Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Closing Arguments: the Prosecution

It's 10:31 and the defendant is back in the courtroom from a 10-minute recess following his attorney's closing arguments. The jury is taking their seats. The judge is back at the bench and has directed prosecutor Laurie Lisi to begin closing arguments. We hear transmissions from a police radio and see a white Utica Police cruiser on the monitor. Now we hear a frantic officer say "we've got an officer down!' More chaotic transmissions as another officer says, "expedite 'em! expedite 'em!" about the Utica Fire Department coming to treat the officer. Now we hear a hysterical woman calling 9-1-1 saying an officer has been shot. Now prosecutor Laurie Lisi is speaking to the jury. She's recounting the night Officer Lindsey was killed. Those two words no officer ever wants to hear, "officer down'. "Nine minutes, nine minutes ladies and gentlemen, and in the blink of an eye th elife of every Utica Police officer was indeed forever changed". Lisi says Tom Lindsey was assasinated; ambushed by a coward in a white hoodie. She tells the jury they're here today to consider one charge only: aggravated murder.

Lisi asks if there is any doubt that the elements of the crime of aggravated murder have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Is there any doubt Officer Lindsey was killed while performing his lawful duties? She says the only real question for the jury to deliberate is "who killed Officer Thomas Lindsey". She points out how the defense spend nearly all her closing remarks talking about Sammy Rivera and acknowledges he is the most important witness. She says defense has spent so much time on him because Rivera is an eyewitness to the brutal slaying of Officer Lindsey. Lisi says he is the most crucial witness, but reminds jurors that case doesn't rise and fall on his testimony alone. She too asks jurors not to consider Rivera's testimony in a vaccuum but in the context with all other evidence. Lisi says if jurors do that, they'll have no problem concluding that the defendant is guilty of the aggravated murder of Officer Lindsey.

Prosecutor Lisi says Rivera's story, with a few exceptions, has remained constant. Lisi reminds jurors that another witness testified that he was in the car with Sammy Rivera, alone, except for baby Luis, at 9pm the night Officer Lindsey was killed. She says there are no lagging time periods as the defense suggests. Lisi says Rivera rolls through the stop sign at Eagle and Neilson Streets because he had car trouble. Now Lisi is getting to where Officer Lindsey pulled over Rivera for running the stop sign at 9:16pm (when the officer called the stop into dispatch).

Now, prosecutor Lisi shows on a monitor an image of Officer Lindsey's computer screen in his police cruiser--the name Ishmael Rivera is on it, verifying that Sammy Rivera at first gave Officer Lindsey his brother's name--something Rivera admitted to in this case. Lisi says all this verifies Sammy was driving the Neon when Officer Lindsey pulled it over--who else would give the name Ishmael Rivera but a family member? Lisi says Rivera's wallet was still in officer's cruiser after he was shot because Officer Lindsey actually was not going to let Rivera drive away, but rather, wait for a licensed driver to come and get Rivera. Lisi says there is no doubt Sammy Rivera was the driver of the red Neon. Lisi asks jurors to consider that "Flaco" was interviewed extensively over several days and never once indicated Sammy Rivera was not the operator of the red Neon.

Prosecutor is talking about how Officer Lindsey had radioed back to dispatch, "code four", meaning everything is ok. She points out that he didn't immediately call in "code four" because at the time, he didn't know who or how many people were in the car--not until he walked up to it and saw. Lisi points out that, to other officers who'd driven by the vehicle stop, Officer Lindsey looked relaxed, so they became relaxed and therefore didn't take note of details--i.e., the driver of the Neon. (Defense pointed out that the officers couldn't identify Sammy Rivera as the driver of the Neon). Lisi points out that Officer Lindsey was waving fellow officers on before they even reached him. Asks jury if they think that the officers don't think of this every night when they go home and put their heads of the pillow, "what if....what if I'd stayed behind". Lisa says identification is a funny thing; that she could parade someone by the jury and ask them all to describe the person and that they'd all have different accounts because different people remember different things.

