WEEK IN REVIEW: testimonies and criminal rights

(Evan Karp)

In the past, this story began a lot earlier, with a lover and a best friend. A sleepy old railroad town in the Southeast. But then, the story started even further back. No time for reflection.

The defense objected to my staying in the courtroom after my testimony, the first of the trial, before it began. When the judge overruled this objection, I knew my story was starting all over again.

The purpose of each counsel’s opening statement, the judge explained, is to outline what they expect to demonstrate in the course of the trial—nothing more. My counsel—the state—would attempt to prove the defendant, Edrick Lamont Faust, guilty of aggravated battery; that the incident primarily concerned his attack on me, for which he was charged. The defense would cite defense of property, “the bedrock principle upon which our nation is founded,” as the instigation, me as the agressor. Faust didn’t punch me until after I attacked his car, they would argue. And parking spaces are for parking—not pedestrians.

I was at the Nowhere Bar at about 1:30 the morning of April 3rd, 2009 to see a concert by my brother’s band The Suex Effect. I was visiting for that purpose, from the railroad town. The tour manager – an old friend of mine – asked me to save a double parking spot directly in front of and across the street from the venue, as closing time was approaching and the band was on their final song. It’s usually hard to find a spot in downtown Athens and the luck of two adjacent spots was worth asking me this. The equipment is heavy and extensive, the breakdown and load-out a monster task turned science.

About a minute into my wait for Wilson to bring the car around, a black coupe pulls slowly around the corner from an old bank parking lot to take one of the spaces. I step into the middle of the space—I can’t remember if it’s the middle of the furthest space or between the two spaces—with my hands up, waving, as if to say: “I’m holding these spots. I need them both for a reason.” The sports car proceeds. Since the driver’s window is down I start to voice my explanation. The car proceeds at intervals, the driver revving his engine. The car makes contact with my legs, just above my knees. I back up. The driver leans out the window: “Move! Get out the way.” I do not remember this at the time, though I know it happened. I back up. The car makes contact with my knees again. The engine revs. I bring my fist down on the hood, one time, to let the driver know enough is enough, that threatening my body with his automobile is not acceptable.

The driver gets out of the car and punches me square in the lower jaw, almost completely separating my mandible from the rest of my face. It happens so fast I don’t see it coming.

The next thing I know I know my face is broken and then, gradually, I realize I’m standing in the middle of the street. This is one of the busier streets in the heart of a college town just before the bars close, the city with the most bars per capita in the United States; it took me some time to realize this because there weren’t any cars coming, and I wasn’t able to move anyway. I was in shock and I realized I was in shock but I couldn’t do anything about it.

One of my friends, girlfriend of one of the band members, Alison saw the whole thing and helped me out of the middle of the street and onto the sidewalk, in front of the bar. I snapped out of it enough to tell her my jaw was “definitely broken” and that I needed to go to the emergency room immediately. I also started yelling for someone to get the license plate number. Another friend, Kelly, got the number and called the police.

I couldn’t remember how long I talked to the police. I knew the perpetrator fled the scene and returned maybe 10 minutes later, approached me and the friends taking care of me until Alison said we had called the police (I had not remembered this but she was emphatic); when she said “police” he turned around and left for the second time. I remembered the hospital. I don’t think I told the doctor I’d lost consciousness. I couldn’t remember. Had I lost consciousness? Had I told the doctor I had?

That testimony took about an hour. The court took a 15-minute recess before the cross examination. After that, Kelly would testify—she’d flown in from New York and had a return flight booked (by the DA’s office) for 9pm that same evening. She was scheduled to testify at 10:30am. Then the officer I’d spoken with. Then my brother, then Alison.

And then the doctor, and maybe another witness or two. Each witness would be cross-examined, the state would have a chance to redirect any questions, and when both sides were done with all of the state’s witnesses the state would rest its case and the defense would call its witnesses—at least one, but maybe two. In criminal cases, all burden of proof is incumbent on the prosecution. “Beyond a reasonable doubt.” The process would repeat until the defense rested, then we would hear closing arguments, break for jury deposition, and return for the verdict.

