Wednesday, February 22, 2012

My new favorite judge

It's probably not a good sign when at trial the judge is openly scoffing at your theory of the case. A lot of commenters are expressing dismay at this judge's behavior, but I have to say, there have been many times in my career where I have read a transcript and wished that someone had called out that ridiculous testimony or bizarrely illogical theory.

I don't know much about this Alabama "Honeymoon Killer" trial. But after reading this article, I'm wondering if the rest of the prosecution's case is as scoffable as the motive evidence presented in this article. Gabe Watson and his new wife Tina flew to Australia for their honeymoon back in 2003. Though they were not terribly experienced divers, they went diving. Tina ran into trouble, panicked, and drowned. Or Gabe turned off her oxygen supply and held her down to kill her, depending on which side you believe.

The little bit I have read, including this bit that the Judge scoffed at, makes me think there isn't anything real to this case. This article centers on the prosecution's questioning of the funeral director who ran Tina's funeral. Before the casket was closed, Gabe asked for Tina's wedding ring, though he wanted her wedding ring to be left on his hand. This, somehow, is to the prosecution evidence of motive? Evidence of murder? My response to that is kind of along the line of the Judge's. Who doesn't keep an engagement ring? I have my great-great-grandmother's engagement ring, so it clearly wasn't buried with her. My dad wears my grandfather's wedding ring. My mom has her mother's rings. My aunt has my other grandmother's wedding rings. Keeping rings is hardly an abnormal thing, and certainly not evidence of murder. Which was the Judge's point when he interjected in this trial. (Query: maybe this judge is one of the millions of Americans who passed on a ring of a now dead relative to his own son when his son was intending to propose marriage to a girlfriend?)

The attorneys prosecuting Gabe Watson also wanted to present evidence that he told his sister-in-law that he and Tina talked about their desired funeral arrangements on their long flight to Australia. Somehow to the state, this shows that Gabe had "murder on his mind" when flying to his honeymoon. It just doesn't seem that nutty to me that two newlyweds with lots of time to pass in close quarters would revel in their new marital bliss by talking about these kinds of things. And if he really did broach this subject because he was plotting to murder his wife, why would he relay this conversation to his wife's sister once he got back from his successful murdermoon?

I've read plenty of incidents of similarly ridiculous testimony, nonsense motive theories, and utterly illogical claims of "murder on the mind" type evidence like this. But I've never read a trial judge call the prosecution on it. Sometimes the complete lack of logic in what I read in a criminal trial makes me want to scream and throw things. The worst part is that since I'm reading the transcript, a jury obviously fell for it and convicted my client. I really wish more judges would be like this one and call out some of the nonsense that can pass for evidence in criminal trials. And that more judges would say to prosecutors, "If all you've got is that the guy kept his wife's engagement ring and talked about what kind of funeral she might like, you've got nothing."

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