Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Chance to Get it Right

In the last couple weeks, Maryland’s state government began working on legislation to legalize gay marriage.  Last week, it passed in the State Senate and has now moved to the House of Delegates.

As a long-standing advocate for gay marriage and all manner of equality, I should be thrilled.  I spelled out my take on this issue with a post from November of 2009, when the state of Maine repealed its gay marriage law, via referendum. 

It is a good sign that Maryland’s bill is at least making progress.  They had a sober and respectful debate in the State Senate and it narrowly passed.  The reason why I’m keeping my hopes low is that conservative forces were not prepared for the speed with which the bill went through the Senate so there was not a lot of legislative pressure brought to bear.  The House of Delegates is shaping up to be another story.  This debate is going to get messy.

Religious conservatives are already popping up in the newspaper and online, spreading the usual fear mongering, half-truths, irrational assertions and Bible, Bible, Bible.

They’re doing so because they know that even if the bill passes the Assembly, 55,376 signatures can still put the law to a referendum vote in 2012 and get it overturned just like they did in Maine.  So the right wing noise machine is honing in on the unwashed masses.

Maryland may be a “deep blue” state, but that won’t help on this issue.  A great deal of the “blueness” comes from the African-American community, where there is still great resistance to gay marriage, based on the Southern Baptist influence.  If the issue indeed comes out on the 2012 ballot, it will also be a presidential election, which will be sure to bring out the vote.

Last week there was some schmo in a “Letter to the Editor” of the Baltimore Sun claiming the “time is not right” and “there are more important priorities right now.”

The thing is, when is there NOT some kind of crisis going on?  I’ll tell you… “Never.”  There’s always something that someone can point to and claim that it’s more important.  That’s no reason to continue oppressing an entire class of people.  I say, let’s clear up this little matter that has zero direct effect on 90% of the population, so that we CAN turn to other matters.  For that 10%, it’s a huge issue.  Fixing it takes no skin off the backs of the other 90%. 

Today, there was another letter that has this to say: “If you ask the smallest child about marriage, they will answer marriage is between a man and a woman.  All logic, not to mention the Bible, proves this.”

There is so much wrong with that statement.  First of all, if you ask the smallest child why they want the light on at night, they’ll tell you it’s to keep away the monsters in the closet.  (Or the alligators under the bed.)  What children say does not make for a good source of public law. It’s not even remotely relevant.  When people start bringing “the children” into an argument, it’s a sure sign that they can’t win on merit.

Secondly, “the Bible proves this”???  I’m sorry; the Bible doesn’t prove jack shit.  The Bible contains no proof, no evidence, and no hard data on practically anything, let alone on this issue.  That’s why the whole thing is called “faith.”  And it takes a great deal of that faith to put more stock in a book of 2000 year old stories than in centuries of physical and biological evidence.

It also contains a great deal of material that we disregard out of hand, from, say, how to treat your slaves to why eating shrimp is a sin.  I’m sick to fucking death of people cherry-picking the Bible in order to uphold their biases.  Sure, one part is and sacrosanct and never to be violated and other parts are expendable because, hell, we like shrimp.


The letter writer goes on to try to disassociate the link between the civil rights movement of the 60s with gay rights because blacks were deprived of far more rights then than gays are now.

What it fails to acknowledge is that even though the finishing details are different, the nut of the problem is the same: depriving select rights from some people for no other reason than the way they were born.  It’s wrong in big doses and it’s wrong in small doses.  Period.

Another weak argument brought to bear is the whole slippery slope case, like from this Letter to the Editor: “And let the politicians who support it be honest and profess their support of incest and bigamy as the measure will lead to incest and bigamy to be recognized as forms of marriage as well. Why not rename the law as the Gay, Incest and Bigamy Marriage Act and see how many people support it?

Yes, the inevitable boogeymen, incest and bigamy, mentioned three times in two sentences.  This letter doesn’t mention bestiality, but that often comes up as well.  These issues get roped into the gay marriage for one reason: to equate gay marriage with something detestable.  None have anything specifically to do with homosexuality, nor is there any sort of movement to make them conventional.  This entire argument, if you can call it that, is designed to scare people.  That’s it.

The unfortunate thing is how often it works.

In a page one story in The Sun today, Del. Don Dwyer seems to be spearheading the scare tactics.

Dwyer is gearing up for a shock-and-awe House debate – he says he has been sharing with colleagues a pamphlet that includes explicit descriptions of sex acts.  Such pamphlets, he says, have been passed out to children in Massachusetts where same-sex marriage is legal.”

Right… pamphlets of sex acts being handed to school children.  What planet is he talking about?  I know Massachusetts is a blue state, but come on.  What possible rationale would there be for such activities?  I’m telling you, if that happened at all, and I highly doubt it, it’s the conservative nutjobs that did it, to highlight the “ick factor” of the entire subject matter.  It sounds like one of their ACORN or Planned Parenthood “stings.”

My dream is that one day, cooler heads will prevail and we might possibly have a rational discussion about matters that divide us.  Ultimately, I’ll sleep much easier once people stop looking for things to get offended about and just mind their own goddamned business.

Yo, if you’re worried about the institution of marriage, work on your own.  Leave your neighbors out of it.  And perhaps, one day, once your precious children come into contact with other kids that have two mommies or two daddies, they’re see that all the commotion was for nothing.  Instead of learning all they know about homosexuality from film clips of Pride parades featuring streams of flamboyant bare-chested Freddy Mercury clones, they’ll take their cues from real people living their lives the best they can.

