Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Mendenhall Chronicles: Part V (The Trial)

Today we return to the Mendenhall Chronicles.   I had intended to write about the trial using transcripts or eye witness accounts of what happened.  However, due to separation of witness and the length of the trial, acquiring the transcripts were cost prohibitive and the accounts provided by witnesses were incomplete as they missed several days.  As a result, I'll report things in more summary fashion, striving as always for accuracy.

Following the altercation reported in Part IV, Augustus "Gus" Mendenhall was charged with attempted murder, robbery, aggravated battery, resisting law enforcement and criminal confinement.   Jack Crawford, a former prosecutor and well-known defense attorney, was hired as Mendenhall's counsel.  The strategy that Crawford decided on was an insanity defense.  Crawford attempted to demonstrate to the jury that Mendenhall's actions that day in supposedly exacting revenge on Delaney made no sense.  In carrying out that strategy, Delaney was necessarily cast in a very positive light, as someone who was simply doing his job when he pursued Gus Mendenhall's father in a civil action some quarter of century earlier. Given that strategy, obviously it wouldn't have made sense to connect the Delaney civil litigation against Burke Mendenhall to Delaney possibly enlisting the support of Goldsmith to go after Burke using civil forfeiture. 

Despite mental health witnesses, the jury didn't completely bite on the  Crawford strategy.  It returned a verdict of guilty but mentally ill.  Found guilty of attempted murder, Judge William Hughes gave Mendenhall a sentence of 40 years in jail, which he said he increased after Mendenhall gave a speech at the sentencing hearing in which he supposedly didn't show remorse.

On March 4, 2010, the court held a hearing on the defense's Motion to Correct Errors. The two errors were first that a police officer committed a Doyle violation by testifying that Mendenhall said he wanted to talk to counsel, a statement which could imply Mendenhall was sane and knew what was going on.  The second error was that the prosecution put Ed Delaney back on the stand after the expert medical witnesses had testified regarding Mendenhall's sanity.  As the insanity portion of the trial is supposed to be separate, the defense cited this as error.

At the MCE hearing, Judge Hughes noted the problem wasn't that Delaney went back on the stand and testified.  He indicated that he thought Delaney was being called to provide rebuttal evidence.  Instead, according to the Judge, Delaney gave a tearful, rambling speech in which he covered an assortment of topics including John McCain and service in Vietnam.   Judge Hughes was very critical of the prosecution for putting on Delaney at that point and suggested that it had to be done for the purpose of trying to prejudice the jury.  Judge Hughes said that under some circumstances, such a presentation could be seen as harmless error, but given the nature of the speech and what was said, that it could have risen to fundamental error status, thus overcoming waiver should Crawford have failed to object.  (Crawford said he thought he did; the prosecutor on the case said he didn't.)

I've learned through 26 years of practice that you should never try to guess how a judge will rule based on reactions in the court.  However, Judge Hughes seemed very much against the prosecution and favorable to the request for the defense to throw out the verdict and set a new trial.

The Motion to Correct Errors must be ruled on within 30 days.

Other Mendenhall Chronicle posts:

Monday, January 10, 2011,  The Mendenhall Chronicles: Part IV (The Confrontation)

Thursday, January 6, 2011, The Mendenhall Chronicles: Part III

Wednesday, January 5, 2011, The Mendenhall Chronicles: Part II

Tuesday, January 4, 2011, The Mendenhall Chronicles: Part I

Monday, January 3, 2011, The Mendenhall Chronicles: Prologue

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