You Can’t Win ‘Em All, Kid

In my previous blog post, I alluded to a trial that was then in its final stages—namely, the Deputy District Attorney and the Deputy Public Defender’s closing arguments. Given that the trial is now over, I am legally allowed to divulge more details. The civil trial, The People of the State of California v. Norman Morrow, lasted for a total of about ten days. During that time, a bevy of witnesses, both experts and victims, took the stand to testify about Mr. Morrow. To those unfamiliar with the courtroom, I’ll briefly explain the difference between the two types of witnesses.

Expert witnesses are professionals in their fields, such as doctors and psychiatrists. (As a side note for those who have been following the Bryan Stow-Dodgers civil trial—both Stow and Frank McCourt called “stadium security experts” to the stand to testify and vindicate their assessments of Dodger’s Stadium’s security. I suppose any field can have experts if there are knowledgeable enough people.) Moreover, expert witnesses are typically paid to testify, since their expertise adds substantial weight to one side’s case. Finally, expert witnesses do not testify on events that took place but rather give their professional opinion on a matter related to the trial. For instance, the aforementioned stadium security experts testified about the stadium’s security (or lack thereof), not whether or not Stow was intoxicated the day he was beaten. Conversely, garden variety witnesses may consist of actual witnesses to a crime, the Defendant/Respondent, and the victim. Naturally, their testimonies center around events that transpired leading up to a crime.

Two expert witnesses took the stand in the Morrow trial. They were doctors from Coalinga State Hospital, a mental health facility in California. Given their credentials and extensive experience with Mr. Morrow at Coalinga, these doctors wrote reports detailing Mr. Morrow’s mental state as a Sexually Violent Predator, claiming that Mr. Morrow’s disorder predisposes him to commit sexually violent crimes, and that Mr. Morrow’s release into society would be dangerous because he is statistically likely to recidivate. While the doctors’ testimonies were dry and technical, their contribution to the DA’s case was enormous.

In addition, the DA called to the stand two of Mr. Morrow’s past victims. Their testimonies, in contrast to the doctors’, were emotional and utilized mainly to depict Mr. Morrow as a man relentlessly pursuing his sexual urges with no regard for the welfare of Orange County women. Unsurprisingly, this tactic worked to great avail. One victim was so flustered and overcome by memories of her attack that she had an emotional episode while on the stand. As a mere audience member in the courtroom, I could feel the tension; I could not begin to imagine how she felt while testifying.

After all witnesses were called to testify, both sides began their closing statements. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I heard DA Peter Finnerty’s closing statement. What I failed to mention was how he delivered it. These days, both sides use computers and powerpoints to give jurors relatively quick, clear, and easy to understand summaries of their arguments. Unfortunately for Mr. Finnerty, his computer suffered from a technical malfunction, and he was forced to rely on printed powerpoint slides presented on a projector that one might find in an elementary school classroom. Far from being lackluster, though, Mr. Finnerty delivered a remarkable statement that tied together reports, testimonies, and Mr. Morrow’s past misdeeds. I’ll save you the suspense. The jury came back with a finding of “True,” meaning that the DA proved beyond a reasonable doubt the four criteria I listed in my previous post. Mr. Morrow will be spending more time at Coalinga until he is sufficiently rehabilitated.

As I’ve been told by one of the paralegals, however, victories are sweet but short. Sure enough, I found out what she meant. Shortly after the Morrow trial, another of the same nature quickly started up, and in the end the jury found “Not True” and the Respondant was released on his own recognizance. Disappointed by the loss, I asked the DA in charge of the trial if he ever felt the same way. He shrugged and said to me in a nonchalant yet respectful tone, “You can’t win ‘em all, kid.” I guess I’ll have to take his advice to heart if I want to work here in the future.

Brandon Wong is a senior at UC Berkeley, studying political science and public policy. He is currently interning with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office as a Matsui Local Government Fellow.