Threats are illogical, Captain Kirk, And they often lead to unwanted consequences.
— Dr. Spock, USS Enterprise, Stardate April 4th, 2012, Brooktrails Galaxy
* * *
Funny how domestic abuse can coincide with tax time.
An estranged couple by the name of Dolan has three or more kids between ’em, and one half of the former couple has been on an above-the-table payroll all year, so there’s a big refund check in the mail box any day now.
The Brooktrails couple had decided to “give it one more try for the sake of the kids."
Daniel B. Dolan was trying so hard he passed out exhausted right there on the livingroom floor in his underwear, and this is how the kids found him the next morning, the patriarch, half-naked, snoring away as they’re going off to school.
“G’Bye, Daddy. Have a super day!”
His Lordship belches, resumes snoring and rolls over.
The kids are being hurried because Mummy, who is at least upright, has a hangover and needs to get back to her meds. But first, she has to get the kids out of her face: School.
When Mum returns from getting the kids down to the bus stop, she finds that one of the kids had left the front door ajar. The Patriarch, having been roused from his slumbers by the cold draft from the open door, woke up enraged. He lumbers to his feet and yells threats at Momma, Amy Prince, his significant other, the love of his life. He says he’s going to set her on fire and put cyanide in her drink, not necessarily in that order. She happens to be standing next to the fireplace where a fire is burning. Daddy is not known to have access to cyanide, but he does have access to fire. His shouts are so loud that the third irresponsible adult in the family, Dan Dolan’s brother Mike Dolan, who has been slumbering upstairs, is stirred from his drug and alcohol stupor.
And this thing goes all the way to a jury.
Michael Dolan, brother of the defendant, brother-in-law to Ms. Amy Prince, made his way into the courtroom to testify. He had the bearing and demeanor of an extra in zombie movie, and he admitted on the stand that he had taken a handful of prescription medications and was addicted to a variety of others.
When Eric Rennert of the Public Defender’s office was assigned this case, he knew it was hopeless, but the DA was offering nothing in return. No deal. She wanted state prison. You read that right. State prison. So Mr. Daniel Dolan, defendant, on his way to the state pen for the crime of behaving badly, decided to take his chances with a jury.
He said Ms. Amy Prince had started the beef when she took more than $4500 in cash from his backpack, and that she was conniving to get their tax return check, too. Defendant Dan Dolan was also upset with his brother Mike Dolan, who not only still lives with Ms. Prince, and here he is helping to send his own brother to the state pen.
Dolan lost, and now he’s facing a prison sentence for making criminal threats, but public defender Rennert was happy with the case for other reasons. Mainly, he saw a veritable sea-change in the way the rules of evidence are going to be enforced in Courtroom A from here on out. Previously he felt, with good cause, that only defense lawyers had to obey the rules of evidence, while prosecutors enjoyed a freer hand in such matters.
As for the victor, Deputy DA Beth Norman, there may be a problem. She used to say, “Any day working with Judge Ann Moorman is a good day,” but those halcyon days seem to be over. During this trial, Judge Moorman scolded her so severely that Norman hung her head in abject bewilderment and had to remove her eyeglasses to blink back tears.
The problem, Mr. Rennert said, was that during the preliminary hearing before Judge Henderson, Ms. Prince had been allowed to go on at length about things which supposedly happened 20 years ago in a town called Clovis. The rules of evidence forbade this, but the previous judge allowed it over Rennert’s objections, and Ms. Norman, used to getting away with such lopsided applications of the rules, exploited it for maximum effect. Rennert asked Judge Moorman that the Clovis stuff not be admitted in evidence; there was no proof any of it occurred beyond Ms. Prince’s words. Judge Moorman agreed.
Ms. Norman said, “But I’m sure there is some record of it at the Clovis Police Department, or at the courthouse, your honor.”
“That’s not the point,” Moorman said. “Let’s suppose this place, this little town you are talking about, Clovis, where these incidents supposedly took place, let’s say the earth just opened up and swallowed it.”
The apparently literal Beth Norman gulped at the apocalyptic image. Her hand went to her mouth where it seemed to freeze. She’s a frosted blonde to begin with, so it can be tricky deciding when she blanches. Her other hand came slowly up and took away her eyeglasses, as she considered sudden chasms opening in the earth. She needed a moment to recoup her faith. Judge Henderson had started this trial, and Ms. Norman has leaned so resolutely on his predictable alliance with the prosecution for so long, that it’s like that rancher in Wyoming who had been leaning into the wind for so long that when it quit, he fell flat on his face.