Then maybe when they grow up, we’ll have a lot fewer judgmental pricks running around polluting society with their own intolerance and prejudice.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Night Terrors

The most recent post on Hyperbole and a Half, aka the Funniest Blog of All Time, gave me the idea for this one.  The “Hyperbole” post was about the author when she was a 6-year old girl and her nightly battles with her demons; in this case a Fire Monster living in her closet.  She resents her 3-year old sister for sleeping so obliviously to the danger at hand so her solution it to tell her sister the scariest story she could think of.

It got me thinking about the years I spent sharing a room with my younger brother.  We cohabitated from the time he was born until the time I was a sophomore in high school.  Until then, I didn’t even remember a time when we didn’t share a room.

First of all, we really didn’t have much in the way of night terrors.  Dad wouldn’t allow them, I suspect.  Mom used to tell us when we were sick, that we could come and get them if we needed them in the night.  But I knew that I would have to be bleeding from my eyes before I’d go in there and wake up my parents at night.

Our biggest quarrel was how much light to allow in the room.  I always wanted the door closed tight, making the room all black and cave-like.  Ed always wanted the door cracked a bit so there was a little bit of light.  The hall light was always on for my sister.

They usually left the door cracked… it was the least disruptive.  And Dad always said, “You can’t see the light if you close your damned eyes and go to sleep!

So I made do.

Often times, Ed and I were too punchy to just go to sleep.  We didn’t dare to actually get out of bed… that invariably invited a visit to our room from Dad… a visit we definitely didn’t want, thankyouverymuch.

Instead, we’d try to make each other laugh.  It wasn’t anything elaborate… just fart noises and stuff.  But it passed the time until we actually got sleepy.

But while we weren’t necessarily afraid of the boogeyman in the closet, the alligators under the bed were another story.  I NEVER let anything hang out from under the covers and over the edge of the bed.  I figured that alligators were a much more realistic threat because they’d fit very nicely under the bed.  There was no room in our closets for any boogeymen. 

In fact, there was only one imaginary being that ever came around and my brother was the only one that ever saw him.  His name was Boo-Man.

According to Ed, Boo-Man wore a hooded mask and cape.  It didn’t take too much investigation to figure out where he got such a notion. 

Budweiser used to have a cartoon character called Bud Man.  My dad used to have a poster of him or something.  It might have even been this one:

You can imagine a little kid looking at that, seeing the capital UD and mistaking it for OO; hence BUD MAN becomes BOO-MAN.

According to Ed, Boo-Man’s chief occupation was hiding in the bushes and farting on people that came by.  He used to regale my mother with detailed stories of Boo-Man’s adventures… the places he went, the people he farted on, etc.  She must have been very proud.

I tell you, every time Ed’s son Sammy talks about his NNNNNUTS, or drops a fart on his older brother, I realize that it’s inevitable given his lineage.  He is his daddy’s doppelganger.  I wonder if they have any Bud Man costumes for kids any more.

OK, I’m wandering…

The only night terrors were experienced by my sister at the hands of my brother, during those rare occasions when we all had to share a room, like on trips to Grandma’s house.

Ed and I would be in a double bed and my sister would be on a cot, across the room.  He used to be a master at slithering out of bed, snaking across the floor, then popping up by our sister’s bedside, scaring the shit out of her.

It was a dangerous process because there was always the risk that she’d cry too loud, or worse, go downstairs and tell.  Ed used to roll the dice on that one.  Luckily the parents were usually carousing downstairs with the rest of the extended family, so unless it was a real meltdown, it passed unnoticed.  Although, not by my sister, mind you.

I remember once, when I first moved to Baltimore (in my late 30s), I stayed over her place one Halloween and we played scary movies all night.  I know we watched “Halloween” and I think we also saw “The Exorcist” and “Aliens.” 

I remember the next morning telling my sister that she should be thankful that I didn’t creep out of bed, sneak under her bed and start shaking it.  I’d considered it, but couldn’t be sure she didn’t bring any kitchen knives in there with her.

You know, my brother and I really should have offered to chip in on therapy for her.

There was only one thing that ever shook me up at night.  It happened twice.

The first time, I was in Jr High and was old enough to “baby-sit” while my parents went out to dinner or a party or something.  So one night, after we were all in bed, but before the folks came home, I heard noises.


Just like that… in sequence.  It sounded exactly like someone walking up the hallway to our bedrooms.  Our room was right over the garage, so I knew it wasn’t Mom and Dad.


Holy shit, I was petrified.  Ed was sound asleep, but I was stiff as a board, too scared to move, too scared to even breathe.  You know what it’s like… you figure if you don’t move, the Bad Guy might go away. 

I must have laid there motionless for a solid hour… it seemed like an eternity… senses on full alert, straining to hear any clue as to if there’s really someone out there or not.

Finally, I heard the greatest sound in the whole world… my parents’ car pulling into the garage.  Whew, my Longest Night Ever was finally over.

We chalked it up to the house settling.  Whatever… all I know is that was the first and last time it did that.

Then a couple years later, after we’d moved up to the old farmhouse in Toledo, the same thing happened.  The folks were out, we were all in bed, all in our own rooms now, and I started hearing all kinds of strange creaks and thumps.

