Arthur Randall, a Ukiah tow truck driver by profession, knows his way around town, and the quickest way to get from South State Street to his girlfriend’s work on the corner of Dora and Gobi, he knows best of all. So when he left a Christmas party, December 20th last year for the kids at Grace Hudson School, he got on the freeway at Talmage and planned to zoom up to Perkins, he said, which only has a few lights, then turn south on Dora, impeded by only a few stop signs, and get his gal to work on time, even though the little family of five were running late. He might have made it, too, but some guy cut him off, and then had the audacity to flip him off as well, and that changed everything. Getting his significant other to work on time was no longer his priority; Mr. Flip Off had to be dealt with first.
Mr. Randall also knows how to drive, he seems to think, far better than most, and he decided to give the guy who cut him off a few pointers on road courtesy. So he followed the man — who turned out to be Kevin Aiken, who was just recovering from back surgery — into the parking lot at Rainbow Ag on Perkins. Aiken parked in front of the store, and as Aiken emerged from his vehicle, Randall came running up and soon had Aiken on the ground trying to throttle some driving skills into the guy, who seemed to be gasping for instruction.
Right there Randall had himself Count One, felony assault and battery.
The commotion soon drew a crowd, and Randall's girlfriend, Whitney Marsh, called the enraged Randall off. As Randall was leaving, he paused to tell Aiken he would “mess him up — or maybe I said I’d kill him” — Randall didn’t remember his exact words — if Aiken ever messed with him again.
This was Count Two, a felony criminal threat to commit a crime with force likely to do great bodily injury.
Even with the damning evidence of the videotape, admitting the threat, and the liability of having Dan Haehl of the public defender’s office as his lawyer, Randall was so self-righteously pissed-off at being first! so blatantly cut off and then! so rudely flipped off, that he, like, had! to take his case all the way to jury trial — even if it meant riding an old Army mule of a public defender into the ground — to prove to the jury that a wee spurt of old-fashioned vigilante road rage was justified in such an extremely provoking case as his.
He was mistaken on that point, ha, as well as a few others, as it turned out.
Attorney Dan Haehl is used to hopeless cases. He takes them in stride — even though his strides are so painful that even watching them makes you wince. Unlike the other lawyers, Mr. Haehl no longer puts on a suit for a jury trial, just his threadbare, shiny slacks, rumpled tweed sports coat and a stained necktie which he doesn’t any longer bother to snug up around the wattles of his neck. No, Attorney Haehl no longer gives much of a good gosh darn by golly what anyone thinks of him. “Don’t worry what people think of you,” he advises. “Because they probably don’t.” He is easily the sourest cynic in a county so full of ‘em that even a sardonic old hack like myself can still get a news column.
Amazing as it may seem, he even won one once. A jury trial — someone get that fainting fellow some smelling salts!
Haehl started his defense in this one by calling the defendant’s girlfriend to the stand.
Ms. Whitney Marsh said she was going to be late for work because they had all gone to a Christmas party for the three kids at Grace Hudson School, which lasted longer than expected. But not to worry, her boyfriend Mr. Randall was an expert driver and would get her there on time. The only problem was, just as they were merging onto Highway 101, a driver in a white pickup interfered.
Ms. Marsh said, “He [Randall] had to honk several times so the other driver [Aiken] didn’t hit us. And then the other vehicle got behind us. He [Randall again] had to put on the breaks and he [Aiken] came around us, flipped us off, and cut in front of us.”
Mr. Haehl: “What did you do?”
Marsh: “We got off at Perkins.”
Haehl: “Then what?”
Marsh: “We followed him down to Rainbow Ag.”
Marsh: “He wanted to talk to him.”
Haehl: “Randall wanted to talk Aiken?”
Haehl: “What happened next?”
Marsh: “He, my… wull, you know — what should I call him?”
Judge John Behnke, puckishly: “Do you mean your significant other?”
Marsh: “Yes. Should I call him Mr. Randall?”
Judge: “Please do, if you feel comfortable with that.”
Marsh: “When Mr. Randall got out and went over to talk to the driver he pushed him.”
Judge: “Who pushed who?”
Marsh: (indicating first Aiken, in the gallery, then Randall, at defense table, with pointed looks): “He pushed him.”
Judge: “Yes, I know what you mean Ms. Marsh, but the court reporter is taking everything down and she needs each person to be identified by name, so that when the transcript is finished there’s no question as to who pushed who. Understand?”