Judge Moorman saw the distress in Ms. Norman’s distraught face, the disturbances in her aura, as it were, and tried again — “Suppose,” she said, “there was a fire and all the records of the incidents that Prosecution is proposing to enter as evidence, let’s say they all burned up in a fire at the courthouse.”
Norman said, “But the investigating officer, Deputy Burns, took all this down when he interviewed the victim, Ms. Amy Prince.”
Right about here, if not before, you've got to be wondering at a long-time prosecutor not being familiar with basic rules of evidence.
“That’s all well and good,” Moorman said. “He did his job just the way he is supposed to do it. But I’m holding the DA’s office at fault — you, Ms. Norman — for not getting notice of this alleged incident to the defense so that they could be prepared to address it at trial, and cross-examine the witness accordingly.”
Norman hung her head and blinked her eyes reflexively. “Yes, your honor,” she eventually murmured.
“One more thing, your honor,” Rennert said. “Will my client’s brother be allowed to go on about what he thought my client’s intentions were?”
“Absolutely not, Mr. Rennert. Both parties will observe and obey the rules of evidence.”
“Enough said. Thank you, your honor.”
Norman’s look of shock turned to one of horror. Her whole world seemed to be breaking apart. Judge Moorman called a recess, and on her way out Ms. Norman eyed me coldly, intuiting perhaps that this turn of events might turn up in the paper.
As soon as the trial was over Norman made a luncheon date with reporter Justine Fredrickson of the Ukiah Daily Journal to make sure her version of the trial would be in print before any comments by me could reach the public. Norman went over the head of the DA’s PR man with verve and style. She was, after all, the brains behind both former Mendocino County DA Meredith Lintott and current Sonoma County DA Jill Ravitch. A pretty sharp cookie, make no mistake and, truth be told, a kind of reverse sexist. She's hell on men.
The first witness, the alleged victim, Ms. Amy Prince, was called.
“I got up running a little late,” she said of the fateful morning of January 6th. “And started getting the kids ready for school.”
“Is Daniel Dolan the father of the three children,” Norman asked.
“Yes. We were married from April 14th, 1997 to sometime October of ’06. Then in July of 2011, we decided to move in together again. Daniel’s brother Michael moved in in November.”
“When you were getting the kids ready for school, where was Daniel Dolan?”
“On the floor, in his underwear, passed out.”
“Had you seen him drinking that night?”
“But you don’t know what he was drinking, do you?”
(Part of the defense was that the threats were merely drunk-talk, and not rising to the level of a strike felony.)
“Objection, leading, your honor.”
Ms. Norman couldn’t have been more astounded if the judge had slapped her face. The judge was supposed to sustain the prosecution’s objections — not the defense’s! She recovered with a stammer:
“So, uhh… when you came back from the bus stop, he started yelling at you?”
“Objection — leading.”
“Wull… uh, what happened when you came back from the bus stop?”
“He started yelling at me, saying Brooke had left the door ajar, and I hadn’t put a blanket on him so I was a ‘nigger bitch’ and —”
“Objection, non-responsive, move to strike.”
“Sustained. The jury will disregard the last comment by the witness.”
Playing by the rules was something Ms. Norman wasn’t used to, it seemed.
“Wull, uh… what ever did you do?”
“I said I was sorry, I was running late, I had a bad headache…”
“What happened next?”
“He got up and started calling me a bitch, a whore, a nigger.”
“What were you doing?”
“I was trying to make a fire in the fireplace?”
“And what is that?”
“A little compressed square soaked in something.”
“Where was Daniel?”
“He was standing there saying I’ll set you on fire, you [effing] [n-word] bitch!”
“Then what happened?”
“He lunged at me.”
“What ever did you do?”
“I said, ‘You’re a jerk; leave me alone’.”
“What did he do?”
“He said, ‘I’ll poison your drink with cyanide’.”
We found out later that both parties were enjoying sunrise cocktails, it being by now around 7:30 the morning of January 6th. But Beth Norman wanted to downplay the booze and drugs. Wouldn't want the jury to get the idea that this was a dysfunctional marriage, would we?
“Then what happened?”
“Mike came downstairs and tried to calm him [Dan] down.”
“What did you do?”
“I went out and got on the phone to my Mom and had her call the police.”