While I wasn’t nearly as terrified as I had been the first time, I was still concerned and more than a little bit alarmed.  It really sounded like someone or some thing was messing around downstairs.  And I thought to myself, “If someone came up here, what do I have in my room that I could use to defend myself?” 

I concluded that the most dangerous thing could put my hands on was a steel-toed work boot.  That did not give me much comfort.  To this day, I’ve never heard of someone beating back an intruder using nothing but footwear.

Once again, the folks came home and all was well.  But the very next morning, I went out to find something that I could take back to my room to give me piece of mind.  This is what I came back with:
A croquet mallet.

Don’t come fuckin’ near me or I’ll blast you right in the wickets!

I know it would look silly, me standing there wielding a red croquet mallet like a samurai sword, but I certainly wouldn’t want to risk getting the business end of that thing smacked upside my head.  So I knew that I’d never again lack a plan for dealing with spooky, creaky night invaders.

And you know what?  In the subsequent 35 years, I’ve never once had that situation arise again.  And do you know where that mallet is?  It’s still right beside my bed.

I’ve taken it with me to every house or apartment I’ve lived in and have always kept in within reach of my bed.

I must admit though, it’s more for the mojo now than a real weapon.  I upgraded back in the 90s:
Meet ‘Louie.’

I keep him right beside the mallet.  Anything that comes in my door unexpectedly at night is liable to see me swinging for the fences.

I just have to remember to keep the label facing away.  I’d hate to crack the bat.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Odd Bits - The Catching Up Edition

Since the trial started, for which I was an alternate juror (see previous 5 posts), I’ve been putting some things on hold, as to not interrupt the flow of the court posts.  Today, I get to catch up!

Family Business
As you may recall from prior posts, my nephew Sammy is fond of a certain euphemism for male anatomy.  Last week, my brother Ed sent us the following story:

“We were at Daniel’s hockey practice last night with all the Christian Athletic League parents and as Sammy was watching the goalie put on his “protective” gear, he said, ‘Those are for his NUTS, Dad!!!’  Classic 5-year old stuff.”

Classic Sammy, anyway.  I’m sure my brother was proud.  I know I was… anything to shake up the Christian Athletic League parents is all right with me.

In other family news, as I tagged on the end of one of the Trial posts, my cousin Angela gave birth to her first baby last week.  Boy was 9 lb 9 oz. and 22” long.  Now before you pass out, ladies, he was a C-Section baby.  I’m sure he’ll be perfectly normal, but whenever he leaves a house he’ll feel compelled to go out the window.
Angela, baby EJ, and the proud Grandma!

If you were with me back in 2009, you might have seen some of Angela’s work.  She’s the one that wrote the poem about Troy Polamalu, “Humble Number 43,” that I featured in this post.  She was also with us in Miami for the “Hurricane Game,” in other words, the Steelers/Dolphins game we attended in 2004, which took place the day after Hurricane Jeanne ripped through the neighborhood.  I mentioned her and her football throwing prowess in that post.

I have no doubt that Angela will be amazing at whatever she chooses.  After all, she is a bona fide “Fear Factor” winner.  Honest!  Back in 2005, her and her roommate competed as a team on the season premiere of Fear Factor. 
Angela and her friend Zack, poised to kick some butt.

The competition had them A) crawling out onto a cargo net hung from a speeding helicopter, B) crawling through an air duct filled with foul water, huge spiders, cobwebs and flame jets, and C) retrieving gold bars and coins from a armored truck that was sunk at the bottom of a pool. 

(Yes, I was very relieved that they didn’t have to eat anything gross.)

Anyway, they whipped their large, muscle-bound competition with flair, class and humility.  I was so proud I almost couldn’t see straight.  I don’t know when I was happier… watching this or the Pens win the Stanley Cup in 2009.

So congratulations to Angela and Dennis.  This is going to be quite an adventure!

Random Thought
Last week, we had temperatures in the 60s and sunshine.  I went to lunch without a coat.  Last night… snowstorm.  5” of snow fell overnight.

Excuse me, Mother Nature?  WTF??  It it’s going to be cold, be cold.  If you want to warm it up, warm it up.  But this back and forth shit messes with your head!

That is all.

As If We Didn’t Have Enough To Worry About
I saw a new medical study and unless you did too, you’ll never guess what causes cancer now: oral sex.

Now men, before you look for a bridge to jump off, it’s giving it that causes the cancer, not receiving it. 

The study says that in the US, oral cancer from HPV infection is now more common than oral cancer from tobacco use.  To further quote from the article:

“Researchers have found a 225% increase in oral cancer cases in the US from 1974 to 2007, mainly among white men, said Maura Gillison of the Ohio State University.”  (Go Buckeyes!) 

“When you compare people that have an oral infection or not… the single greatest factor is the number of partners on whom the person has performed oral sex.”

Wow.  What are you ladies keeping in there, asbestos?  I guess from now on, you’re just going to have to start without us, then signal us in from the bullpen to close.

Personally, I think it’s a plot coming from the religious conservatives.

Hit Parade
You all know I’m a freak about tracking web traffic hits.  And today I did something to reduce the number of hits I get here.  On purpose.

