The courtroom can be better entertainment than cable TV. Tragedy, comedy, and everything in between plays every day all day at the County Courthouse, sometimes in one guy — one guy like Marc Radcliffe.
Mr. Radcliffe has made something of a career out of home invasion robberies. He was looking at life in prison for his latest caper, which wasn't what you would call well planned. The guy already had two strikes, and this one, because it was semi-violent, would have gotten him a third strike, 25 years to life.
So when the prosecution offered Radcliffe 18 years instead of a jury trial that would find him guilty in about 30 seconds, Radcliffe grabbed 18 years.
Radcliffe, in his latest crime, had let himself in to the apartment of a retired couple on Waugh Lane in Ukiah while both residents, Mr. and Mrs. Dotson, were at home. No one knows how long Radcliffe was in the apartment before he presented himself to the shocked couple, but it was long enough for him to sort through Mrs. Dotson’s underwear drawer and outfit himself in her underwear, stockings, and one of her wrap around skirts. When his ensemble was complete, Radcliffe came up behind the unsuspecting Mrs. Dotson as she sat watching TV and working a crossword puzzle and started rubbing her arms and whispering in her ear.
Mrs. Dotson shot out of her chair and screamed for her husband who came running from the computer room. An altercation ensued and Mr. Dotson tore his wife's dress off Radcliffe who then fled the residence in Mrs. Dotson’s underwear, grabbing Mrs. Dotson’s purse as he exited the premises.
The next day Mrs. Dotson found her driver’s license, social security card and Medicare card scattered along the abandoned railroad tracks behind her apartment. Her cash, about a hundred bucks, was gone. The tracks function as a kind of alternate travel route for inland bums who shuffle to and from central Ukiah on booze and dope runs.
The situation the Dotsons found themselves in with Radcliffe was eerie and bizarre in the extreme, which may explain why Mr. and Mrs. Dotson didn’t agree in all the details of their adventure with the intruder-beast. The prosecution felt that given the inconsistencies, it would be better to get the defendant put away for definite 18 years rather than risk a possible acquittal, and there goes one more free range psycho out onto the streets of Ukiah.
Radcliffe was already on parole before his excursion into grandma's underwear drawer; he was going back inside either way, jury trial or plea deal.
But there was enough evidence presented in the pre-trial hearing that we can give the reader a condensed version of the testimony.
Neither Mr. or Mrs. Dotson had noticed Radcliffe’s tattoos.
The people who decorate themselves with this kind of “art” are inordinately vain about the permanent doodling they've inked into their skin. They seem to think we all notice. We don't. We especially wouldn't be apt to notice the skin art on a guy who suddenly looms up in our face in our own house wearing our underwear.
If a leopard had you cornered, would you check to make sure it wasn't a mountain lion?
But Public Defender Linda Thompson thought she could use Radcliffe's tattoos to make the Dotsons look like doddering old fools who'd imagined the whole thing.
Also, Mrs. Sandra Dotson had described the intruder as heavyset while Mr. Darrel Dotson described him as tall and thin.
Mrs. Dotson is a small, petite woman and all she could really see was Intruder-Beast in her clothes. I-B is over six feet tall. He would have appeared huge to a small woman, especially in a small woman’s clothes.
Public Defender Thompson, a cross-dresser herself, latched on to these body art and sartorial inconsistencies despite Mrs. Dotson's statement that she was “100 percent sure” Radcliffe was the man in her apartment wearing her underwear that February night.
Nobody in the courtroom laughed at any of this weird testimony. The bailiff has to keep a straight face, so it’s understandable that he would be the last one to laugh out loud. But what about the clerks and court reporter? What about the newspaper correspondent? Why are they all looking away, or down at their shoes? Even the judge often had her face averted. Maybe because, in a way, the whole episode was so sordidly unfunny that nobody saw anything amusing in it. And, as any cop will tell you, they deal with the bizarre all the time and, when you get a steady diet of it, it's more tiresome than funny.
Ms. Thompson took off her man’s suit coat and hung it on the back of a chair, apologizing to the judge for not wearing it, blaming the hot August weather for her informality even though the courtroom is air-conditioned and even though male dress protocols have nothing to do with women who dress in men's suits.
Ms. Thompson: “I see you wear glasses; do you wear them all the time?”
Mrs. Dotson: “Yes.”
Thompson: “Are your glasses 20-20?”
Dotson: “I don’t know.”
Thompson: “I notice you have a muscular tick at the corner of your left eye…”
Dotson: “Yes, that’s true.”
Thompson: “Does that affect your vision?”
Dotson: “No, not really.”
Thompson: “When this man leaned over your left shoulder, rubbing your arms and whispering in your ear — do you recall what he said?”
Dotson: “I couldn’t understand what was said.”
Thompson: “Well, did you notice any scars, marks or tattoos?”
