Trial by Liar

The snitches mumbled, stumbled, equivocated, and perjured themselves The jury found Bernard Temple -- the man prosecutors believed to be a bloodthirsty assassin for drug dealers -- not guilty of murder.

And the task force must have known the defense would make hay out of all the deals the feds made on behalf of Magee and the cases against Geter that went away without prosecution. The cops and the prosecutors must have known both men could be easily portrayed as liars who were trying to weasel out of their own prosecutorial difficulties.

Ultimately, Andrews says, the decision was his. And he says he never considered dismissing the cases against Temple.

Things go bad for Andrews before the first day of the trial. By the luck of the draw, only four African-Americans make it into the jury selection process.

Andrews dismisses two, one a prison minister who, the prosecutor feels, hates him. The other potential juror knows Temple, and that is enough for the state to disqualify. Lefcourt also gets rid of two: a woman in her 50s and a thirtysomething man, a playground director. Both live in Bayview-Hunters Point.

A jury with no African-Americans is seated to hear a black-on-black murder case from the southeast slums.

The lack of blacks, one juror contends, had a profound effect on the verdicts. The juror, who asked not to be named, says the middle-class-and-above whites and Asians on the jury were unable to believe that the fear of retaliation, the fear of death, could possibly be a reason why witnesses gave contradictory testimony, or a reason why law enforcement felt it necessary to cut plea bargains and disperse cash payments to win cooperation. The jury saw the deals, and, not believing witnesses could be in fear for their lives, not understanding what it's like on Third Street, decided the witnesses were all just liars.

Lefcourt's opening statement is a masterful example of storytelling.
First, he takes the Soul-Jacker, the allegedly prolific assassin, and turns him into a roughhousing rapscallion. He talks about teen-age groups fighting over turf, "to either protect themselves or protect their turf. It didn't necessarily have to do with drugs."

Then he turns the rapscallion into a political activist, someone fighting a racist police force that was out to oppress his community. This activism, Lefcourt artfully suggests, pissed off San Francisco police, who joined in a vendetta against him and trumped up the murder cases. "Bernard Temple ruffled a lot of feathers. There was not a lot of joy in certain parts of the city when a young black man started taking responsibility in this way."

His finishing touch: "Unless you realize the police have a motive too, you will miss the gist of this case."

On the first day of testimony, the boys from the 'hood show up in force. Leoncio White is taking the stand today, and the boys have a message to deliver. They fill the court gallery, grimacing and growling at White. They're talking shit and getting up and down and changing seats. They flash threatening hand gestures, according to Andrews.

A colleague of Andrews' sticks his head into Department 21. He sees what's going on, and, knowing Andrews is too busy questioning the witness to do anything about it, calls the FBI. A whole mess of agents, many of them cross-sworn SFPD narcotics officers, piles into cars at the federal building and screams down to the Hall of Justice. The agents fill the back of Superior Court Judge Robert L. Dondero's courtroom in a show of force. As word gets out in the Hall of Justice, all the inspectors who never miss a good fight pile down too.

Soon there are some 100 people in the courtroom. Andrews has been a prosecutor for nearly 15 years, and he's never seen anything like it. The gallery is squared off. Half law enforcement. Half gangbangers. It's a remarkable symbolic replication of the war going on in Bayview-Hunters Point. The bailiff gets so rattled he asks his superiors for permission to store a pistol in his desk. And this bailiff, he's a big guy.

On the stand, White says all the things Andrews wants him to say: On the day Walter Mullins was killed White saw Temple and Waldo at a craps game at the intersection of Oakdale and Baldwin. When Temple picked up his jacket, a hockey mask fell out. A few minutes later, Mullins is shot dead and White sees the the killer, wearing the same type of mask, running away from Waldo's dying form.

But Lefcourt undercuts White's credibility easily when he cross-examines the government witness.

Lefcourt, through his investigation into the case, knows that White had at one time told his parole officer he carried a gun, in violation of his parole, because he heard voices and was afraid. He gets White to admit this damaging fact.

Lefcourt compels White to admit his deal with the FBI: White was caught talking about drugs on the Michael wiretaps and was told he could have that case proceed in state court, where sentences are dramatically lighter than federal court, if he testified against Temple.

He gets White to admit that he killed a man senselessly in a liquor store holdup in 1981.

Lefcourt rattles White so much that the witness utters the classic snitch line: "Hey, I'm not the one on trial here."

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