I know, I must be crazy, but hear me out.  It’s not YOU I’m worried about.  If you’re reading this, I love you and I want you here.  But ever since I posted that picture of the Mercedes logo in my 4th post about my jury duty, (to illustrate the 3-pronged pattern of one of the skull fractures), I’ve been getting picture search hits out the wazoo, from all over the world. 

When I searched it myself, I saw that my blog was the first listing on Google Images.

Normally, I’d be thrilled.  But this just isn’t right.  While it may be boffo for my Hits-By-Country tracker, I didn’t DO anything to earn the hits.  I just copied a picture that was already out there.

You know I obsessively track my traffic.  Maybe you do too, if you have a blog.  I know when I look at my bar graphs and they’re all high and stuff, I’m just tickled pink! 

Hits = Attention = Self Worth.

Everyone loves me!  I’m fabulous!

But now, there’s guilt involved.  I see the bar graphs bearing good news but deep down, I know I don’t deserve the hits.  They’re not coming to see me, they’re coming to grab an image… and not even one of mine, but one I grabbed elsewhere.  It fouls the data.  I can’t enjoy that…  

So, my solution was to photoshop out the ring around the 3-pronged center.  If I alter the actual logo, fewer people will want to use it because it’s not really accurate.  And if they DO still want it, at least it was something I worked on myself.  You can see the new picture here, or if you’re on the main page, just scroll down.

Am I crazy here?  Am I spending too much time fussing about a ridiculous problem?

Or did I just blow your minds?

To close, I thought I’d put my favorite editorial cartoon from the weekend, courtesy of First Door on the Left.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Eye, the Jury Pt. 5 - The Verdict

As I mentioned in “Comments” from the previous post last night, I heard from my juror friend, as he promised.  
1st Degree Assault: Not guilty
2nd Degree Assault: Guilty
1st Degree Child Abuse: Guilty
2nd Degree Child Abuse: Guilty

Again, I wish I could have kept my notes, but as I recall, the 1st Degree Assault charge required intent to do bodily harm.  That was the one charge I would have voted Not Guilty.  So basically, the jury found exactly the way I would have made the case, going into deliberations.

“Defendant will apparently get about 25 years.  Found out afterward that the defense lawyer tried to get her to take a plea deal to reduce the sentence by 7 years, but she wouldn’t do it.”

I asked when that deal was discussed; before the trial or afterwards.  (As yet, he hasn’t returned the email.)  Remember, the defense attorney asked me and Alternate #2 what we thought.  I said guilty, she was on the fence.  Maybe after talking to us, he realized that it might go badly for his client.

“The 3-year old (now 5) is doing well, being raised by his aunt, and is actually described as being very small and very sweet and kind.”

There goes the theory of the hulking 3-year old tossing the baby around like a sack of potatoes. 

“The baby is not doing well.  Needs medication to prevent as many as 30 seizures a day, is fully blind, and operates at the level of a 1 or 2-month old (at 2 years).  Also, she nearly died again this past winter due to inability to regulate her body temperature.

The baby’s mother is missing and cannot be found.  She was a drug user as well.”

That explains why she wasn’t at the trial.  I thought at the time she’d want a front row seat.  So sad about the baby.  Poor kid never had a chance to have a normal life.

“The jury started out fairly divided, but soon moved toward the guilty verdicts you see above.  There was one holdout.  I believe she eventually just gave up.  She was never really eager to share her own thoughts or feelings or reasoning during the process.”

That would have bugged the hell out of me… a lone holdout that won’t discuss her reasoning.  That’s a cop-out and a failure to do one’s job as a jury.  The whole process is about talking out differences and coming to a united decision. 

He didn’t say how long it took them to deliberate.  I asked, but as I said, he hasn’t responded as yet.

So that’s that.  A trial in the books, another person in the jail and one more tragic crime victim is struggling to survive.  Onward, we roll.

I promise the in my next post, I’ll be back to my customary level of mirth and whimsy.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Eye, the Jury Pt. 4 - The Case

These are the facts in the case, which are not disputed by either side:

In April of 2009, the defendant was babysitting 2 of her good friend’s children, an 18-day old infant and an 18-month old toddler.   The defendant had a 3-year old boy of her own, so she was watching all three children.  Her 19-year old daughter also lived there, along with the elderly owner of the house.  (He was unrelated to the defendant and her family and was letting them live there with him.)

The defendant’s daughter was out of the house for a night or two prior to the incident, with her boyfriend.  The homeowner was also out of the house on the day in question.

On that day, the defendant was having trouble with her wisdom teeth.  As she couldn’t afford to have them pulled, she was taking OTC pain medication.  She put the baby to sleep in the middle of her double bed.  She made dinner for the toddler and her son and had them sit at the table to eat.  She was out of her pain medication so she called her daughter to see if she had anything.  The daughter said she could have her last Oxycodone pill.  The defendant took the pill and went to the couch in the living room to sit down.  At some point fell asleep.

Around 9:30 PM, the daughter came in the door.  When her mother didn’t respond to her, she saw she was sleeping.  (Later, the defendant said she heard her daughter come in, but didn’t respond.)  The daughter went up to her room, where she found the baby on the floor, unresponsive.  The baby was limp when she picked her up and there was blood on her mouth and bib, and she had a knot on her head.

The other two kids were in the room, but unusually quiet and still.  Normally they were quite boisterous when she’d come in.

