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.

Magee takes the stand. He's angry. And scared. After he turned on law enforcement, recanting his grand jury testimony in writing, the prosecution retaliated, revoking his domestic violence probation. Magee was sentenced to three years in state prison. Prison with a snitch jacket. An extremely unhealthy situation.

Andrews decides to bring out the deals and the money paid to Magee on direct examination. Magee admits he took $17,000 from the feds, that he got a break on his Fresno beef, that he got a HUD foreclosure house to live in for free, all these things just to rat out a man he's known since he was a kid. All this admitted in front of Temple's friends and admirers.

At one point during the trial, Magee has to excuse himself from the stand because he's sick to his stomach.

Magee's testimony, for the most part, is gibberish. He has a remarkable talent for answering a question with a circuitous spiel of nonsense. (In his closing remarks, Lefcourt says, "If any of you [jurors] understood Kel Magee you get a prize. I don't know if he needs a lawyer or a psychiatrist.")

Magee begins his testimony using a tactic he will employ throughout the trial: memory failure. When Andrews asks him to repeat specific, and incriminating, grand jury testimony about witnessing Temple murder Mullins, Magee hedges, says he can't remember. This forces Andrews to show Magee transcripts of earlier statements he had made to police and the grand jury. Even then, Magee disputes what the transcripts say. So tapes of the questioning are played. He says he must have misunderstood the questions.

Before trial, Magee told police and the grand jury that he was there when Temple bought a hockey mask on the day of the murder of Walter Mullins. He said he saw Temple with a gun prior to the murder. He said he saw Temple shoot Mullins.

At trial he denies, dodges, and weaves on all these points.
Andrews finishes up his direct examination with a key question: Did you see Bernard Temple shoot Walter Mullins?

He gets this answer: No, I did not see Bernard Temple shoot Walter Mullins.
Andrews' next witness, Herman Holland, testifies convincingly.
Holland was an extremely ambitious crackhead in 1988, the year Mullins was murdered. He made his living hiding guns and fixing cars -- all in exchange for the crack cocaine he craved.

But he'd gotten out of "the life" shortly after Mullins was killed. He'd cleaned up and moved to San Diego. He'd forgotten about being asked to allegedly hide a murder weapon in exchange for crack. He'd tried to forget his role as an accessory to murder after the fact.

In 1996, John Payne, an SFPD sergeant deputized as a federal agent, flew down to San Diego and knocked on Holland's door. The awful past had returned in the guise of the affable but determined federal agent. Holland pulled his shades, sat down on his couch, and unburdened himself. He agreed to testify. The implied deal: You talk, and we don't charge you with being an accessory.

On the stand, Holland says Temple came to his house the evening Mullins was killed, admitted that he had shot Waldo, and asked Holland to stash the gun. Holland holds up well on cross-examination, marking one of the prosecution's few victories.

Andrews doesn't know it yet, but his case is about to take a nose dive from its al-ready low altitude, and it will not recover. Magee's gibberish will seem like a blessing in a few minutes.

Next witness: Cedric Geter. Cedric the supposed eyewitness to the Jacky Williams murder. Cedric the drug addict. Cedric the smelly sleazebag. Cedric the accused murderer. Cedric the liar. Cedric Geter, the virus that infects the entire prosecution for the rest of the trial and spawns an epidemic of absolutely reasonable doubt.

Geter will eventually commit perjury and hand Lefcourt a great device for creating reasonable doubt. Even before he lies under oath, however, Geter provides an advantage to the defense: He personifies the physical contrast that Lefcourt is trying to get the jury to focus on.

Geter slouches in his chair and holds his hand over his mouth as he mumbles his way through his testimony.

Temple sits bolt upright, eyes wide and sparkling, a handsome young man.
Geter seems drugged; his eyes are dead. He shifts in his chair and uses hand gestures associated with thug life. As he walks by the jurors on his way to the witness stand, he smells so badly, one of the jurors averts herself to avoid the stench.

Meanwhile, female clerks of the court are dropping by to catch a glimpse of the dapper Temple, who is dressed impeccably in pleated pants, a dress shirt that is tucked in, ironed, and buttoned to the next to the last button. He is very nearly preppy.

Geter wears all black. His shirt is rumpled and untucked. He seems to not understand logic. Questions eliciting the most basic information have to be asked several different ways in order to penetrate the apparent fog clouding his mental faculties. And even then, he mumbles incoherently when answering.

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