Prosecutor Lisi suggests it's not that one of the officers doesn't believe that Rivera was the driver of the Neon...but rather, that the officer didn't get a good look at the driver.

Prosecution closing arguments continue. Our cameras are still recording but I'm off to the station for the noon news.....

Defense Begins Closing Arguments

Defense Attorney Rebecca Wittman begins her closing arguments as virtually every attorney does: by thanking the jury for their attention. She tells them the toughest work is yet ahead. She says the key to this trial can be summed up in two to three pieces of evidence. She talks about the prosecution's 'cavalcade of jailhouse witnesses' and the videotape of the 'interrogation of Wesley'. She says the prosecution depends on the fact that Sammy Rivera is telling the truth, that he was the driver of the Neon, and that he was alone in the car with the baby. She says if Rivera isn't the driver, the whole case crumbles.

She tells the jury to try and find, in the hours of police interrogation of the defendant, any admission that he killed Officer Lindsey. She tells them they won't find that, but what they will find are countless denials. She reminds them that our system depends on a witness telling the truth, and asks the jury if they got that from Sammy Rivera. She urges the jury to ask to hear Sammy Rivera's testimony again.

Defense attorney Wittman says the baby in the car is Sammy Rivera's undoing. She talks about everything Sammy Rivera did the night Officer Lindsey was killed. She recounts Sammy's claim to have seen defendant Wesley Molina Cirino ("Flaco") getting into a black Monte Carlo at a cornhill store the night Officer Lindsey was killed. Wittman calls Sammy Rivera a 'very responsible drug dealer'....and talks about how he brought his girlfriend's small son along as he conducted drug transactions the night of April 12th, effort to diminish Rivera's credibility in the eyes of the jury as they prepare to weigh the credibility of his testimony. Wittman recounts the events of that night and tells jurors if they look at testimony and call logs, they'll see there are about 17 minutes that are unaccounted for from Sammy's last errand, to the time he rolled through the stop sign for which Officer Lindsey pulled him over.

Defense attorney Wittman is reading parts of Sammy Rivera's testimony back to the jury, along with the questions the attorneys were asking him. She says Sammy Rivera's story really starts to fall apart when he gets to the part where Officer Lindsey pulls him over. She says it doesn't make sense that Rivera willingly tells the officer he doesn't have a license. She says Sammy's claim that he got out of his car when the officer pulled him over in order to fix the baby in the car seat (Sammy had claimed the child was fast asleep) is not believable. "Ladies and gentlemen, come on--common sense and experience tell us you don't do this" she adds that if you're an 80-year-old lady in Clinton you don't do this, much less if you're a drug dealer in cornhill.

Defense attorney Wittman finds in incredible that the officer didn't tell Rivera to get back in his car. Wittman recounts testimony of a Utica Police officer who drove by Officer Lindsey and Sammy Rivera after the officer had pulled him over and who, shortly after, could not identify Rivera as the driver of the car Officer Lindsey had pulled over. Wittman is now reading that officer's testimony, complete with attorneys' questions, to the jury. Wittman talks about how badly the officer must feel that he can't identify Rivera and then says, 'guess what??? He's got some company.' Wittman says Sammy Rivera seems to be the only person who thinks Sammy Rivera was the driver of the car. Sammy said officer Lindsey was cutting him a break because he had his son in his car. He was going to let him off for paying an old fine. When Rivera thanked him he claims Officer Lindsey said he was doing it for the baby-because it was a cold and rainy night. Wittman questions the credibility of the officer letting Rivera drive without a license (Rivera claims he told Officer Lindsey he didn't have a license).

Defense attorney Rebecca Wittman is devoting the bulk of her closing arguments to shooting holes through the testimony of prosecution star witness Sammy Rivera. Wittman picks up a gun to gesture that Sammy Rivera claims he was looking down the barrell of a gun after Wesley Molina Cirino shot Officer Lindsey. She asks the jury if they believe for a minute that, if they had a gun pointed in their face, they'd have the wherewithall to notice the long, skinny fingers holding it, as Rivera did. She questions whether a sleeping baby in the backseat would be enough to stop a man who'd just shot and killed a police officer from shooting Rivera--an eyewitness--too.