She ran downstairs with the baby, screaming and asking her mother what happened.  The daughter called 9-1-1 and asked for the police to come.  Five minutes later, the mother called 9-1-1 again.  Shortly after, the police and paramedics arrived.

The paramedic noticed a large lump on the baby’s head.  The baby’s vitals were not normal… slow heartbeat, breathing shallow.  They rushed the baby to a (prestigious nearby) hospital. 

Later X-rays, CT scans and MRIs showed severe injuries.  There were 7 separate skull fractures on opposite sides of the head plus the back, and a sub-dural hematoma, (bleeding between the brain and its outer casing.)  There was also evidence of retinal bleeding, which typically comes from violent shaking, as opposed to blunt-force trauma.  Further, there was evidence of brain swelling damage to the brain tissue itself.

The defendant was charged with 2nd degree assault, 1st degree assault, 2nd degree child abuse and 1st degree child abuse.  (And I really wish they let me keep my notes because I had more details on the difference between all of these, but the main difference between 1st and 2nd degrees is intent to harm or injure.)

The Prosecution’s Case 
The supervising physician (and medical expert in the field) testified that these injuries were so severe that no child under 5 could have inflicted them.  He likened the damage to what would happen if the baby were to have been ejected from a high-speed car crash, or fell from a 3 or 4-story building.  The baby falling from a bed, a child’s arms or an adult’s arms, even onto a hardwood floor, would be insufficient to cause this much damage.

Plus, the retinal bleeding does not come from an impact, but from a violent shaking.

The prosecutor maintained that there was only one person in the house when the incident occurred that could have physically done this kind of damage and that was the defendant.  The daughter was out.  The owner was out.  The kids were too small.  The defendant said she heard her daughter come in, so it follows that she would have heard someone else come in as well.

A homicide detective was also called to testify.  He had been notified at 2:30 am on the night in question, that there had been an incident with a newborn, and she was not expected to live.  As there were other detectives on the case, he did not take action until the following afternoon.  He went to the house, surveyed the scene, and asked the defendant, her daughter and her son to come to the station to be interviewed.  That’s where the tape was made.

The interview lasted about 10 minutes.  The defendant sounded calm and cooperative.  She maintained that she went to sleep with the child up in the bed and the other kids eating, and didn’t wake up until her daughter found the baby bleeding.

The daughter was similarly interviewed but the prosecutor did not ask to have it put into evidence.  A social worker interviewed the 3-year old.  This interview was not put forth for evidence either.

The detective said there was no need to Mirandize the defendant or her daughter because they were not under arrest.  They were being interviewed willingly.  In fact, at that time, he could not yet surmise that a crime had taken place.  All he had was an injured baby.  It wasn’t until he was able to speak with the supervising physician and learn the extent of the injuries, and the force necessary to cause them, that he could conclude that the child had been abused and a crime had taken place.

The Defense’s Case 
The defense counsel maintained that there were other ways the baby could have gotten hurt besides via the defendant.  Namely,

*  The homeowner could have come in and done it.  He had a key and lived in the house.

*  The child could have done it.  He was an active kid and fully capable of getting up and down the stairs.  He always wanted to hold the baby but was not allowed to.  (Testimony was that the kid weighed 45 pounds and stood three quarters up his mommy’s thigh.)

*  Someone else could have come in the door and done it because the defendant was asleep.

Other points: the defendant had no history of abuse or deceit.  Her daughter testified that her mother never hit them and was in general, a good mother.  If the case was that serious, why didn’t the detective get up at 2:30 AM and start his investigation then?  Why did the daughter and the paramedic see a knot on the head, but not the supervising physician?  How can the doctor equate the impact to that of a crash ejection or 3-4 story fall when he can't explain the physics involved from the witness stand?  Isn’t it true that there are some doctors that don’t believe Shaken Baby Syndrome is a real thing?  Why did the detective arrest the defendant only after “the doctor told him it was a crime?”  Why wasn’t the homeowner brought in and more seriously questioned?

One of the main items was the daughter’s testimony that when she went upstairs and found the baby, the 3-year old said, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”  She also said that the boy had “picked her up and dropped her, then picked her up again and dropped her again.”  She didn’t elaborate further, nor explain how she learned that, and neither the prosecution nor defense asked any direct questions about what else the boy may have said or done.  As I mentioned earlier, they never offered his interview into evidence.  (I learned later that it was disallowed before trial.  More on how I learned that, later.)

Without coming out and directly stating it, the defense attorney seemed to be latching onto this option as most likely… that the boy was playing with the baby and dropped her, more than once.

My Take
After I was dismissed, I was waiting at the elevator with Alternate #2, when the defense attorney walked up.  He asked me if I would mind telling him what I thought about the case… “If you were up there in the back row, what would you think when you went back to that jury room?” 

I said, “I’d think, ‘I really hope the bathrooms in here are working!’”

No, I didn’t say that, but only because I didn’t think of it until now.

I told him I was leaning toward guilty.  I really wanted to sum up what I’d been thinking about, but naturally, all thoughts flew out of my head the moment I needed them.  I did tell him I thought a lot of the things he was putting out there were red herrings and didn’t affect the crux of the matter.  I told him, “I really would have liked to hear from the Social Worker that interviewed the boy.”

It was then he told me it was inadmissible. 

Right off the bat, from the first day, one of my thoughts was, “What did the boy say about it?”  At three, he knows what’s going on in there.  And I don’t think he’d be savvy enough to pull off a lie to a grownup trained to find them. 

