State of Mind
Today’s session focused mainly on the videotape playback of defendants Joe Price and Dylan Ward, but also featured new testimony from the lead MPD investigator who conducted the questioning, Detective Sergeant Daniel Wagner.
While his tape was playing, Price, again, didn’t once look at the screen.
Ward watched intently while Victor Zaborsky kept his eyes forward and took the occasional glance at his partner’s nearly four year old interview.
While Price didn’t mind the view, apparently the defense counsel wanted a better vantage point to watch, and so Bernie Grimm, Tom Connolly and David Schertler took seats in the jury box to watch.
At 12:30pm, Grimm began his cross of Wagner questioning the Detective Sergeant on his arrival at 1509 Swann, how long before he went to the Violent Crime Branch for the interviews, and how the witnesses – now defendants – were transported. Again, Grimm tried to establish a paper trail of MPD notes. Wagner took none and didn’t recall if his colleagues did.
More after the jump.
Grimm wanted to know why and when the detectives started to record Price’s interview at VCB; the first portion with Detective Norris was apparently conducted off-camera. “Something changed…” said Wagner, referring to what he had learned in intervening hours.
Did Price give Norris a copy of the list of 1509 key holders? Yes Were any follow up calls made to the contractors on the list? Wagner said he thought he designated someone to do that. Would it have been important to do so Grimm asked? Yes, said Wagner. Grimm followed with probing cross-direct about Wagner’s attitudes toward homosexuals. Not very good, it seems. Grimm worked to paint Wagner as something of a latter-day homophobe – using his own comments from videotape – such that his attitudes tainted the investigation.
Following lunch, Ward counsel Robert Spagnoletti began his cross of Wagner and zeroed in on the relationships, and the detective’s possible old school views on homosexuality.
He began questioning Wagner on the cutlery knife set found in Ward’s bedroom and how it was found.
Wagner said it was recovered after the whole house was searched, “…the entire premises, top to bottom, all four corners,” the detective said. Were other searches done? “Dumpsters and alleys all around…in a several block radius of the 1500 block of Swann Street,” he related.
About the two addressees on the cutlery set’s box – one with the name of Ward and another by the name of John Gizdavich – Spagnoletti asked if there was any follow up done on those two people. No, indicated Wagner; perhaps because the case was being investigated by a grand jury at the time.
Zaborsky counsel Tom Connolly again working a light day passed on cross. Lieber’s redirect focused on what it was about the night that got Wagner’s ‘radar’ going: “It was obvious upon close examination of the scene…no cobwebs, pollen or dust (was disturbed)…No one came over that fence. The decedent was stabbed three times in the chest yet no evidence in the room of blood travel…or bleeding out.”
Bottom line: the totality of evidence on the crime scene influenced Wagner’s decision to roll tape on the defendants. In Wagner’s estimation, the witnesses were starting to look like suspects.
As for the addressees on the cutlery box and the MPD failure to follow up on them, Carson Lieber seemed to deflect the criticism away from Wagner. She asked him, “…was the US Attorneys Office investigating the identities (of the addresses)?” “I believe so,” said the cop.
Next up was another evidence tech from the night of the murder, Officer Robert McCollum, the partner of Curtis Lancaster who testified on Monday. McCollum marched through his procedures that night including his observations and investigations of any signs of forced entry. He found none. He looked at the front and rear doors, the patio gate and surrounding fence. He said he saw a layer of dust and dirt on top of the fence and that “…nothing was disturbed.” The BMW did have a “yellow film” on the trunk but the car’s hood showed no signs of being stepped or leaned on.” McCollum testified that no latent finger prints were found on the patio door or back gate. Oddly enough none of the defendants’ prints showed as well.
Schertler was up first to cross and got McCollum to say that some surfaces, wood in particular, will not yield prints. A short break followed, and then it was Grimm’s turn. Grimm’s questioning looked at the top rails of the fence and the flower boxes just inside. Trying to refute claims that an intruder could have disturbed garden dirt by jumping over and into the flower boxes, McCollum –while looking at a picture of the patio area – said that along the side of the property there were decorative stones in the beds, not dirt.
As for the larger corner planters, it looked inconclusive from the photos…they could’ve been full of mulch.
Connolly again sat out a cross examination and AUSA Patrick Martin’s redirect was slim.
At that point Judge Leibovitz quizzed the defense on a strategy of theirs that she has seen. She asked them why they were asking “state of mind” questions on cross, to elicit opinions of the witnesses, then objecting to the government doing the same thing on their redirects; objections she has yet to sustain. The judge understood that the defenses’ efforts to paint the early investigation as a “rush to judgment.”
“We have to be careful about how we ask questions,” Schertler said.
Just before the 4:30pm adjournment the government called their last witness of the day, another evidence tech, MPD Officer Kevin Jeter. Jeter recovered the few items from the washing machine at 1509 – some table napkins, an undershirt, and a towel. He said that upon examining the second floor bathroom he saw some towels in there. They were dry he said. On Schertler’s cross, we found out that Jeter wasn’t on the scene until 24 hours later, in the early morning hours of August 4, allowing plenty of time for anything wet in there to dry.
That was it for the day. The trial resumes Wednesday morning at 9:45am.
Sketches courtesy William J. Hennessy, Jr.
Note on seating arrangements — When I have been in court over the past several days, the seating arrangements of the defendants seems to have changed. Before Joe, Victor and Dylan would sit together. Now, two associates are sitting on each side of Joe Price, sometimes even more. Victor and Dylan are seated together to the right of Joe and the associates. Is the defense doing this to seperate Joe from Victor and Dylan as the prosecution aims to portray him as the ring leader of the family? Or does this allow Joe the flexibility to discuss the case more frequently with his attorneys? I don’t know, but this seating arrangements seems to be taking hold. We’ll keep our eye on it as the trial progresses. — David