Marsh: “Yes. I saw the other guy — who I now know is Mr. Aiken — push Mr. Randall.”
Haehl: “When you talked to Officer Long you said you didn’t see who pushed who first, didn’t you?”
Officer Long of the Ukiah PD had been called in to investigate the incident. He had already testified as to the statements he took at the scene during the Deputy DA’s presentation of the People’s case. The Deputy DA was Beth Norman, formerly a lieutenant of the recently defeated DA Meredith Lintott, one of the county’s more lamentable flukes of the election process, having been voted in by the coincidence of an untimely death of one candidate and a wildly reckless gambit of another, which cheated the electorate out of their real choice, the able and conscientious Keith Faulder, who has just returned from delivering an edition of the AVA to the top of Mt. Everest. He’d already put one at the summit of this continent’s highest peak, some hilltop down in Chile. Next, I expect, he’ll take one to the moon; although I can’t quite imagine anyone settling down to read our paper in such a place — you generally have to turn about and leave as soon as you arrive in those inhospitable climates. DDA Norman has never prosecuted a woman — except as a co-defendant in an otherwise all-male case. The reader will see what I’m getting at when Ms. Norman goes on cross and starts verbally slapping the defendant around. In the lone case Dan Haehl won, he let her do this, rather than object, and the effect of the witness bullying on the jury was decisive: Norman lost a slam-dunk case simply by alienating the jury. This is what rampant sexism — reverse or otherwise — will get you.
Haehl: “But you actually saw Mr. Aiken push Mr. Randall first?”
Haehl: “In the video you are shown to walk up and speak to Mr. Randall. What is it you said to him?”
Marsh: “I said let’s go.”
Haehl: “And what did he do?”
Marsh: “He let the guy up and we left.”
Haehl (adroitly eluding the parting shot made by Randall, which this witness must surely have overheard): “Did you speak to anyone else at Rainbow Ag?”
Marsh: “I think we probably talked about what happened once we were back on the road.”
Reminiscent of the fearful matron who patrolled the library of my childhood hometown, Ms. Norman rose to cross, peering suspiciously — if not accusingly — over her eyeglasses at the witness. Her voice rises when she speaks above the person-to-person range of an ordinary conversation, and she seems not to intuit, or maybe she doesn’t care, how her harping affects the jurors. But it is precisely calculated to unhinge a witness.
Norman: “So, Ms. Marsh, you say your work is on the corner of Gobi and Dora?”
Norman: “So why didn’t you just go down Gobi to Dora — wouldn’t that be the shortest route? You said you were in a hurry — why go all the way down to Perkins?”
Marsh: “’Cause he always takes Perkins.”
Norman: “Any special reason — were you thinking there was a problem?”
Norman: “The other car, Mr. Aiken, he cut you off; he flipped you off; you’d followed him all this way — was Mr. Randall saying all this time?”
Norman (her voice rising to screech level): “No? He said nothing — really? Were the kids scared?”
Marsh: “Not that I’m aware of.”
Norman: “The first time you talked to Officer Long you said you didn’t see what went on between Mr. Randall and Mr. Aiken. Now, you’re saying you saw Mr. Aiken push your boyfriend?”
Marsh: “He went like that.”
Judge: “You saw Mr. Aiken go ‘like that’—let the record reflect that the witness made a pushing motion with her palms out and her arms about chest high. Is that correct, Ms. Marsh?”
Norman: “Any chance this was a reaction of him bouncing off the car from having been pushed into it by Mr. Randall?”
Marsh: “Not that I’m aware of.”
Norman: “And when you came over to tell him let’s go because people were coming out of the store, he had Mr. Aiken down on the ground strangling him?”
Marsh: “No, he didn’t have him on the ground.”
Norman: “Have you seen the video?”
Norman: “Let’s play the video again. I’d like you to watch it, Ms. Marsh.”
The video was played again, and even with the car door somewhat in the way it certainly looked like Randall had Aiken on the ground choking him. But first Ms. Norman stopped the video at the alleged pushing incident and pointed out that from where Ms. Marsh was in the other vehicle, she couldn’t have seen any pushing between the two men. Still, Marsh insisted she saw it. Then she showed Marsh the part where she runs up and the two are down — either on the ground or somehow levitating an inch or two above it.
Norman: “Look! Randall has Aiken on the ground, choking him!”