Attorney Wittman now says it makes no sense that, after witnessing the shooting, Rivera goes to get his girlfriend, crying hysterically, yet doesn't say that defendant "Flaco" did it. Wittman is still reading Rivera's testimony to the jury. Can't help but wonder if the jury will ask to hear it again during their deliberations since Wittman is reading so much of it to them during her closing arguments. Wittman says Sammy Rivera has some 'splaining' to do in light of the fact that he had Officer Lindsey's blood and brain matter on his car. She said he went down to the police station, ...'got a beating'.

Wittman points out that on April 12th or 13th, Rivera doesn't mention Wesley Molina Cirino. Says Rivera doesn't mention it till April 21st, when he 'has a revelation.' Wittman suggests it isn't credible that Rivera would wait so long to tell police who he saw shoot Officer Lindsey. "What other story does Sammy have trouble sticking to?" asks defense attorney Wittman. She is now back to reading his trial testimony to the jury. Wittman now says police want to believe Sammy Rivera because their friend and colleague is dead and Rivera's account of what happened is the best they've got. She talks about how painful it was to watch the officers on the witness stand, breaking down and crying, but points out that it tells you something about their objectivity. Wittman tells the jury it's not up to them to solve the case, but to decide it based on the evidence they've heard. Tells the jury you can't look at Rivera's testimony in a vaccuum; says they have to consider fact that he didn't reveal that it was Wesley Molina Cirino who shot Officer Lindsey until several days after the shooting. Wittman suggests Rivera gave 'wildly diverging accounts' about what happened the night Officer Lindsey was killed. Says if the jury is left wondering what happened that night, isn't that reasonable doubt?

Wittman asks jurors how Molina Cirino pulled this off without knowing in advance that Officer Lindsey would be at that intersection at that time. Asks how he knew to be there without Sammy Rivera's assistance? Wittman points out that defendant "Flaco" didn't even leave town after the murder, but sticks around Utica. Asks if defendant's actions after Officer Lindsey's murder are actions of a man with a guilty conscience. Asks why he'd be walking around the streets of cornhill while hundreds of police are looking for Officer Lindsey's killer.

Wittman tells jurors that she and defendant don't have a courtroom full of men in blue to lend their support to them....that they have something more powerful-ladies and gentlemen of the jury....sworn to return a fair and impartial verdict...asks the jury: please don't make Wesley Molina Cirino a sacrificial lamb to avenge the untimely death of Officer Lindsey.... Wittman says either the people have met their burden or they have not. Wittman says being the best suspect they've got may be enough to convict Wesley Molina Cirino in a court of public opinion...but it's not enough once they enter the jury room. At 10:21 defense attorney Rebecca Wittman is finished with her closing arguments.

Closing Arguments: The Defense

It is 9:00 and corrections officers are bringing the defendant into the courtroom. The judge just entered the courtroom. The judge says they must take care of a few housekeeping matters before the jury is brought out. The judge says he has made a verdict sheet for the jury. Neither attorney objects. The judge calls for the jury. The defense makes closing arguments first because the law says that the people (people of the state of New York, i.e., the prosecution) have the last word. The judge told jurors at the start of the trial and will remind them during his 'charge' that closing arguments are not considered evidence. The judge just told the jurors that after closing arguments, he will charge them, or, instruct them as to the law and how it applies to this case. The more charges a defendant faces, the longer the judge's charge takes. The judge just told the jury that nothing that he or either attorney says constitutes evidence in this case.

Closing Arguments

Closing Arguments to begin in about 17 minutes. The usual contingent of Utica police officers and friends and family of Officer Tom Lindsey are here. Also present today--Dave and Kathy Corr--parents of New Hartford Police Officer Joe Corr, who was shot and killed in the line of duty in February of 2006.