Anyway, to me, the whole case comes down to this:  The medical expert said the injuries couldn’t have been caused by a child, or by a fall from several feet or even by a fall down the stairs.  You should have seen those scans.  There were huge cracks in the skull, pushed wider from the brain swelling.  One of them looked like a Mercedes logo:

There were fractures all around the head… there must have been several impacts.  Also, no child could have shaken that baby enough to produce the retinal bleeding; they just don’t have the upper body strength.

I found the medical expert credible and he had no reason to lie or exaggerate.  He was not being paid for his testimony.

So if the kids didn’t do it, who is left?  I believe that if anyone else had come in the door, the defendant would have heard it, just like she heard her daughter come in.

When you strip away all that it can’t be, the only thing left is what can.  That’s the defendant.

While it’s true that no one ever saw what exactly happened, there’s nothing wrong with deductive reasoning.  Say I have 3 shells and one pea.  Without you seeing, I put a pea under one shell.  Then I pick up a shell and there’s no pea.  I pick up another shell and there’s no pea.  At that point, you can conclude that the pea is under the third shell.  You didn’t see me put it there, but beyond a reasonable doubt, you know it’s there. 

Anyway, I found that the defense attorney’s other strategies to be mostly distraction, wordplay and red herrings.  The one that bugged me the most was how he kept saying that the “detective didn't think it was a crime until the Doctor told him it was.”  This was a major point to which he frequently returned. 

But that’s not really what happened; that’s just a skewing of the words.  The doctor did not tell him it was a crime, he told him of the severity of the injuries.  That information MADE it a crime, by the detective’s standards and guidelines.  That’s not a real issue.

Nor is what time the detective began the investigation.  The defense attorney made a big deal about the detective waiting until the next afternoon to investigate.  But the thing is, it was already being investigated by other cops; just not by him.  When he came in, they handed off the notes and he took over.  That is also not an issue.

Regarding the Doctor “not knowing the physics” behind the impact reference, I wouldn’t think he needed to know that.  After all, he’s personally seen what happens to a body in those falls and crashes.  And saying "this damage is like that damage" does not require expertise in physics, but merely experience in observation of the results. 

And while it may be true that there are “some doctors” that don’t think “Shaken Baby” is a real thing, I might also point out that there are doctors that don’t think smoking causes cancer either.  I’d bet you can’t get a roomful of doctors to agree on anything unanimously.  So that’s another red herring.

So at the end of it all, after the “he said/she said,” to me it came down to the only relevant point:  The kids were physically incapable of doing it.  The notion of someone coming in, the homeowner included, beating up an infant and then leaving without being noticed, is remote. 

I found the testimony of the doctor and detective to be credible.  They were experienced, knowledgeable, and really didn’t have any reason to lie.  Their “I’s” were dotted and “T’s” were crossed when it came to the evidence.

And it’s not like the defendant was a bad witness.  She was calm and composed, and stuck to her story.  She seemed like a nice lady.  The worst thing I can say about her is that during jury selection, she had her stretch pants on inside-out.  I could see a big white spot in the middle of her ass and at first I thought her underwear was showing through a rip.  I later realize it was not the same color that was exposed over the top of her pants… a good 7-8 inches worth.  On my way back from bench, during voir dire, I saw that it was the tag.  I almost voted guilty right there.  My rule is: if you can’t even dress yourself, for your own trial, how can I trust your word?

But seriously… she’s the only one there with a motive to lie.  Her daughter… she wasn’t there, so she doesn’t really know what went on.  Obviously, she’ll want to back her mother. 

So again: The kids couldn’t do it, it couldn’t have been an accident or a fall off the bed, and no one else was home. 


Signed, Alternate Juror #3.

Note: My apologies for the length of this post, but I didn’t feel like this was a good one to split up.

Late Update: I heard from my juror friend and they found the defendant guilty on 3 of the 4 counts.  (Which is exactly the way I would have pitched it, walking in.)  Tomorrow morning, I'll have a full rundown of the end-game and what happened to the principals.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Eye, the Jury Pt. 3

Well, I’m done; dismissed as Alternate Juror #3.  Over.  Out. Swept out the door.  It’s time to stop being part of the solution and go back to being part of the problem.

Yesterday the prosecution finished their case and rested, the defense was presented and rested and we adjourned.  This morning, we got jury instructions and closing arguments, then Alt Juror #2 and I were dismissed.  (Yes, one Alternate got called up from the minors.) 

I didn’t even get to keep my notes.  (Of which, there were a LOT and they were good.  I’m just glad I didn’t put in any extraneous observations or opinions in there, like “Gee, the prosecutor is cute!”) 

Is a female prosecutor called a Prosecutrix?  (If not, she should be.)  I’ll have to ask V_Uncorked or the Faux Trixie.

Here’s what I’m going to do: today’s post will be about all the final mechanics of my experience with going through the trial system.  In my next post, I’ll talk about the case itself.  If I can’t do any deciding on it, I can at least play to YOU.  I’d hate for all that note-taking and attention-paying to go to waste.  And by the time I post next, I should know the outcome.  (I have a mole!  I traded email addresses with one of the jurors and he agreed to email me with the outcome.)  I will tell you this much right now: it was a child-abuse/assault case involving an 18-day old baby… very serious stuff.