Marsh: “Randall wasn’t on the ground, and he didn’t have any water on him.”
It had been raining almost all day.
Mr. Haehl put his client on the stand; and Arthur Randall described the trip from Grace Hudson School to Rainbow Ag pretty much the way Ms. Marsh had.
Haehl: “So you followed him to Rainbow Ag and confronted him. Did you want an apology?”
Randall: “He seemed to have a complete lack of concern for other drivers, so I yelled at Mr. Aiken. I was a little worked up, and I didn’t get an apology so I continued to yell and he pushed me away from him saying, get over it.”
Haehl: “How did you respond?”
Randall: “I pushed him back into his own vehicle. Then he came towards me again so, yes, I did place him in a choke hold — what I would call a ‘control hold’ — but I did not intend to choke Mr. Aiken. A lot of profanity was exchanged. My point was he needed to learn how to drive.”
Haehl: “When Ms. Marsh runs up, what is it she says to you?”
Randall: “She said she needed to get back to work. I also heard a female voice yelling at us to knock it off. Three or four others were appearing at the door so I told him if he ever did that again I was gonna mess him up.”
Haehl: “What did he say to you?”
Randall: “He said he was going to sue me because he had just had back surgery.”
Haehl: “Do you remember making any threats to kill Mr. Aiken?”
Randall: “I do not recall that. I did threaten him that if we ever crossed paths again I would mess him up; but it’s not something I’d normally do.”
Norman: “Oh? So you don’t get upset often?”
Randall: “I don’t seek out trouble.”
Norman: “You’ve been cut off before, driving truck, haven’t you?”
Norman: “But this was different?”
Randall: “Yes. I had my family in the car.”
Norman: “So you decided to chase him down ‘cause you thought you deserved and explanation and an apology?”
Norman: “Why didn’t you just call the cops? And didn’t Mr. Aiken ask you why you couldn’t just let it go?”
Randall: “Mr. Aiken said fuck you, you need to let it go and I said you need to learn to drive.”
Norman: “And you were going to teach him.”
Norman: “But you were going to make everyone wait while you got your apology.”
Randall: “He needed to learn how to drive.”
The Q&A was rapid-fire and getting louder and shriller, they were talking over each other and the court reporter threw up her hands. Like a referee, Judge Behnke got them stopped, then they went at it again.
Randall: “You can see how the situation escalated.”
Norman: “No, Mr. Randall, I can’t.
Randall: “Instead of striking him with my fist, I put him in what I called then a choke hold, but what I’d now call a control hold.”
Norman: “Why did you feel you needed to control him?”
Randall: “Mr. Aiken placed his hands on me?”
Norman: “Didn’t he just bounce off the car from being pushed?”
Randall: “Not in my opinion.”
Norman: “But you wouldn’t normally get out of your car and confront someone who cut you off?
Norman: “Mr. Randall, in 2010 you got involved in an incident where someone got in front of you at a stop light and you got out in the middle of the street and went up to the other vehicle and threatened the driver.”
Randall: “I opened my door and the other driver took off.”
Norman: “So you ran the light?”
Randall: “I stopped at the light and was sitting in my vehicle when the first vehicle came towards my door, and at that point I did step out of my vehicle. As he came at me his intentions, it was clear to me, was to run me over.”
Norman: “So you literally start running and chasing a car that cut you off?”
Randall: “Yes. A short distance.”
Randall: “To get him away from me; from me and my children.”
Norman: “Mr. Randall, did you say to Mr. Aiken, ‘if I see you again I’ll kill you’?”
Randall: “I may have. I don’t remember my exact words.”
Norman: “But you wanted him to hear that you would either kill him or mess him up?”
Norman (in a calm voice): “I have nothing further.”
Mr. Randall wanted to address the court from the stand without the lawyers asking questions. Judge Behnke explained that the Q&A system was used because it gave the other party an opportunity to object. He said he would consider what the defendant wanted to say outside the presence of the jury then decide whether or not to grant the request, but he should first consult with his lawyer on the wisdom of the idea. Mr. Haehl came back in to say that Randall had decided against it.
Judge Behnke instructed the jury that a criminal threat didn’t require that the person who made it had to have any intention of following up on it; just that if it would reasonably put the person it was made to in a state of fear. The jury found just that — that Arthur Randall was guilty of making a criminal threat. On the assault and battery, the jury would only impose the lesser, the misdemeanor charge. ¥¥