Day 14: Wrap
It’s been a while since things moved so expeditiously in Judge Lynn Leibovitz’ courtroom…and that’s probably saying something.
“What’s the plan?” asked Leibovitz, prompting thought that the government would bring nine additional witnesses barring a new agreement w/the defense that could slim that number.
Through the day we got a clear sense of the plan – if Leibovitz’ continued assertive prompting of the prosecution (mostly) and defense (a bit) to step it up, toss out the art and “…just ask the question.” By 4:45 today it seemed the prosecution might bring as many as six, but likely fewer witnesses, closing its case in chief by Wednesday.
The defense? Their requested delay for their Rule 29 motion on Thursday and start of their case on Monday was given a sound thumbs-down by the bench. File your motions, and get on with it, the judge offered. No break for the weary.
How the day played out follows.
We’ve already reviewed the testimony of neighbor Scott Hixson and Robert’s close friend Jason Torchinsky. Details that didn’t find their way to earlier posts:
- Hixson was under the impression that Ward and Zaborsky also shared a sexual relationship – not from direct comments, but from casual observation in their house at various times of the day.
- Hixson recounts how Ward was “creeped out” going back into 1509 in late October following reports of a break in, worrying that Michael Price could be drunk, high, or worse.
- Price and Ward were much more the night owls than Zaborsky. Hixson recalls one specific night, out dancing, where the three of them stayed out quite late. Zaborsky, as a rule, would not stay out with the others. (“I’m old,” one observer reportedly saw Zaborsky say to Connolly during this discussion.)
- Jason Torchinsky initiated the idea of sharing Tara Ragone’s emails with Joe Price not out of malice, but he says from concern following one specific email from Price (to Ragone) where he talked about statments made the night of the murder.
The burglarly expert – granted that status in the trial – was David Sergant, now working with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, but before a 31 year veteran with the MPD. Leaving in 2004, Sergeant Sergent (yes, that was his title) came to specialize in burglaries…and the other associated crimes, such as sexual assault and forcible entry.
“You’ve aged well,” said Connolly of the veteran – perhaps not just a physical reference to the silver-haired Sergant but more to his effective testimony. “Almost every crime I investigated began as a burglary,” he began, then presenting something like a classroom lecture on burglary forensics and tactics.
How many burglaries are when people aren’t home (second degree)? 99% he offered. When do they happen? Daylight working hours – “…it’s so easy to see when people aren’t home.” Night-time entries occur deep at night, with hopes that everyone’s away or asleep. Of those burglaries where someone’s home – first degree or so-called “cat burglaries” – many are also related to sex crimes.
Most schooling followed: where and how burglars enter, how they collect the loot, how it’s moved. Key points: once an unauthorized entry occurs, assuming no-one is murdered, it’s almost always a burglary. The hallmarks: ransacking of the house, signs of entry, items missing, and in the case of first degree: nearly always a witness description.
Glenn Kirschner: “Is what you saw consistent with a burglary scene?”
David Sergant: “It’s inconsistent.”
GK: “How so? The time of day?
DS: “Cat burglars don’t come in at 11pm.”
GK: “The crime scene?”
DS: “There was no ransacking, and so many items (at hand) a burglar would have taken.”‘
GK: “The backyard?”
DS: “Burglars don’t spend their time hopping fences…it calls way too much attention to what they’re doing.”
Connolly on cross was almost immediately handed his hat. “Isn’t your information dated,” he asked, noting Sergant’s retirement in 2004. “Well,” Sergant drawled, “I really didn’t see much change between 1973 and 2004.” Laughter followed.
Connolly worked hard to try and bring evidence of similar crimes in the area over a period, even introducing an MPD press release. With only a few minutes to read it, Sergant offered that – given all the specific notations in the release (which the defense had been working to prove a rash of fence-hoppings and first degree assaults) – the preponderance of evidence suggested just one “gang” or two or three using the exact same M.O. in each crime.
By the time he left the stand, the defense may have been questioning the wisdom of entering that MPD release.
Following the final break of the day, Det. Gail Russell-Brown was finally allowed to speak, having twice been sent away mute following legal objections.
A 20+ year veteran of the MPD, Det. Gail Russell-Brown spoke of her first encounter with the defendants at Swann the night of the murder, transporting Zaborsky to the VCB, and her first preliminary interviews with Zaborsky and Ward. None videotaped, as they weren’t at that point suspects.
Relying mostly on memory with an assist from her notes, she spoke directly of her interviews (“…mostly sympathetic…”) and, later, of her attendance at Robert Wone’s funeral.
It was there that brother Michael Price allegedly spoke in unusually harsh terms to Russell-Brown, who was dressed in civilian clothes. “You mother fuckers should be out looking for the real killer and not bothering my brother,” Price said (in the sanctuary? at the gravesite? Not really good manners.) “Who are you,” she asked. “Bitch, you don’t need to know who I am,” he spat.
Of all people it was Louis Hinton who reportedly intervened, removing Michael from the scene and “calming the situation” as Russell-Brown described.
Schertler and Grimm took turns on cross, with Kirschner on re-direct. And pretty much every bit of it was relegated to obscure matters – the postcards we aren’t allowed to see, how many glasses of water were on the table near the seated defendants when she arrived (complete with pictures, demonstrating three – three! – perspiring glasses, and other minutiae.
Perhaps it was the late hour. Perhaps it was evidence that we can’t see and can’t evaluate. The day that began with a bang ended with whimper.
Louis Hinton heads up the hit parade tomorrow morning at 9:30. His attorney will be there also; expect confrontation.