Yesterday’s events went relatively smoothly.  All jurors were accounted for and we spent most of the day hearing testimony from the various players: the EMT, an expert medical witness, the lead detective and the various participants.  The prosecution played the tape of the detectives interview with the defendant.

I’ll say one thing… the written transcript of the interview left much to be desired.  It was like reading the closed-captioning of a live TV show.  Apparently, the transcriber only took one pass at it.  I can’t necessarily blame her though; I suspect that Baltimore City can’t exactly afford a whole squad of transcribers.  They probably just rip through as best they can, then move on to the next one.  But still, if the only thing I had to go on was the transcript, a lot of stuff wouldn’t have made any sense at all.  It was all I could do not to stand and “object,” then request the court provide me with a red pen.

The defense only called two witnesses, the defendant’s daughter, who had testified earlier, and then the defendant herself.  The whole defense didn’t last any longer than an hour.

After we wrapped yesterday, I went over to the formerly crooked portrait to find out whom it was.  Turned out it was a portrait of Daniel Webster.  (Not the dictionary guy, the statesman guy.)  I looked through Google Images to try to find the same portrait, but I was unable to find the exact one.  This one is close though:
In the courtroom portrait, he looks even more severe. 

And I swear the whole time I was sitting on the far end of the jury box, he was looking right at me.  It was like he was thinking, “Hey Bluz… ‘You’re Alternate 3??’  That’s the best you could do?  Putz!  Wait’ll I tell Franklin.  A penny saved is all you earned today, buster.” 

I don’t know if they called people ‘buster’ in the 1700s.  What’s “Colonial” for slacker?

Anyway, when we reassembled this morning for jury instructions and closings, we were down one juror.  Word around the table was that Juror #1’s kid was getting sick.  So Alternate #1 got put in the game.  Dude did not look happy about it, but what can you do?

Hell, I wasn’t happy about it either.  If only you could trade numbers, like they were draft picks.

I’ll take your Juror #1 and offer you Alt 3 on the next two panels, and throw in an extra $5 a day.”

We were delayed in getting started today because both bathrooms in the jury room were out of order.  Apparently it was the result of a larger plumbing problem at work, and not the result of a “logjam” on the part of a jury member.  The men’s room out in the hallway didn’t have water either.

It was funny because of all the days for “the hopper” to be out of order, it had to be the one when everyone was going to be cooped up there all day.  Not that it was going to affect me… I was going to get out of there.  Plus, I’ve been cutting way back on my intake of fluids, for the express purpose of making sure I didn’t have to pee at an inopportune time.  I’m sure squirmy jurors can make the attorneys lose focus.  Plus the chairs squeaked like crazy.

Eventually they moved us to another courtroom.  It was much nicer than our current one, I might add.  Too bad I didn’t get to enjoy it for very long.  The judge gave us our instructions on how to interpret the law and what it took for the defendant to be guilty of the charges.  The attorneys did their closing arguments in about 45 minutes.

This was really the most interesting part, because they could tie their narrative together with the evidence presented (or lack thereof). 

I’ve always felt that I was pretty good at picking up the relevant portions of an argument.  And like politics, there is a whole lot of shit thrown up in the air during a trial.  The important thing is to pick out what matters and what is essentially unimportant or a red herring.  (I’ll talk about some of that stuff in the next post.)

It was entertaining, however to watch each attorney build their case.  The biggest difference between the court dramas you see on TV and the real thing is the slow, deliberateness of the questioning.  Each bit is put into place stone by stone, brick by brick.  You don’t see that on TV, probably because it can be mind-numbingly boring.  But it has to be done in order to build a solid case that leaves no holes to be exploited by the defense.  The prosecutrix went inch by inch.  Pieces of evidence were built up like this: (and I’m paraphrasing…)

(After spending much time establishing, say, medical expertise of the supervising doctor…)
Prosecutrix: What is this?

Dr: It’s a CT Scan.

P: What’s a CT Scan?

Dr: (Long explanation of how a CT scan works and what it is intended to show.)

P: Whose CT Scan is this?

Dr: It belongs to the victim.

P: How can you tell?

Dr: Her name is embossed on the slide, per standard procedure.  (There is more testimony on how it is stored, how it is reproduced, etc.)

P: I offer this CT Scan into evidence.

Defense Atty: I object.

Apparently part of being a defense attorney is objecting to every piece of evidence offered by the prosecution, forever and ever.  The attorneys would approach the bench, they’d discuss things out of earshot of the jury and then the judge would overrule or sustain.  If he over-ruled the objection, the piece would be accepted as evidence.  If not, the prosecutor would usually ask a few more seemingly mundane questions and then re-request entry as evidence.  It was almost always granted.

This tap dance went on for every piece of evidence: X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, physical evidence from the scene, the recorded interview, etc.  So you can see why they don’t put that stuff on TV.  Fifteen minutes of that and you’re comatose before they even discuss what’s on the freakin’ X-ray.

Now the defense, his job is primarily to object to everything the prosecution does or alternately throw out as many other plausible explanations for the evidence as he can that does NOT include his client doing anything illegal.  Again, like with politics, there are things that matter and things that are designed to grab your attention away from one direction and point it in another.  Whether the distraction is relevant to the case or not is up to the jury.