“Were you worried he’d actually do those things — set you on fire and put cyanide in your drink?”
“Why didn’t you leave?”
“I was afraid he’d come after me. He has a knife in his pocket at all times and—”
Maybe Judge Moorman wanted to learn more about pocket knives. Or maybe old judicial habits die-hard. But the witness got the message she wasn’t going to be allowed to run rampant like she had at the prelim.
“I was just afraid he’d come after me.”
“And the cyanide thing — did you really believe that?”
“Yes. His favorite book is the Anarchist’s Cookbook. It would be just like him to do something like that.”
When Eric Rennert rose to cross, he did so with the air of a man who has just been set free from a long exile in perdition. He was finally on an even playing field. Even if he was fighting a lost cause, at least he was on equal footing for a change.
“Did you tell the police, Ms. Prince, that my client lunged at you?”
“Wull, uhh… I believe I did.”
The alleged lunge was nowhere to be found in the police report.
“Now, Mike Dolan, he currently lives with you doesn’t he?”
“And you financially support him, don’t you?”
“Yes but… wull, he helps with the kids[!].
“And you buy his booze?”
“Objection,” Norman spluttered indignantly.
“Overruled, “ Judge Moorman smiled pleasantly.
“Had you been drinking at the time this all happened?”
“Were you using methamphetamine?”
“Does Mikey share his ‘script meds with you in exchange for buying his bourbon?”
“Is it true you have a drug problem?”
“I used to…”
“Are you under the influence today?”
“Do you recall your testimony at the prelim?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Oh? Do you recall saying you were on the front porch when you called your Mom?”
“Wull, uh, no — er, yes.”
“Was the door closed?”
“And you had the keys to the vehicle?
“Hadn’t you just taken the kids to the bus stop?”
“So you had the keys?”
“But then you came back in?”
“A second time?”
“Isn’t it true you asked him for his keys?”
“No, I asked for my keys,”
“And you repeatedly yelled at him to ‘give me the fuckin’ keys’, did you not?”
“No. I mean yes.”
“And have you discussed with Mike the tax return?”
“It goes to motive, your honor.”
“Answer the question.”
“Yeah, I asked about it ‘cause he was expecting a significant amount of money back.”
“And isn’t it also true that the night before you were discussing with Mike Dolan the amount of the tax return and whether you would be able to cash the check yourself — in the event that Dan Dolan was somehow out of the picture, like, in prison?”
“No — no! I wouldn’t do a thing like that.”
“Oh? Didn’t you state that you could sign the refund check posing as your ex’s wife?”
Ms. Norman, so used to having her every complaint tended to, was muttering more to herself than the court.
“No no no, you don’t understand,” Ms Prince said.
“Well, didn’t you take $4200 in US currency from my client’s backpack when he was passed out and you knew he’d be off to jail before anyone was the wiser?”
“No! No, that’s not true! How did you find that out? That’s not true at all!”
Ms. Prince, with trembling hand, reached for some water the bailiff had put on the stand, wishing, perhaps, it was something stronger.
The brother was called next. He came into the courtroom like Sir Edmund Hillary staggering the heights of Mt. Everest in the teeth of a blizzard. At times in the perilous trek to the witness stand, various officers of the court felt the impulse to catch or steady him. But he finally made it to the stand. Hurray! Bumpers all round!
“Did you take any medications before you came to court today, Mr. Dolan?” Ms. Norman inquired solicitously.
“Are you on drugs?”
“Duh, yeah. Like… ”
Mike Dolan named a handful of prescription pharmaceutical opiates and assorted anti-psychotics he had taken that day, and admitted he was addicted to methamphetamine and alcohol — which he may or may not have taken to settle his nerves for court.
The Witness, responding garrulously to Norman’s cues, admitted to a host of priors: hit and run, petty theft, battery on a cop, and countless drug offenses. (This is the guy Mummy the Rummy relies on to help with the kids!)
“So,” Ms. Norman said, “you were asleep upstairs when the commotion began?”
“What did you do?”
“I came downstairs … with a knife in my pocket — I always keep a knife in my pocket!”
“I heard them screaming and yelling at each other… And… Wull, he’s my brother, and I love him to death, but … [The witness burst into tears] I thought I might have to murder my own brother.”
“Nothing further,” Ms. Norman concluded as the witness dissolved into a full box of Kleenex, which Judge Moorman’s bailiff stocks by the pallet.