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That was the story as I told it. That was the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth So Help Me God. But that’s not the story Kelly told. And Alison told a different tale, too, So Help Them God. The ER doctor gave a staunch testimony: I had trismus, the inability to open the mouth wide; the CT scan clearly showed I had two fractures, “would need the services of a specialist” to get it properly treated. The definition of surgery was discussed. “Beyond conservative treatment.” I was given antibiotics for fear that some bone was exposed and could get infected; the physical damage was certainly “substantial.” But was it imposed “with malicious intent?”

The following contradictions emerged in the state’s testimonials:

  • I said there were two parking spaces. Everyone else said one.
  • I said I spoke with the police for 10-15 minutes at the scene of the crime. Neither Kelly nor Alison thought the police arrived on the scene until after I was already at the hospital.
  • All time estimates were approximate and potentially conflicting.
  • Kelly and Alison said the car touched my shins. I said “above my knees.”
  • My brother and the ER doctor both said I was completely coherent in the hospital, contrary to what Kelly and I testified.
  • I said it was the right side of my jaw that was hit, but my written report showed “left side”—confirmed by both Alison and the doctor.

After Alison testified we took another short break. Before reconvening, the defense attorney explained there was one issue he wanted to discuss with the judge before proceeding. The defendant had a prior conviction of a similar charge just over 10 years before; the state law stipulates that after 10 years a conviction no longer has any bearing, but the clock starts either at the date of conviction or at the last day of confinement—to be determined by the judge presiding. The defense wanted to know how the judge would rule on this matter before deciding if the defendant would testify, as his client’s conviction fell in this judicial gray area.

You can google Faust right now and find out his whole record. Should I know this information? The jury didn’t. Or did they? The judge had it. He said he would let the defense decide first if Faust was to testify and then he would make his decision accordingly. A firm stance in the state’s favor.

Strategically emotionless, Faust stared down or straight ahead the entire time. I had a direct view of his two teardrop tattoos, which made it awfully tempting to risk contempt of court. Why is it not relevant that this man has permanent marks on his skin that either indicate he is a two-time murderer or has all but claimed to be one? It did not escape me that we both cry ink.

The defense, Ben Macon, knew he couldn’t deny the incident. He knew of the three eye witnesses, that we each identified Faust in a lineup. So he focused on the parking space and hoped the jury would get confused. Were they paying attention? One man forced a recess with his snoring. The screening and jury selection took only one day.

The defense could potentially get many years for this offense. The state picked up a big bottom line to line up its witnesses; despite this, their counsel was working his first grand trial in over nine (9) years. There are so many variables to even the most contained processes, it’s overwhelming.

The police was called by the state. First the Sergeant, in charge of all homicides and burglaries, explained that there was no digital footage from the incident. “Footage only keeps for 72 hours and then it films over itself.” Because the incident happened on a Friday and the Sergeant was off for the weekend, he didn’t see the report until Monday or Tuesday, and because it was originally filed as a simple battery—a misdemeanor—the case was not a high priority; once he saw the charge had become more severe due the damage in my face, it was too late to pull a tape. Same with the 911 call. And the videocamera at that corner faces the other way anyway.

Finally, a detective was called, the one who administered the photo lineup to Alison. He testified that he runs 2-3 of these a month and has run hundreds of them over the course of his career. Alison—the only witness to the whole incident—was only “80-90% sure” of suspect #3, Faust. There were no questions on the cross, and the state’s counsel, upon calling his final witness, realized he had previously told the witness he wouldn’t be needed and that the witness had left.

After a brief discussion, the judge joked with the jury—”Y’all ready to go home?” He then added, in all sincerity: “Me too,” and court was adjourned until the following morning.

to be continued