I just want to mention that the defense attorney for this trial looked like he was right out of central casting, due to his resemblance to this actor:
I couldn’t find this actor’s name, but he’s played a high-priced attorney in just about every show I’ve seen him on.  He had his own lawyer series, a number of years back.  Can’t remember the name of that either.

But it’s not like the prosecution doesn’t throw some stuff up in the air too.  Our prosecutor routinely referred to the victim as “Little.”  As in, if the child’s first and last name was “Baby Girl,” she frequently called her “Little Baby Girl.”  It got so that in my notes, I’d refer to her as “LBG.”  Obviously, she was using loaded language as a subtle way of reminding the jury that the victim here was a helpless, fragile little baby.  I’m not saying that’s wrong, but that I see if for what it is: an appeal to the emotions.

So after the closing statements, we were directed to the jury room to deliberate.  The court, as per Maryland state law, confiscated all cell phones.  Except mine, of course, because I was heading out the door.

But before we broke for the jury room, the judge appointed a jury foreman, Juror #10.  This was something I’d been wondering about the whole time… how is a foreman picked?  Was it by juror number, like it’s always #1?  Does the jury pick it’s own?  Can someone decline to be foreman?

Well, now I have my answer.  The judge selects a person of his choice from the panel.  There didn’t seem to be any room for debate or refusal with his selection.  And it was funny because earlier, while we were waiting to go in, I was looking around and wondering, if I needed to choose, which juror would I pick for foreman (given that I wanted no part of it).  Turns out, the judge picked the same one I would have.  I had to smile.

Now that I know this, the next time I end up on a jury, I’m going to do some research first, into how a good jury foreman should handle running the deliberations.  You know me… Preparation Guy.  Because frankly, the only thing I know about foreman is this:

Which is still better than this:

Completely Unrelated Note: This afternoon, my dear cousin Angela, the one with her first baby due within a day of Cassie’s, gave birth to little Eddie Jim this afternoon.  Boy is 9 lb. 9 oz, 22” long.  I don’t have any details yet, but am told the mother is fine and in recovery.  This is the first grandchild born to her parents and I’m just thrilled for the whole family.  This child will never want for being loved.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Eye, the Jury Pt. 2

Short day today, so it gets a short post.  (Short for me, anyway.)  We were only there long enough to hear one witness’s testimony and cross-examination.

As usual, I can't discuss the case but there are several non-case-related things I can share with you.

First, upon arrival, I noticed that they had replaced my hard wooden chair with a more comfortable, cushioned one, as I’d requested.  Yay for the Clerk!  Unfortunately it was still placed right smack in front of the witness stand.  The “elephant in the room” would have to make do.

As we waited in the jury room for everyone to show up, I began to wonder if we might have a couple gone AWOL, thus moving me closer to Actual Jurorhood.  But no, everyone eventually made it in.  We were called into court around 10:45.

The testimony started immediately.  It’s not at all like regular office work, where you can ease into the day with a breakfast bar and the news before tackling anything complicated.

About 15 minutes in, the best thing of the day happened.  The judge addressed me (Me!  The Judge talked to Me!) and asked if I could move my chair around to the other end of the jury box. 

I leapt to my feet, exclaiming, “It’s about fuckin’ time!”  I grabbed up my chair and fairly sprinted around the front of the jury box and planted it on the other side.

OK, I didn’t really say “It’s about fuckin’ time…” I said, It’s about fuckin’ time, Your Honor.

OK, I didn’t really say that either.  What I actually said was, “I’d be happy to,” although he may not have heard me because I was already hustling my chair out from the middle of the goddamned room.

Later, when we took a 5-minute potty break, I mentioned my relief at relocation, to a fellow juror.  (They are, in fact, allowed to talk to us Alternates, but we have to avert our eyes.)  Anyway, he laughed and said, “I could tell you really wanted out of there by the way you dashed out of your seat…”

As some of us continued talking in the jury room, I learned that I was not the only one distracted by something in the courtroom. 

There are several giant portraits in the room, of some very proper-looking colonial-type people, like 1700’s era.  All are in giant, thick gilded frames. 
The portraits looked similar in size, style and frame, to this.
Photo by

Directly across from my new location, there was one such portrait, but it was crooked.  And I don’t mean in that “Gee, I wonder if that’s really crooked or is my wallet getting too fat and I’m sitting cockeyed” way.  I mean in that, “Holy shit, will somebody please straighten that back out; it looks like the Colonial dude is sliding down a hill” way.  My OCD office friend Jenn would have been spazzing out over it the entire day if she had been empaneled there.

This bugged two other jurors as well.  I joked that I’d be happy to go over and straighten it out, but I was sure that the second I touch it, it would fall off the wall and I’d end up looking like I was acting out a bad sitcom.  My juror friend said I’d probably end up putting my head through it. 

I know… that would totally happen to me.

But after we were dismissed, as I was thanking the clerk for my “comfy chair,”* I saw my buddy go over and straighten the picture. 

No, it didn’t fall off the wall, nor were there any eye-holes cut out.  Sometimes, life is not a sitcom or Scooby-Doo cartoon.  (Please don’t tell Sitcom Kelly.)

Tomorrow is a full day of testimony.  My sore butt will really be earning that $15 stipend.

Wait, I’m not sure that looks like what I meant to say.  Prosecution withdraws the statement.

*Extra credit to all that got the “comfy chair” reference.  Next up, the SOFT CUSHIONS!