Opening Statements – “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt”

The court supplied numbered note pads in envelopes on our chairs, but the judge noted that if you chose to take notes in opening statements, note clearly that these statements are not evidence, and should not be what you consider in reaching the verdict.  If we weren’t supposed to consider them, why have them?  But I sat I my comfortable chair to watch the show.

Attorney Melissa Juarez faced us with a written statement set on the podium which had been turned to our direction.  She straightened the edges of her papers.  I could see her coaches’ work, telling her technique to remain calm.  A deep breath, a big smile, eye contact, and “ladies and gentlemen of the jury” – the starting sentence was so expected it was unexpected – her accent was slight, enough so you knew English wasn’t her only language, but slight enough that there was no difficulty in understanding her.  A few words were oddly pronounced, but it was at the level you notice whether people say  “car” or “cah” (the second being the correct term for an automobile in a Massachusetts court room).

She was young and impeccably groomed, long hair not a strand out of place, power suit, and probably ran marathons.

She told us the story.  We had heard it before, but now with more detail. We would hear it with more detail again and again, but this was her chance to really get the horror inside our heads.  I will write it out as I heard it, if you do not want to read violence, skip ahead to the dotted line.

In 1982 John offered a ride to a 13 woman named Tracy who said she was going near the airport in Falmouth.  When she realized the airport was closed, she tried to open the door, but the door handle had been removed.  John drove her to a remote place, hit her over the head with rock which he had in his hat, put her in handcuffs, and raped her with a vibrator.

A few weeks later, John again offered a ride to a young woman, hit her over the head with a rock which was in a sock, tied her up with rope, drove her to a remote place, held her at knife point, and raped her with a vibrator.

The third one sounds the same, except she told him she was pregnant. John felt her belly, and let her go.

———–

Listening to this from Attorney Juarez didn’t have the same gut clenching horror as it had had the first  time. Maybe it was the repetition, or maybe it was her clinical style, she was reading facts. She did not look up from the paper often.  After getting through the initial crimes, we heard John’s life continue.

We heard of him being released from the treatment center, and going to live in the community.

I have trouble seeing the issue with the U-Conn events. He approached more than 100 women on the University of Connecticut campus in 1999. He told them a story about needing someone to watch his children, or his puppies. Three of these women got in his car, and he drove to an abandoned house, when he got there, he said something like “oh, my wife’s car is not here, she must have taken the kids, I’ll take you back to campus”.

Juarez described these as if approaching women on a college campus was a crime.  I would never have married if that was the case.  None of the women said John had touched them in appropriately, but he was  convicted of stalking and served 18 months.

And, back to the community, and back to the third offense, solicitation of sex and possession of a stun gun.  In 2008 he was stopped by Springfield police for a traffic violation; a prostitute who was with him at the time told authorities John had asked if he could tie her up and she agreed. Along with the stun gun, police also found a piece of pipe, a pair of gloves, rope and bleach.

————-

After telling the story, Juarez told us how convincing the testimony would be.  The accent was strongest on words beginning with “a” “actuarial” and “aparaphilia” – that’s the word I heard, I didn’t know it,  so I didn’t know it was  incorrect. It’s actually not the word she meant, which was “paraphilia”, but it always seemed to have an “a” attached to the beginning. So far, the description of what we would hear wasn’t persuasive, maybe I was just successful in not making any opinions until I was supposed to.

Sandra Schmidt took the podium to present how she was going to convince us that John was not sexually dangerous.  Actually, the point she made was that she didn’t have to prove it.  The other side had the burden of proof, beyond a reasonable doubt.  She looked at us, made real eye contact, and reminded us that injustice anywhere was a threat to justice everywhere.

At this point I knew that I couldn’t find John to be sexually dangerous, a system that could lock him up not for a crime, but for a possible future crime was not just, and I would prevent that.

Schmidt made us like John, she described his college experience, working to get an education through ROTC “however, his education was interrupted by his incarceration”.  She described his relationship with Lisa, his fiancée, which whom he now had a “non-sexual relationship”, but full of love.  “You’ll get to hear from Lisa” she offered as a special treat.

We learned about the work at the Treatment Center in Bridgewater, John took every available group, and actively participated, became a peer leader, did it all.

Was all this enough to prevent him from being sexually dangerous again?  That was the Commonwealth’s job to disprove, and I had more than a reasonable doubt.

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