Mr. Rennert cross-examined: “So Mike, you said you came down the stairs with a knife in your pocket — did you tell that to the police?”
“Okay, and you still live with her, don’t you?”
“Does she support you?”
“Duhh — no! I’ve got my SSI!”
“And your ‘scripts, too, eh?”
“Yeah! Hey, dude, like what’s your point, man?”
“I just want you to answer the best you can. The night before, you were drunk” —
“And besides the alcohol, you’d smoked a bunch of meth, too, hadn’t you?”
“Heh he… eh? — no… No!”
“Well, isn’t it true you’re a drug addict and alcoholic?”
“Wasn’t the tax-break intended to help the kids; not the addicts and hangers on?”
“Didn’t you tell the police that they both argue all the time?”
“And that these kinds of threats and counter threats were a routine in the daily banter of the uh, let’s see, how do the French put it? — your little manage-a-trois? — at 1861 Primrose Path in the Brooktrails subdivision?”
“And did you tell the police they both attacked each other?”
“Duh … Huh?”
After the lunch recess, the refreshingly sober Deputy Clint Burns was called. He’s a seven-year veteran of the “North Sector” which includes Brooktrails. When Ms. Prince went out on the porch to call her mum down in LA, she asked mum to call the cops on Danny Dolan for “being Irish.” (Until recently, only the Irish used violent threats to coerce women. Now, the practice seems have to spread throughout the world.) Deputy Burns responded with professional celerity, arriving at 9:20 that morning.
“What did you find?”
“Ms. Prince was on the front porch of the residence.”
“How did she appear?”
“You talked with her?”
“Correct. Briefly. Then I looked around.”
“Did you go inside?”
“I did, yes.”
“Was the fire going?”
“I believe so, yes,”
“Did you contact Mr. Dolan?”
“Yes. He was in a back bedroom with his brother.”
“How’d he appear?”
“Wul, was he intoxicated?”
“Were his answers appropriate?”
“Did she seem to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol?”
“No, not necessarily,” Burns answered cryptically.
Mr. Rennert was skeptical, to put it mildly. He asked, “Do you remember the fireplace?”
“No, not specifically.”
“But you told counsel you remember the fire?”
“Did it have a glass door?”
“That, uh, yes, is my impression of the situation although I can’t recall any specific details.”
“No, and I wouldn’t suppose you should, Deputy Burns. But you interviewed Ms. Prince out on the porch, didn’t you?”
“Ah. Let me think… Yes, that’s right.”
“How long did that take?”
“Probably about five minutes, I imagine.”
“Then you went inside?”
“Correct,” Burns affirmed, stiffening.
“And you found the Dolan brothers in the bedroom, as you’ve already stated. When you found my client, did you arrest him on the spot?”
“Was he cooperative?”
“Was he drinking?”
“Did he tell you he’d been drinking?”
“Did he smell of alcohol?”
“I didn’t notice.”
I nearly fell off my chair in the little area reserved for the press when he said this. The whole household must have reeked to high heaven from the booze these three had imbibed the night before and were drinking just then! For chrissakes, what are these people on? The bailiff helped me back onto my chair and whispered that the whole reason for the new courthouse was because the old one didn’t have “a proper media center.”
“Other than that, he never made any admissions to you, correct?”
“Now, when this fellow came downstairs, this Mike Dolan — and we’ve heard from Ms. Prince this assurance that Daniel Dolan always carried a knife — but when Mike Dolan comes downstairs he says he is the one with the knife; the one who always carries a knife…”
“So, did you ever search him for weapons?”
“Mike Dolan or Dan Dolan?”
Mr. Rennert shrugged, he didn’t care.
The silence comes to bear on the witness, and finally he spits it out: “No, I didn’t.”
Rennert and Burns glare at each other like streetfighters. A moment passes, then Rennert drops his eyes and says, “Nothing further.”
The judge asked for Ms. Norman’s rebuttal: “Not at this time, your honor.”
“One more thing,” Mr. Rennert chirps, out of the blue. “If I may, your honor…”
“Did the victim, Ms. Prince, ever tell you that he lunged at her?”
Rule One: There’s difference between “I don’t know,” “I don’t remember,” and — my favorite: “I don’t recall.”
The deputy didn't know, recall or remember.
The jury came back with a guilty verdict pretty quickly, and as soon as they did, Ms. Norman was seen taking a reporter from the local daily to lunch.