Dotson: “No, I just jumped up and screamed for my husband.”
Thompson: “And he came out of the computer room?”
Thompson: “Were you — well, let me ask you this: Were your husband and the intruder ever, at any time, face-to-face?”
Thompson: “How did you know the intruder was wearing your red underpants?”
Dotson: “He had on one of my skirts, the kind that wraps around and ties, and he had it tied wrong, so the underpants were showing; then when I told my husband, That’s my skirt!, He (Mr. Dotson) grabbed it and ripped it off.”
Thompson: “Did you see the intruder take your purse from near the front door as he left?”
Thompson: “You later found a pair of sweat pants in your home?”
Dotson: “Yes. It was two or three days later. I found them in the bathroom.”
Thompson: “And where was your underwear kept?”
Dotson: “In a dresser drawer.”
Thompson, having established exactly nothing beyond the fact that two senior citizens had been terrorized in their own home, said, “That’s all I have.”
The prosecutor was new, like a relief pitcher in a baseball game. Last week’s Mr. Damon Gardner, the starting prosecutor, had been replaced with this week's Ms. Shannon Cox, ace reliever.
Deputy DA Cox called Darrel Dotson, 66, to the stand.
Mr. Dotson said that on the night of the incident he was in the computer room when he heard his wife scream for help. He ran to her and saw “a gentleman” in his house facing his wife.
DDA Cox: “What did you do?”
Mr. Dotson: “I said, 'Hey, who the hell are you? Get the hell out!”
Cox: “Do you recall what he was wearing?”
Dotson: “At the time he had a white skirt on. I didn’t know it was my wife’s until she told me.”
Cox: “What did the defendant do?”
Thompson broke in to say, “I object to the suspect being referred to as my client.”
Cox: “What did the ‘suspect’ do?”
Dotson: “He just looked at me so I repeated what I’d said, Get the hell out!”
Cox: “Was he still wearing the skirt?”
Dotson: “No, I grabbed it and ripped it off when my wife said it was hers.”
Cox: “Can you describe him?”
Dotson: “About six-one, kinda on the slender side.”
Cox: “Any facial hair?”
This happened in February. Radcliffe, on a major tweek binge, was probably fairly slender at the time. Like lots of dopers away from their appetite-suppressing go-fast powder, he'd bulked up in jail.
Dotson: “Seems like I noticed some, but I couldn’t say what color it was.”
Cox: “Did the defendant leave when you told him to get out?”
Dotson: “He headed toward the door.”
Cox: “Did you stay with him?”
Dotson: “Yes. When he got to the door, he reached to get a bag by the door and as I was closing the door, he tried to pick up another bag and I slammed the door on his arm.”
Cox: “Did he drop the second bag?”
Ms. Thompson began her cross-examination.
Thompson: “Do you wear glasses?”
Dotson: “Yes, ma’am.”
Thompson: “All the time?”
Dotson: “Pretty much.”
Thompson: “Were you wearing them at the time of the incident?”
Dotson: “No. When she called me I took ‘em off.”
Thompson: “When you talked to Officer Delapo, you described the shirt the suspect was wearing as yellow…”
Dotson: “Yes, ma’am.”
Thompson: “Are you sure about that?”
Dotson: “Yes, ma’am.”
Thompson: “Did you see his arm when you slammed it in the door?”
Dotson: “I’m not sure.”
Thompson: “But you told the officer you didn’t see any marks, scars or tattoos, didn’t you?”
Dotson: “Yes, ma’am.”
Thompson: “You said the suspect was wearing panties — well, let me put it this way, do you recall telling Officer Delapo he was wearing gray briefs — do you use the word ‘panties’?”
Dotson: “Not anymore I don’t. I say briefs.”
Thompson: “But you recall ‘em being gray?”
Dotson: “Yes, ma’am.”
Thompson: “And your wife, do you know if they were hers?”
Dotson: “She’s got so many clothes, I couldn’t say if they were hers or not.”
Thompson, gratuitously, “Yes, I saw her closet, and she sure does have a lot!”
During the recess, the prosecution offered Radcliffe the 18 years. Sandra Dotson had said the ‘briefs’ were red and the ‘shirt’ was pink when the shirt worn by Intruder-Beast was yellow, the briefs not red. The prosecution seems to have felt there were ID probs. The Public Defender, defending the indefensible, agreed on 18 years.
Radcliffe's two strike priors were serious robberies, but they were not violent, so only one of the strikes would be counted if Radcliffe pled to this one. He would have to serve 85 percent of the 18 years. Eighteen years sounded better to the guy than putting his non-defense in front of a jury and risking 25-to-life. He took the offer.
The feeling was that this agreement spared Sandra Dotson the ordeal of repeating the story in front of a jury, and got Intruder-Beast put away. He’ll do 85 percent of the 18 years. ¥¥