Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Trial Prep Recon

I've had a unique opportunity preparing for trial this week by observing the jury trial of my client's co-defendant here in Brazos County, Texas. I'm not talking about reading transcripts or reviewing newspaper accounts of the trial, but actually sitting in and watching the jury selection process, opening statements, and witness testimony.

My client was charged with another young man under Texas law with animal cruelty by torture. Under Texas law, torture is causing an animal unnecessary pain or suffering. The government alleged this person and my client planned and set out to torture a horse by hitting it with a mallet and cutting it's throat with a knife. The State's theory was the co-defendant actually cut the horse's throat causing its death. However, they also claimed my client was a party (accomplice) to this crime by encouraging or aiding the co-defendant and doing so with the intent the crime be committed. My client denied, from day one, he ever intended any animal be hurt. The testimony today backed his story.

The evidence so far came from two key witnesses. First, a roommate (RM-1) who allegedly heard my client and co-defendant "planning" this tragic crime. Second, another roommate (RM-2) who was with my client and co-defendant in the pasture when the horse was killed, who by the way did not hear anyone plan anything.

I observed RM-1 testify this morning. I was not impressed. He tended to minimize much of his involvement that night and minimized his extremely poor relationship with my client. This poor relationship gave him a very powerful motive to slant his testimony against my client. In fact, RM-1 and my client had been involved in several serious fist fights prior to this night - one in which my smaller client was on the ground being kicked by RM-1. RM-1 strategically omitted the seriousness of this altercation, but his omission was exposed during the testimony of RM-2 later in the day.

RM-2 was the best witness who testified so far. His testimony interjected energy into the case which had been lacking up to now. RM-2 testified that RM-1 was a problem in the past, abused alcohol regularly, and caused difficulties between RM-2 and his other friends. It seemed the State discredited it's case against my client by demonstrating bad blood between he and RM-1. Beyond this, RM-2's testimony described my client's great compassion and concern for the injured horse as they comforted it after the co-defendant had stabbed it several times.

I can't imagine the jury believed my client was an accomplice to this crime after hearing the emotional testimony of RM-2. I've been taking good notes and eye-balling these witnesses one-by-one. The testimony of these critical witnesses will appear prominently in my negotiations with the prosecutor once the current case is concluded.

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