getting caught in a false statement. Did the accuser’s attorney inform the prosecutors that the accuser would not be available to testify, or did he just dodge them…
There have been other accusations against Spacey, which has resulted in his ostracization in Hollywood amidst the “Me too” movement. There have been criminal investigations in California and England, but no other criminal charges. This case was problematic from the get-go, as I’ve discussed before, as the accuser apparently lied about his age and was allegedly flirting with Spacey. I’d try to say something funny, but this guy has already gotten the last word…
Actor Kevin Spacey has been charged with a felony count of indecent assault and battery in Nantucket, Massachusetts. He is accused of groping a then-18-year-old bus boy at a restaurant where the young man worked in 2016. Spacey has been accused of multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, but this is the only one that has yet resulted in criminal charges. The charges were only filed after publicity, including press conferences by the alleged victim and his mother, who is a former news anchor on Boston TV. The case is a problematic one, as the accuser lied about his age, returned to accept several drinks Spacey bought him, and even traded phone numbers with Spacey before the alleged unwanted advance. Prosecutors will have a very difficult time proving the charge beyond a reasonable doubt, a point that has been well explained elsewhere.
I write today to discuss an action that Spacey’s defense lawyers took this week that I think is clever. They filed a motion to ask the court to order preservation of records, specifically texts and other digital correspondence from the accuser in the case. Initially, I was surprised because a motion to preserve doesn’t have much effect on a criminal case: the government is bound to not only preserve evidence, but to turn it over to the defense in the discovery process. They even have to turn over evidence that is helpful to the defense, known as Brady material. So why would they bother filing such a motion.
Then, reading about the motion on CNN.com, it occurred to me that the thrust of the article was about the defense argument being put forth by the defense attorneys. The article lays out the arguments of the defense, then the State, and circles back around to reiterate the ‘highlights’ of the Defense motion. While the motion claims its primary purpose is to preserve the evidence, the real purpose of the motion was twofold: to rebut the filings of the State and start sharing facts positive to the defense in a public forum, and also to shift the discussion away from Spacey’s arraignment. The arraignment dominated the news cycle, but the most recent story, at least at CNN.com, counters the allegations and makes a cogent defense argument to the general public. A clever gambit by a defense team that is helping their client in the public forum as well as the legal forum.
Keep in mind, a criminal acquittal is not proof that he did not do it (cough cough – OJ – cough cough). It merely means that the state did not convince the jurors beyond and to the exclusion of any reasonable doubt. The state’s case was based on the testimony of Alexander Bradley, a convicted violent drug dealer who says he was there and Hernandez did it. Hernandez’s attorney Jose Baez (who famously defended Casey Anthony) did a great job of casting doubt on Bradley, his motivations, and suggesting that it may have been Bradley who did the shooting. Without corroborating evidence, accepting Bradley’s testimony to convict was presumably to hard for the jury to swallow.
Hernandez’s other conviction is being appealed and will be heard by the Massachusetts Supreme Court, probably later this year.
The prosecution and Defense concluded their closing arguments this afternoon. The jury is expected to begin deliberations tomorrow. The Defense attacked the state’s star witness, himself a violent drug dealer with reason to blame Hernandez instead of himself. Jose Baez made some colorful arguments that the state did not prove their case.
Hernandez’ arm, with possibly incriminating tats
The State argues their witness was credible, and that the evidence supports his claim. They say Hernandez had motive, opportunity, and they allege that a tattoo he later got equates to a confession. This is not the first time tattoos have allegedly documented a crime. A verdict is expected in the coming days.
The prosecutors offered immunity to the fiance of Aaron Hernandez in order to get her to testify on their behalf in both of his murder trials. She testified in the second case this week, but she was definitely not there to help the prosecution. In fact, she gave Hernandez an alibi, saying that he was in a hotel with her at the time the murders allegedly took place. Prosecutors rebutted that evidence, by showing that a call was made from Hernandez’ phone to her from Boston’s South End just minutes after he allegedly shot two men after a dispute at a Boston nightclub. A federal agent testified that cell phone records indicated there was “absolutely no way” he could have been in Plainville when she claimed.
Jenkins-Hernandez was a reluctant witness for the prosecution, to say the least. After the previous trial where Aaron Hernandez was convicted of the murder of Odin Lloyd, she not only maintained her engagement to him, but she even added is name to hers as a hyphenate. They are not legally married, and apparently Massachusetts does not allow conjugal visits, even if they were married. While she testified for the prosecutors, if they secure a conviction, it will be in spite of her testimony, not because of it.
The prosecution is expected to rest their case today or early next week.
The second murder trial of Aaron Hernandez has been underway in Boston, and the key witness against him recently took the stand. Holy cow the testimony was a doozy! Dan Wetzel did a great story detailing the testimony and the twisted background that let up to it. In short, after he allegedly shot the two men for the slight of spilling a drink on him at a nightclub, Hernandez grew more and more paranoid, and ultimately shot his friend in the face to prevent him from having a chance to turn him in. That friend, Alexander Bradley, survived only to refuse to break code and snitch on his friend. You should really go read the whole piece by Wetzel.
From a legal point of view, the case is fascinating. Bradley puts Hernandez at the scene, and describes him committing the murder. But Bradley’s testimony is going to be mercilessly attacked by defense attorney Jose Baez, who will claim that he’s the actual shooter. It’s his word alone that can convict Hernandez, and he has a motive to testify against the man he now says shot him in the face. The fact that Bradley initially refused to finger Hernandez as the man who shot him may actually help his credibility. The evidence suggests that these two men were in the car, and that one of them committed the crime. Bradley has his own charges, ranging from drug dealing and assault to shooting up a bar on another occasion. The State’s star witness is no angel. Regardless of the outcome, Hernandez is not likely to ever be released from prison, having already been sentenced to life for the murder of Odin Lloyd, though he is appealing that decision.